Faith, Doubt and Authenticity

My friend Darren and I were meant to have a “Doubt Night”. But we haven’t had time to do one yet.

In our cell group, we’ve been talking about Timothy Keller’s message The Prodigal God. And the concept of how the younger brother was self-motivated. He is a model of a person who wanted to find meaning through self-discovery. The elder brother was a person who based his life on moral conformity.

But Jesus says that both are lost. In both cases, they were trying to find a way to get the Father’s things. They weren’t interested in the Father Himself.

There is a “third way” – the way of relationship. The third way which Jesus wants us to see is the one where the person of the Father is valued above the Father’s things. This is how gospel-centred Christians should live.

And yet, I have found that often in church settings, we tend to fall into the error of moral conformity. To allow a person to rely solely on a relationship with God makes that person very difficult to control. After all, a relationship is incredibly unpredictable.

This is how unpredictable a relationship is: the longer you are in a relationship with someone, the more predictable they become in terms of expectations, behaviours, stimuli and reactions. But then, when predictability becomes the norm, we say the relationship is in a rut, and we need to introduce new elements of unpredictability to breathe fresh life into the relationship. And so the cycle of unpredictability continues.

The institutional church likes predictability and control. And the only way to do that is through moral conformity.

A culture of moral conformity however only causes us to become performance-orientated Christians. We try hard to perform to the required level, to look like we’ve got it all together, to tick all the moral boxes of the expected “Christian norm”.

By the way, I heard someone once say that “normal” is one of those words that have lost its richness of meaning through common usage. These days, “normal” means “average”. Originally however, the word meant “upright”, “or 90 degrees against a plane” (as measured by a plumb line). In that sense, a “normal” Christian life means one which is infused with the righteousness of Christ – the only righteousness that is perfect and pure and that can restore us to right relationship with God.

So back to my point: a culture of moral conformity means we can seldom express our doubt. Because if we do, we are seen as questioning that which is accepted. At best, we might be seen as exhibiting weakness in our faith.

I actually think it is healthy to express our doubts. Hence, the idea of having a Doubt Night. I was going to trial it with Darren first, but the idea is to have a night when people can just come and express doubt. Others can provide a perspective, or attempt to address the doubt, but we won’t guarantee that there would be any resolution. We will openly discuss hard issues without judgment. It will be a place where we can be transparent and no one will/should think “what’s up with that? That guy must be a messed up Christian”.

In conventional Christian culture, faith is celebrated. Doubt is frowned upon. But in my view, faith cannot exist without doubt. Doubt is in fact the context in (or the process through) which faith emerges.

In The Reason for God, Timothy Keller says:

A faith without doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it…. A person’s faith can collapse overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.

Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts – not only their own but their friends’ and neighbours’. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide grounds for your beliefs to sceptics, including yourself….

I love the authenticity of the man who cried to Jesus in Mark 9 “I do believe, help my unbelief!”. I love that when the resurrected Jesus challenged Thomas to believe, He still responded to Thomas’ request for more evidence. Sometimes, the church is more afraid of doubt than Jesus is.

I think it is high time for our contemporary church culture to entertain doubt again. When we can authentically express our doubt in a safe environment without fear of judgment, we will not only express beliefs because we have inherited them, or because it seems like the right behaviour to display, but we will emerge with stronger grounds for our beliefs. In other words, we will grow a stronger body of authentic, sold-out believers. So bring on Doubt Night.

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