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Spiritual matters

Faith doesn't mean no more questions

February 02, 2011 - My journey of faith has had its ups and downs over the years.

Following Jesus I have been on mountaintops when God seemed so close that I could almost reach out and touch him and everything seemed clear. However at other times along the journey I have walked through deep and difficult valleys where God seemed very far away and I have struggled with doubt and despair.

For each of us the journey of faith includes days in which we feel close to God. At such times God's will for us seems clear and our faith is strong and sure. Yet at other times we struggle with doubts and questions. During these times God can seem far away, almost as if the connection has been lost. We might even wonder if God is listening to us anymore.

Of course I believe that God never leaves us (see Psalm 23), and I trust that God is with us in all the seasons of life. Yet as people of faith how do we deal with doubts? Or, to put it another way, "Do I have enough faith if I still have doubts sometimes?"

Doubting and questioning among God's people is nothing new. The Bible is filled with stories, not only of great faith, but also of those genuinely seeking and struggling to believe.

Of course the most well known example of doubting is Jesus' disciple Thomas, whose very name has become synonymous with doubt. I've always thought this unfair, as in many other situations Thomas showed great faith and courage as he tried to follow Jesus (see John 11:16 & 14:5).

Like us, Thomas was a "mixed bag" of faith and doubt. And Thomas, like us, is just the kind of person Jesus meets where they are, loves and sends forth to share his Good News of love and grace with others.

Sometimes people of faith view doubt as simply bad or weak or sinful. Sometimes we may even try to suppress or deny it.

Pastor and theologian Helmut Thielicke suggests a different approach calling doubt "an envelope with a message inside it." To find the message we need first to open the envelope and explore it. In the end Thielicke says: "A Christian is not someone who doesn't doubt, but someone who doubts his doubts more than he doubts his faith." I think this means that faith is trusting God even in the midst of not having all the answers.

As part of the Nazi resistance in WWII he was speaking in the kind of very difficult life situation that causes one to ask questions and to wonder "where is God?" and "what are God's people to do?" But he chose to trust God anyway.

I have found in my own experience that when I open the "envelope" and wrestle with my questions and doubts, my faith is not diminished, but instead it grows. Certainly doubt left unaddressed can lead to despair and unbelief. However in the context of prayer, a community of faith, and God's Word we can grow and mature in faith even as we wrestle with our doubts. In fact what often emerges from these efforts is a deep, authentic, gutsy faith that can stand up to the tough circumstances of life, trusting God in the midst of them, even if we don't have all the answers.

Frederick Buechner in his book Wishful Thinking put it so well when he said, "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving."

I still don't have all the answers to all my questions and doubts. I still have my list of questions I want to ask Jesus when I get to heaven. But in the midst of all of that, I also have a growing faith and a deepening relationship with Jesus. And above all I know that God loves me!

The Rev. Jonathan Heierman is pastor of Calvary Evangelical Lutheran Church.

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