Wineskins Archive

February 10, 2014

Christ and Culture: If I Believe, Why Do I Doubt? (May-Jun 2003)

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by Lynn Anderson
May – June, 2003

Aldous Huxley once wrote that humans are “multiple amphibians”—creatures designed to make our way through many worlds at once: social, spiritual, emotional, cerebral, aesthetic, sexual, psychological, and so forth. But, he added, since the industrial and technological revolutions , we tend to live primarily in two very logical worlds of data and productivity. These worlds are crowding out our other worlds, which are thus atrophying. As a result, we are losing touch with what it means to be human.

Sounds accurate to me, Mr. Huxley!

This can happen to faith as well. Today, the rational, informational, and linear-sequential worlds of productivity tend to dominate. Consequently, the rest of our worlds suffer neglect, and we face losing touch with much of what it means to believe.

The culture threatens to strip our faith of symbols, rituals, dramas, mystery, poetry, and story, which say about life and God what logic and reason can never say. Instead, we attempt to analyze and explain God. Scripture becomes mere religious information, aimed primarily at behavioral goals.

But this is a one-dimensional kind of faith. And one-dimensional faith, like a tent with only one peg, easily collapses. Strong faith must be secured with a broader spread of pegs.

Of course, there is nothing wrong with trying to understand our faith. But many of us rely too much on our efforts to explain the unexplainable and “unscrew the inscrutable,” which can leave us with swollen heads and shrunken hearts—and frail faith.

God is too vast and mysterious to be confined to intellectual categories and morality. That’s true of people as well. We are more than words, mouths, ears, and brains. Life is too full of mystery and majesty to be reduced to logical explanations and behavior management.

We know very well that many of life’s best valuables defy explanation:

* The explanation of love is not love.

* The explanation of a joke is not humor.

* The explanation of music is not music.

* The explanation of a poem is not poetry.

* And the rational explanation of religion is not the same as touching the Holy One!

Who can completely diagram the meaning of my wedding ring? Or analyze the meaning of flowers brought to a hospital room? Or explain the bread and the wine of Communion? Sure, you can say words about them that may be true, but words can never quite say enough. When the great ballerina Anna Pavlova was asked, “What do you say when you dance?” she replied, “If I could tell you, I wouldn’t need to dance.” Yes, indeed! Real, dynamic faith takes up our dramatic mysteries and gets inside of them, no matter how un-dramatic, ordinary, or even misshapen we may think our own lives to be.

The Bible will not clear up every doubt. In fact, sometimes Scripture even seems to generate new doubt. For example, the Bible embraces paradox: the Proverbs say, “Do not answer a fool according to his folly.” Then the next verse instructs, “Answer a fool according to his folly.” Make up your mind, Solomon! Paul charged, “Carry each other’s burdens,” then added three verses later, “Each one should carry his own load.” Which is right, apostle? Then there are the larger paradoxes—predestination and free will, works and grace, judgment and mercy. Heaven offers some of her best truth suspended between such paradoxes.

The Word of God also presents mysteries. For example, God exists. God has all power. God is all-knowing. God is all-loving. But if this is true, then, why does he allow horrors like 9/ll? Or the cruelties of Sadaam Hussein? Or suffering and starvation? Or the nightmare of war that slaughters both soldiers and innocents in Iraq. We wonder: Why does a loving God not do something? Does he not see? Does he not care? Does he lack the power? Or does He not even exist?

I believe the living God knows, loves, and is omnipotent. Yet I do not know how to untangle this dilemma. Oh, I’ve read books on it: C. S. Lewis’s The Problem of Pain and one chapter of God in the Dock, Philip Yancey’s Disappointment with God, and others. Yet this mystery still boggles my mind. It has boggled even the best minds of the centuries. However, mystery is precisely the point, isn’t it? A God so small that we limited humans can explain Him is not big enough to be worshiped.

Years back, Juan Monroy, an evangelist and journalist in Madrid, Spain, was among those reporters selected by the Spanish government to interview the American astronaut James Irwin, who was on a European tour after his Apollo 15 mission to the moon. Monroy asked the astronaut, “What did you feel when you stepped out of that capsule and your feet touched the surface of the moon?”

To Monroy’s utter surprise, Irwin replied, “It was one of the most profoundly disillusioning moments of my life.”

Monroy pressed the astronaut: “How could standing on the moon be so disappointing?”

Irwin explained, “All of my life I have been enchanted by the romance and the mystery of the moon. I sang love songs under the moon. I read poems by moonstruck poets. I embraced my lover in the moonlight. I looked up in wonder at the lunar sphere. But that day when I stepped from the capsule onto the lunar surface and reached down at my feet, I came up with nothing but two handfuls of gray dirt. The romance and mystery were stripped away. There will be no more moon in my sky!”

Monroy observed further, “When we come to the place that we think we comprehend and can explain the Almighty, there will be no more God in our heavens.”

“My thoughts are not your thoughts,” says the Lord, “neither are your ways my ways.” Could God also be whispering, “I have put eternity in your hearts. So you, my children, will always be stretching beyond your temporary finitude, watching for glimpses and listening for whispers from eternal infinity.”

Because both God and humanity are too big for explanation, the Bible conveys a faith far more expansive than information and logic. God speaks to all of our worlds through drama, music, poetry, stories, paradox, and mystery. Scripture teases out nuances, hidden beneath mere data, that are too wonderful to explain and too sacred to be contrived. Full faith awakens all of ‘our worlds’ and dances through them, touching us on multiple levels and moving us with profound force. This kind of faith, like a tent pegged from many angles, is much less likely to go flat.

So, what does all this have to do with handling doubt?

Simply that you can discover—or recover—the salty tang of faith, the life vigor and potency of believing. You can let God reawaken all the worlds of your being. To do so, however, you may need to make some changes in the way you approach your search.

First, you may need to slow your pace. It’s always tempting to grab hold of faith or to “fix” broken faith in a hurry, because we in our culture are so obsessed with speed and productivity. But faithful living—life that is full of faith—rarely comes in the midst of hastiness. To find our way into faith, we may need to lower the RPMs.

Second, you may need to still the noise and find solitude so that you can better listen for God’s voice. For Elijah, God’s voice was not in a mighty wind, an earthquake, nor a raging fire, but only in a “still small voice.” In a world saturated with traffic, television, sirens, and screams, how does a person contemplate the still, small voice?

The psalmist says, “Be still, and know that I am God.” Solitude may be difficult to find in our world, but nurturing deep roots of faith demands that we search for silence till we find it. Henri Nouwen calls solitude “the furnace of transformation.” We absolutely must escape the superficial chatter of noisy action and find large chunks of solitude if faith is to flourish.

Third, to awaken all your worlds, you may also need to simplify and prioritize the intake of your life. The Bible says we get to life through the narrow gate. Novelist Thomas Wolfe, eager for full life, once said that he wanted “to ride in all the trains, read all the books, and sleep in all the beds.” I can understand Wolfe’s feelings. I, too, am incurably curious and tend to draw myself into constant over-commitment lest I miss something. But I am learning that at this pace I do not exhaust events; they exhaust me. And they dead sure do not feed faith.

Fourth, to keep in touch with all that you are and more of what and who God is, you may need to become more reflective. Psalm 1 reminds us that the really blessed people “meditate day and night,” like “trees planted by the river,” drinking up nourishment and life. Rich faith doesn’t stop at the surface level. It is planted in fertile soil and draws life from the deep places. The psalmist goes on to indicate that those who don’t dig in and go deep get pushed around a lot. They are at the mercy of their environment—“like chaff that the wind drives away.”

The deepest of meaning and vitality are found in the mystery of things, even the smallest and most commonplace. We need eyes that see and ears that hear…because down under the surface, beneath what we have always seen and heard, run deeper meanings and realities waiting to be tapped. Creating faith is still a possibility, but only when we are willing to stand face-to-face with its disturbing mystery. It is a mystery that constitutes the climate for believing, and without the mystery any faith is a bore.

Dare to reflect! Settle down beside the drama, the poetry, and the mystery of whatever faith we have. Reflect on the tough stuff too. How do you handle pain, boredom, sickness, tragedy, death, life, birth, and nature? This will wake up your slumbering self at levels that can be reached in no other way. Don’t be afraid to do this! The Christian faith looks further into what life means than most casual observers see at first glance.

So don’t stand back. Take that daring leap into the flow of faith. Like swimmers in the tide, rather than fighting the forces around us, we need to feel for the current and relax ourselves into its flow. Don’t fight faith. Don’t merely analyze it. Revel in it. In Him! He won’t let you drown.

If you have never had faith, you can learn to believe.

If your faith has gone flat, it can be freshened.

Sure, it may require new habits of thought, new disciplines, new direction. And, of course, it demands a choice that you make and keep on making. The big miracle, however, is not your own ability to be reborn but the unlimited grace available to you. Hope may be just beyond your first step.

You can believe! Faith can be found—and renewed!

I know.


Adapted from Lynn Anderson’s If I Really Believe, Why Do I Have These Doubts, Howard Publishing, 2002New Wineskins

andersonLynn Anderson is an author, well-known speaker, and founder of the San Antonio based Hope Network Ministries, a ministry dedicated to coaching, mentoring and equipping church leaders. []

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