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Since O Me of Little Faith released in April, I’ve been getting emails and Facebook messages from readers along the whole continuum of the doubt spectrum, from new believers doubting God’s love for them to long-time believers doubting God’s existence. Occasionally I’ll get one that’s really heartbreaking.
I try to answer each of these to the best of my ability, but there are times when my own meager advice hardly seems sufficient. Here’s an email I received a few days ago. I’m publishing it with any identifying details removed and with the permission of the sender.
Hello Mr. Boyett,
My name is __________, and I’m currently working on a
degree at [a well-known conservative seminary]. The problem
is that my belief in God no longer seems to function in any harmonious
way with my experience of reality. I don’t see history being guided
adeptly to some glorious end, but rather a reality that is splintered,
fragmented, messy, etc. I don’t feel as if I ever encounter or
experience or hear from God in any way. My constant prayers of
desperation and need are met only with external silence and the voice in
my own head. It’s become virtually impossible for me to read the Bible
devotionally. I’m well aware of its “humanness”…however it’s the
divine part that seems so elusive. It’s becoming harder and harder to
believe in the miraculous when nothing in my experience tells me that
the miraculous is possible (i.e., people just don’t rise from the dead).
Long story short, intense doubt and questioning have been constant
companions for me since high school. Further
still, that doubt only seems to be becoming more and more incendiary and
corrosive. Please keep in mind that I am by no means a fundamentalist
and have been accused of being quite liberal (at least in comparison to
many believers found in this part of the country…to which i will not
deny). However, I feel as if through years of theological study and
serious critical engagement, I’ve somehow opened Pandora’s Box and now
am forever unable to shut it in lieu of feigned ignorance. I’m
suspended between two worlds almost. On one hand the world of faith
in God and the actions that belief should enact…and on the other
disbelief in God and the apparent “puposeless-ness” and randomness and
cruelty of life.
How do I move forward as a Christian when the foundation of that
Christian belief is quite literally not foundational for me at all right
now? How do I have faith in a God that large chunks of me (and for
longer and longer periods of time) don’t seem to quite believe in
anymore? Any insight you can offer would be welcomed.
In a subsequent email, the seminary student shared this:
Essentially though, it boils down to one of two options: pretend that I
have faith in God (since I am most comfortable in this context and my
upbringing/worldview are inextricably linked to the Christian worldview
and subsequent expected lifestyle), or reject Christianity and belief in
God (and in the process risk a severe identity/existential crisis).
The seemingly most impossible option for me is genuine faith and belief
How would you answer a doubter like this? What do you do when you seem to have only two options: lying, or abandoning a perspective and context you’ve spent three decades in pursuit of…something deeply ingrained into your life, your family, and your future?