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Maybe it’s just me, but I love hearing from pastors who admit to having questions. Some people get annoyed by this, but I find it to be comforting. Part of it is knowing I’m not alone. The other part is knowing that I’m joined in my doubt by people with credentials.
Larry Shallenberger is one of those people. He’s on the pastoral staff at a church in Erie, PA, as well as the author of Divine Intention, an excellent book about the state of the Church today in comparison to the early Church. Larry and I first got to know each other via Bryan Allain, when we were both contributing to Bryan’s now-defunct sports-and-faith blog, Prayers for Blowouts. That was when I learned that Larry is some kind of crazy mixed martial arts expert, and I should not speak ill of him.
So I did the opposite. I asked him to write a guest post about doubt. Here it is:
All it took was a fortune cookie for a friend of mine to resolve his conflict between faith and doubt. Will observed God’s idleness each time he lost a parent to cancer and decided he couldn’t worship any deity capable of criminal neglect. Will turned to other forms of spirituality for answers — Wicca, Hinduism, you name it. His mind was the Baskin-Robbins of Faith. Eventually his reading brought him back to Christianity. He realized Christianity was true even if he wasn’t a big fan of its founder. One thing prevented Will from surrender. He didn’t want to life with a life time of intellectual doubt about faith.
Late at night he typed his fears on a Christian message board. A helpful soul replied with a verse. Late one night Will surfed to an online Christian discussion board and typed these words: “For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God, For it is written, he taketh the wise in their own craftiness.” (1 Cor 3:19).
Will knew God was speaking to him. But God wasn’t offering a doubt-free life. He hedged until the next day when he and his family enjoyed Chinese takeout in his backyard and he read this message in a fortune cookie: The heart is wiser than the intellect.
Will broke. He committed himself to what he believed would be a life without uncertainty.
I coveted Will’s doubt-free faith for the longest time. Will served Jesus free from the burden of looking over his shoulder. I did not. I recently watched the movie Religulous and squirmed under the weight of Bill Maher’s barbs. What if this whole Jesus-project was dangerous b.s.? How did Will watch documentaries like this and not have moments of doubt?
It took Don Quixote to get me to stop beating myself up over being a closet skeptic. I sat down with the novel and took in the story of a man who believed he was a knight centuries after the age of chivalry had past. There a was nothing his friends could say to keep him from launching out on adventures. Toward the end of his life Don Quixote become the butt of a wealthy family’s practical jokes. The stress forces Don Quixote to face the truth — he had wasted his life in a delusion. The heart-broken fool died a wrecked man. I closed the book realizing that faith without doubt is insanity. Faith that doesn’t struggle to accommodate the real world is just escapism. Faith, without the work of doubt, is dead.
Will’s faith escaped its Don Quixote phase. Will is arguing with Passive God who didn’t intervene when the Great Recession consumed his business. I am not happy that Will is struggling but I know his and my doubts are positive signs.
Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…
• David Dark on Sacred Questioning
• Cara Davis: A Textbook Case
• Matthew Paul Turner: Letting Them See My Doubt
• Sally Lloyd-Jones: Where Did You Put Your Faith?
• Chad Gibbs: When It Doesn’t Seem Fair
• Leeana Tankersley: The Swirling Waters
• Robert Cargill: The Skeptic in the Sanctuary
• Dana Ellis: Haunted by Questions
• Rachel Held Evans on Works-Based Salvation
• Winn Collier: Doubt Better
• Tyler Clark on Losing Fear, Losing Faith
• Rob Stennett on the Genesis of Doubt
• Adam Ellis on Hoping That It’s True
• Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
• Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage