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I’m not sure that Rachel Held Evans needs a full introduction on this blog, other to say she’s the author of the excellent new book Evolving in Monkey Town and was interviewed here a couple of months ago (Part 1, Part 2). Rachel and I share more than a publisher. We share a lot of readers and cover a lot of the same territory about doubt, uncertainty, and questions — from different, but hopefully complementary angles.
I really appreciate her writing…in the book, on her blog, and now here, with today’s “Voices of Doubt” contribution.
For me, doubt comes and goes in waves.
Triggered by some seemingly insignificant event–a news report, a Bible
study, an abandoned baby sparrow–it shows up like an unexpected guest
with baggage in tow, and I never know how long it’s going to stay.
Having grown up in the apologetics-driven evangelical subculture of
the 80s and 90s, it took a few years for me to accept the fact that
doubt will likely be a part my life for a while, that I can’t just
argue it away, Josh McDowell-style. I spent so much of my early
twenties trying desperately to avoid doubt that I’d like to spend my
late twenties learning how to live with it, and in a way that honors
this God I believe in…most of the time.
I hate to admit it, but the best advice I’ve received about doubt came
not from a famous apologist or an esteemed theologian, but from my
Facebook wall, upon which my college friend David shared this advice:
“Belief is always a risk, a gamble–an adventure, if you will. The line
between faith and doubt is the point of action. You don’t need
certainty to obey, just the willingness to risk being wrong.”
David’s comment earned something like 33 “likes,” which on Facebook is
the equivalent of a Pulitzer.
His point is indeed profound: Doubt leads to spiritual paralysis only
when it keeps us from taking the risk of obedience. Rather than a sign
of weakness, obedience in the midst of uncertainty is the sign of true
faith. It is the point at which we take the leap.
A beautiful example of such obedience can be found in Mother Teresa,
who would have turned 100 yesterday. It is a testimony to true
faithfulness that the same woman who tirelessly welcomed the sick and
poor into her arms wrote in a letter to a friend, “I call, I cling, I
want–and there is no One to answer. Where is my Faith? …So many
unanswered questions live within me.”
Mother Teresa took the ultimate risk. She committed her life to
serving a God who didn’t always feel close or fair or real. I suspect
that there were many days when every part of her–body, mind,
spirit–felt like giving up. But she kept on loving when it didn’t come
easy, and that is what made her great. The saints among us are those
who know that sometimes obedience precedes belief.
Taking my cues from “Mama T,” I try to look for God in the least of
these. I try to continue serving through my doubts. I try to worship
and pray and love other people even when it feels a little fake.
What I’ve found is that going through the motions can be surprisingly
redemptive. Often there is faith–or something quite like it–on the
other side. Over the years I’ve learned more from working alongside
widows and orphans whose faith in the Gospel puts mine to shame than
from the piles of apologetics resources and theological books sent my
This is why I like to tease my fellow evangelicals by saying I believe
in “works-based salvation” (a comment that would typically earn some
serious “dislike” on Facebook).
When I say that, I am of course not suggesting that we can somehow
earn God’s favor through acts of good behavior. I am simply suggesting
that there is a sort of daily liberation that can be found in
obedience. Each good work has a way of loosening the chains of sin
(and doubt and fear) around my feet.
Such obedience is hard, and it’s something that I fail at most of the
time, but it’s something I’ve experienced in little fits and starts
along the way, enough to know that it’s worth the risk.