Faith can be difficult. Questions can be difficult. Is it even possible to do both at the same time?
Growing up, I picked up the notion that my relationship with God, my involvement in a loving community, and my eternal destiny all depend on my ability to believe certain things about Jesus and God. At the time, that was great news! When everyone you love and respect believes the same things, it’s not hard to believe along with them. But what happens when the believing gets tough? Wouldn’t it be better to hide away from the tough questions, lest questioning lead to different beliefs and different beliefs potentially lead to a frightful separation from God and people?
Even if God and my friends love me regardless of what I find most believe-able at any given time, asking tough questions about faith is still a risky thing. If faith is really faith, then there is something at stake; there is “skin in the game,” something to lose. So what happens if the center of my identity disintegrates upon closer scrutiny? What could be more disappointing and earth-shattering than that? Like love, faith is always a risk that could very well end in pain and disappointment. Wouldn’t it be better to not think too much about it?
A faithful way to doubt?
At the end of the day, I can’t defend my mixture of faith and doubt with an airtight argument or a list of bible verses or a quote from the Apostle’s Creed. And why would I? Trying to determine the correct balance of faith and doubt would be like pondering what age I’d like to be – idle deliberation over something I cannot control anyway. Yet at any given moment, my faith is full of doubt, and my doubt is full of faith. How might I live this way?
The “Psalms of Lament” express uncomfortable emotions, to say the least. Often enough, they ask God tough, even accusatory questions (“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?“). At the climax of the Gospel of Mark, perhaps the darkest moment in the entire Bible, Jesus dies without the self-determination of John’s passion narrative or the fanfare of Luke’s. Instead, he quotes a verse from one of the Psalms of Lament (Psalm 22): “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” The Son dies with a sharp question pointed at the Father who has forsaken him.
Lately, while reading through Genesis, I’ve been surprised by the candor of Abraham before God. Early in the story, God promises to eventually give many descendants to Abraham (who is still technically Abram at that point). Yet on more than one occasion, the increasingly-elderly and still-childless Abraham poses an inconvenient question to God: “Can a child be born to a man who is a hundred years old?”
Lately, I’ve been thinking and writing about the contradiction of an orderly creator and a frequently violent, chaotic world, as well as the contradiction of a loving God and hurting people. I’ve structured my twelve month-long “God Project” so that I can really dig into doubt before I turn to contemporary theology for help. My hope is that by clarifying the questions up front, I can grow into more helpful and creative answers by the end. In the present, this means that I have a lot of doubts to faithfully process.
And so I lift my jagged questions in prayer like the Psalmist, Jesus, and Abraham:
God, where are you in creation? It does not always look intentionally created, let alone good.
God, what am I to make of suffering? Why does it go on like this? So much of the world does not seem right. It does not look like “perfect love” to me. Why don’t you make it right? Where are you in all of this?
To be clear, this is not a prayer asking God to help me fit my mind into another person’s belief structure. I am not looking for help arbitrarily believing whatever I happened to grow up believing. Rather, this is a prayer inviting God into my process – or maybe it is a prayer seeking to be folded into God’s larger process.