It is the right thing to do. Listening to the questions and doubts of those who are struggling with belief in God, the nature of scripture, doctrine or how to think about the subject matter of the culture wars. No one truly begrudges the spiritual journey of another. But seriously, I think we’ve taken the principle of listening way to far. Have you ever heard a wife explain about relating to her husband that when she wants to share (that means ‘talk’ but it might mean ‘rant’), she just wants him to listen and not offer any solutions? I get it that everyone wants to be listened to because that’s a part of relating one to another, but this isn’t a biblical model of accountability. If the things we say or the questions we ponder aloud solicit a response, our responsibility—ironically—is to listen. Our questions and doubts should be with a goal in mind—the locating of truth and wisdom. But when we’re so focused on the journey itself, even to the point of making an idol out of our questions and doubts, then we’ve lost sight of Christ and made ourselves the focus of the journey.
Doubt seems to be the pervasive doctrine of the young “evangelicals,” many who self-identify as emergent. As appropriated by this group, doubt is probably better described as a virtue, because to have doubt means not having answers, and not having answers means not being right (or wrong). By not being right about anything means we can continue to converse about the questions and develop relationships around the common ally of curiosity. Doubt should be a welcome guest in the life of faith, but doubt should not be a permanent disposition.
I Doubt, Therefore I Am
Over the weekend, Jay Bakker (son of Jim and the late Tammy Faye Bakker & gay-affirming pastor) appeared on CNN discussing the latest Pew Research report on belief in God. According to their 2012 findings, 68% of Millennials indicate they never doubt the existence of God while only 5 years ago that number was 76%.
Early in the interview, host Don Lemon posed the challenge “If God exists, prove it.” The point of the question was to elevate the reasonableness of doubt because if God can not be empirically verified then unbelief or doubt is rational. The question felt like someone knocked the wind out of me. Certainly Lemon wasn’t suggesting that our knowledge of God starts with us? Skepticism is not the result of investigation but the ultimate assumption, so its no surprise special revelation serves as no answer to the dilemma of knowledge of God. No wonder so much doubt prevails among the Millennial age group.
After catching my breath, Lemon continued his conversation with Jay Bakker, venturing into some areas even Lemon could not avoid describing as subversive. Bakker stated that even on the cross, Jesus doubted—“Christ was an atheist.”
I lost my capacity to breathe again. God didn’t believe in God (as Bakker put it). And this is based on what?
“Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt 27:46 ESV)
In paying the penalty for our sin, Jesus had to be be separated from the favor of and fellowship with the Father that was eternally his. In quoting Ps. 22:1 Jesus probably had in mind the remaining passages of the psalm which moves on to a cry of victory. He may have quoted a question, but the doubt and unbelief attributed to Christ is nonexistent as he expresses belief quite clearly with the words “my God.” He knows why he must die—the ultimate purpose of the incarnation. In his cries he is not expressing confusion over the purposes of God the Father, but a message to those who are watching, that being forsaken was for the salvation of others. We can’t wrap our mind around this fully, what it was like for God the Son to experience a form of separation from God the Father, but to justify human doubt and unbelief on the basis of theistic-atheism is nothing short of tragic.
Bakker quoted Paul Tillich in the interview, asserting that doubt is not the opposite of faith but an element of it—a topic I will take up in a forthcoming post. Certainly doubt is a part of our journey in the faith and is something that each of us experience to varying degrees. But let’s not ordain doubt as the shepherd of our thoughts and allow it to lead us away from the possibility of knowing the God who has made himself plainly knowable. We need to challenge the distortion that somehow doubt is a neutral assessment. Doubt is not always innocent. It is often the starting point intended to challenge the truths that have already been revealed and redefine the gospel that fails the expectations of doubt.