Reason # 6- the Church doesn’t feel like a place where one can express doubts
I can remember feeling a little scared of taking Intro to Religious Studies in college. I had Christian friends who had either taken it or Intro to New Testament previously and mostly all I heard from them was that the classes would try to tear them down and teach things that go against their faith and belief in the Bible. At the same time, however, I had always had an eager mind to learn as much as I could about theology and philosophy, so I decided to dive in. While I admit, there were plenty of moments where doubt or fear began to creep in, perhaps the most important thing that happened to me in my first foray into religious studies was that I came to a place where I discovered that doubt or questioning was not a bad thing if it led me to seek out God for greater understanding and faith.
Sometimes, as the Church, we want to squelch out all doubt, all questions. We want everyone to believe that we have all of the answers because otherwise, we fear that faith will somehow crumble, that our beliefs will somehow be disproved, or that God will somehow be undermined. Whether it is out of fear, or out of arrogance, our unwillingness to do more than pay lip-service to the reality of doubt or questions are what actually destroy real faith. Those are the things that actually undermine God, who can handle any doubts or questions we might throw in God’s direction. God is always bigger.
We, ourselves, in the church, don’t often want to admit to any moments of doubt we have: doubts about whether or not God hears us or answers prayers, doubts about how bad things can happen, doubts that God will make a way for us through pain or trials, doubts about how we understand the Bible, and even doubts about God’s existence. Doubt is a natural part of life and of growing in faith. The problem comes when we let fear of doubts cripple or even paralyze us, or we try to write off or underplay others’ doubts for the same reasons.
Younger generations are on a quest to find meaning, truth, and purpose. Often, that comes with questions and doubts. Instead of trying to convince the world that we have all of the answers, we, as the Church, need to be a place where people can ask questions and take the time through dialogue and experience to navigate those questions. We, ourselves, need to ask more questions.
My favorite professor in college (who happens to be an ordained United Methodist elder in the VA Annual Conference) would frequently say this line, and it continues to stick with me to this day: “Faith isn’t about finding all of the answers, it’s about learning to live with the questions.” Doubts can lead us to seek truth and understanding. Doubts can lead us to a fuller reliance upon God and a deeper faith. They are not something to be afraid of. If we want to see younger generations participating in the life of the Church, then we need to lay these fears and arrogance aside to do more than pay lip-service to real doubts that we, and others, experience.
In college, I had to take the leap to trust that my faith would see me through whatever doubts or questions were raised. For me, Intro to Religious Studies became a real turning point in my life where I began to see a tangible difference in the depth of my faith. I was no longer scared of questions I couldn’t find answers the answers to right away, if ever. We need to embrace the God who is thankfully bigger than our questions and bigger than our answers, and embrace those who are asking questions, no matter where they are in relationship to God.