I spent a significant portion of my childhood and teens intensely jealous of the spiritually certain. Those who spoke of ‘blessed assurance’; who claimed, ‘I haven’t a doubt in my mind that….’; or believed that ‘God has made it unmistakably clear that….’ How could they be so unwavering in their faith, I wondered? What did they possess that allowed them to be so unquestioning, while I grappled with doubts about God, salvation, and the very foundation of my beliefs?
Growing up as a missionary kid, it was unacceptable to question the (then) 27 fundamentals that underpinned our faith. The emphasis was always on the dissemination of our creed, not on questioning its veracity.
When I was a tween, my family moved back to Europe from the mission field and I found an Adventist environment that was more accepting of my reservations. I remember asking my Adventist secondary school religion teacher whether it was OK to be part of a religion but have issues with certain parts of its creed. To my surprise he told me it was fine. Perhaps counterintuitively, my teacher’s reassurance strengthened my very tentative faith and I grew to be more patient with my skeptical, questioning nature. I also learned to seek community (some would say “refuge”) among believers for whom faith did not come easy.
The more I opened up about my less-than-linear progression as a person of faith, the more people stepped in to help. For example, despite her more straightforward and robust approach to Adventism, my mother pointed out the father who cried ‘I believe; help my unbelief’ to Jesus as he asked for the deliverance of his possessed son (Mark 9:24). While my mother didn’t identify with my brand of unbelief, she told me that story was told for a reason. God could work with unbelief. Jesus accepted the father and helped him despite his less-than-rock-solid certainty. He could work with me too. That was encouraging!
I’ve stopped beating myself up over my doubts. I believe faith is essential, but when it transforms into unshakable certainty and dogma (frequently on display at high-level denominational administrative sessions), it stifles growth, dialogue, and compassion. Our ability to question, explore, and embrace the subtleties of our beliefs is what defines our humanity and our God-given capacity for reason. On a very Adventist note, doubt encourages questioning which can in turn lead to more discovery—more light.
In our rapidly changing world, we must welcome ambiguity and nuance. It’s not about abandoning faith but about nurturing it with an open heart and mind. We should scrutinize the rigidity of religious doctrines and policies that fail to adapt to the complexities of the modern era.
In times of turmoil, true faith lies not in the absence of doubt but in the courage to confront it. Let us embark on a spiritual journey that embraces doubt as an avenue for growth and a pathway toward a more compassionate and understanding church.
October 21, 2023
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