No Doubt?: Allowing Space for Questions of Faith

Posted: October 26, 2011 in Faith/Christianity, Youth Culture & Trends
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I’ve been doing some research into the faith development and spiritual journey of teenagers as they get ready to graduate from high school and hit the college road.  One of the things I’ve unfortunately seen is the trend of students who, although seemed to be zeroed in on their Christian faith through high school, struggled with that same ‘faith’ post-high school.  Pastors, youth workers, and parents will often chalk this struggle up to the pressures of college life and the intensified secular atmosphere of non-religious institutions.  

I think there’s some merit to the notion of the college/university influence and ability to douse the flame of a young believers faith.  But I also think it goes much deeper than subverted secular environments and increased influence from peers and faculty.  I believe it has a lot to do with churches and families who “think youth group graduates are ready for the struggles ahead, despite the students themselves feeling unprepared and challenged by everything from loneliness to difficulty finding a new church.1″  Fuller Seminary professors Kara E. Powell & Brad Griffin make this clear in their ongoing Sticky Faith research project, which focuses on tackling the issues of kids graduating from their faith after high school…why it happens…how it happens…and how we can foster environments so it happens much less frequently.  

One area, according to their research, that often gets neglected is the area of ‘doubt’.  I think parents, pastors and youth workers try very hard to give and lead their students/kids to the right answers & directions in life, but we may fail in the arena of doubt.  Don’t get me wrong here…I’m not saying we should encourage young people (or anyone for that matter) to doubt God…but what I am saying is that doubt is inevitable.  Whether as a child, teen or adult, we will encounter doubt along the journey of life.  Sometimes we work so hard at eliminating doubt  from the equation, instead of allowing room for doubt to be processed, wrestled with, and worked out.  

Too often we paint the picture that a mature, Christian faith=no doubt (no I’m not talking about the Ska-punk rock band featuring Gwen Stefani!), but when youth encounter doubt in their faith it often leads to the response “well…your faith must be weak, because if you’re doubting that means Christ doesn’t have all of you” or that “your doubt must be coming from the devil.”  Could it be that some so-called ‘doubt’ in our lives is just evidence of the Holy Spirit working, causing us to work out our world-view, character and conduct?  Sometimes that gets a little messy, but then again…Christianity isn’t for the faint of heart who want things neat, tidy and pre-packaged!  

The English word ‘doubt’ is derived from the Latin dubitare or dubius, which is where we get the word ‘dubious’.  Now there’s two different kinds, or concepts of ‘doubt’;2

  1. unbelief, disbelief, rejection, denial, agnosticism, faithlessness” (i.e the skeptic who doubts all things, but refuses to doubt their own doubts. 
  2. “uncertainty, lack of confidence, reservation, problematic, misgivings, skeptical, questioning” (i.e. someone who is wavering…not really on one side or the other).  

The bible does paint a negative picture about the 1st definition of doubt (i.e. James 1:6; Matt. 14:31), but also seems to wave the green flag for the 2nd kind (i.e. Mark 9:24; Jude 1:22)…or at least validates that it’s okay to have questions concerning life, faith, God…but not at the expense of writing those questions off (or those that pose them).  God has given us questioning minds and an innate curiosity to know how and why things work.  Acts 17:10-12 shows a ‘good’ instance of doubt.  The Bereans were hearing what Paul the Apostle was saying, but doubting or unsure if it was true! So they did what they ought to do when doubt creeps in…checked what they were hearing against Scripture to confirm if it was accurate or not.  And don’t forget, even though they had some questions/doubts, the Bible calls them people of “noble character!”

You can read Brad Griffin’s article, I Doubt It: Allowing Space for Questions as he looks at why and how we doubt, as well as how we need to make space that allows for doubt to give invitation to start a conversation…not ending it!  Hopefully we can take those conversations of confusion, anxiety and uncertainty that students/young people have, and turn them into teaching and listening moments that leads to real answers, real assurance and real truth.  

It would kinda sip to end the conversation right here…talking about doubt and that it’s inevitable…but what do we do about it?  Good question…glad I asked!  Here’s a few things you can do when encountering open, honest doubt (what I mean by that is a doubt that is ‘willing’ to seek answers, as opposed to a close-minded doubt that slams the door shut without taking time to examine and reflect i.e. “the fool who says there is no God);

  •  Don’t beat yourself up- Satan loves to make us feel guilty when we doubt (remember we’re talking about doubt in the context of our faith…not about whether or not the Maple Leafs will win the Stanley Cup in the next 5 years!).  God’s word shows us  that we can have questions about our faith, but we can’t  be mature Christians if these doubts keep cropping up. A ‘willing’ doubt only means we’re functioning the way God created us…keep praying and searching in God’s word for His truth!
  • Don’t shove them down-  Sometimes we fear embarrassment, but getting our thoughts and feelings out in the open with a Christian friend, pastor or someone you respect is a great start.
  • Search the Scriptures– If you feel you’ve sinned, claim 1 John 1:9 and get on with it, don’t dwell on it and continue doubting God’s reign in your life!
  • Don’t let your doubt control you– allow the Holy Spirit to fight for you and defend you against doubt…but you can’t do this alone.  Don’t let the devil get a foothold on your mind, and don’t give in to the deceitful thoughts.  

Let your doubts cause you to turn to God and gain a fresh perspective on His word, truth and promises for a life of victory, freedom and assurance.  Would God ever turn away your honest questions when you come to Him with an open heart & mind?  I doubt it…in fact…I know it!

 Footnotes

1. taken from Sticky Faith research release overview, http://stickyfaith.org/articles/what-makes-faith-stick-during-college)

2. source: dictionary.com

 

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Comments
  1. Hi Shawn

    Trust you are well. Saw your post on Facebook.

    Many people are struggling with doubt ( not just young people).

    Thought I would link to a good sermon on doubt by a guy called Eric Ludy from Colorado.

    Blessings Win

    http://ellerslie.com/Eric_Ludy_Sermons/Entries/2011/10/9_The_Anatomy_of_Faith.html

    • Thanks for the link Win…and yes, unfortunately doubt is not confined to just ‘young’ people. I was just writing in the context of youth/parent ministry. Its something we’ve all likely struggled with for sure, but praise God he’s much more patient than we are!

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