What the Bible Really Says About Doubt

In the past, no matter how much I read the Bible, I had thought that it didn't encourage questions or questioners. I soon realized that my call to questioners and my previous belief about the Bible had become incompatible.

As I started this new Bible study, I realized how much I valued the cocoon I had built around myself. I realized how much I valued my own safety when it came to the Bible. As long as I could fit it into my neat, theological categories, I did just fine, at least, on the surface.

Fear. All of us feel it. There is no shame in feeling it, although we often think it's the height of sin to just have the feeling. It often comes to us when we are in situations that are completely out of the realm of our abilities. We have no way to cope, so we often fall back on what we know. Rarely do we enter into those questions and feel their full brute force. That is, until God makes us face them.

We feel fear and then we lash out at the person who is doing the asking. We react in fear not because God is challenged but because our idols are being called into question; the idols of success, influence, power and control.

Atheists often talk about how Christians and the Bible encourage blind belief. Christians often think it as well. When I struggled with doubt, I avoided the Bible. It made me ill to even think about reading it.

I have to say, rethinking how I approached questioning in the Bible turned out to be harder than I thought. I had such an ingrained attitude driven by misquoted scripture, "Didn't Jesus say we should have the faith of a child?"

It's true, He did, but it's my belief we haven't really thought about His words. Have you ever been around kids? Kids do have a simple faith, but they also question everything. My kids ask intense questions like "Why does God let people die? Why do I feel scared? Why was this person mean to me?"

I find it much easier to answer the questions of adults than kids.

Jesus' first words of the Sermon on the Mount, "Blessed are the Poor in Spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of God." What is interesting about that phrase, "Poor in Spirit," is the literal translation, which is "Spirit beggars."

God wants us to see that we are panhandlers covered in our own filth. He wants us to admit that we are full of doubts. He wants us to bring them out into the open before Him and lay them at His feet. God wants us to see that He understands our doubt.

How do we know this?

Eloi, Eloi, lema, sabachthani.

Recognize this? Jesus said it. He said it on the most horrible day in history, the day God died, and the day that God doubted Himself.

My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?

At this very moment, God is calling Himself into question. At this moment, all of the skubulos (see St. Paul's letter to the Philippians) and sin of the world has been placed on God's shoulders. He takes the blame for everything. God embraces His responsibility by paying the price required.

Forsaken. You have forsaken me.

Jesus is quoting Psalm 21, a Psalm that expresses ultimate agony and feelings of abandonment. He is echoing the Old Testament theme of the struggle with belief in God. Psalm 88 is a perfect example of this struggle. The Psalmist questions God's sanity and the darkness of the world. Unlike most Psalms, it doesn't end on a happy note. It ends with, "My companions have become darkness."

This passage of scripture is actually in the Bible. Its mere presence destroys the idea that God doesn't allow people to question him. The Psalmist asks stark and terrible questions.

"Vanity, Vanity, everything is Vanity," begins one of the most question intensive books of the Bible. The writer of Ecclesiastes asks disturbing questions like, "What use is pleasure? Work? Why bother? Why should I strive to be wise?"

Underneath all of these questions are these "Why does God allow death? Why give us any pleasure in the first place? What's the point of it all?"

These are questions that are asked to a God who doesn't seem to answer. The questioner in Ecclesiastes is not struck down, but he isn't answered either.

This theme plays out starkly and loudly in the book of Job. It's a tragic story. Here is Job, an upright man who believed in God. We are told that he even gave offerings on behalf of his children in case they didn't believe God. This guy had all his bases covered.

Then, in what seems like a barroom bet between God and Satan, Job becomes the focus of a series of horrible tragedies. His crops are destroyed. His property raided and, what strikes me as the worst of the worst, his children are killed in a horrible windstorm.

Job never curses God, but he does question. He calls God into account. He demands that God explain Himself. He feels forsaken and unloved.

Job's friends appear on the scene, and they aren't really any help. In a modern retelling of Job, the Coen brothers' movie A Serious Man illustrates Job's friends' futility through three Rabbi's who fail to answer the questions of a man whose life has come undone. They all give him the same advice that Job's friends gave him.

Shut up. You have probably sinned somewhere.

Don't ask God questions.

When God appears on the scene in Job, he does something very interesting. He answers Job by asking more questions. God doesn't give Job any pat answers. Instead, he asks Job:

Who are you in relationship to me and the rest of the world? Do you think you are the only one who suffers?

As I read through the biblical discussion of doubt, I realized how much the Bible really does describe reality, especially the reality of the human condition. It calls us to question and to doubt. The relief I felt can barely be described. I felt liberated. I could openly bring out my doubts and not get struck by lightning.

My faith had been restored through doubt.