Genuine Doubts are Better than a Facade of Faith

Marguerite Shuster tells a story that she traces back to Myron Augsburger.  I am skeptical as to whether the story could actually have happened—I suspect it to be an urban legend—but it makes me laugh, and it makes a good point, so here it is:

“This fellow was slaving over his desk in his sixth-floor office, struggling to see what he was doing after the seven-foot fluorescent light above his desk stopped working.  Calling maintenance produced no help, so he decided to scramble up on the desk and take a look himself.  Sure enough, the bulb was burned out.  He unscrewed it, measured it carefully, and went off to the hardware store for a replacement.  Success!  He screwed in the bulb and the office was flooded with light.  When five p.m. came and he was ready to leave, he saw the burned-out tube standing forlornly in the corner.  Leaving it there didn’t seem like a very good idea, since he wasn’t a part of the maintenance people’s union.  He decided he’d better take it with him; he thought he remembered a construction site on the way home where he could dump it  So, he carried it down the street, into the subway station, onto the train; but how do you sit down with a seven-foot tube in your hand? … So he stood up.  The train stopped at the next station, five people got on, and four of them grabbed hold of the tube.  Now what?  Pretty soon it occurred to him that all he needed to do was get off at his station and leave the pole.  Picture, then, the last person left holding that wobbly pole.” (Theology, News & Notes, Oct. 1999)

Nathanael (God bless him) was determined not to be one of those kind of people who would be left holding a burned-out tube just because others had grabbed hold of it.  When Philip, a friend of Nathanael’s, came and told him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth” (John 1:45), Nathanael voiced his skepticism.  He asked a question that could be considered rather rude, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”

Christians are often made to feel that they are being naughty if they ask questions or express doubts about anything having to do with God or Christ.  But, according to John 1:47, Jesus affirms Nathanael’s character in the midst of his skeptical outburst.  Jesus says of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”  This verse reveals that Jesus values a person’s integrity and genuineness over a façade of faithfulness.  Apparently, it is better in Jesus’ eyes for us to express our doubts and to ask our questions (even when they may sound rude) than to shove them down and hide them under a mask of faith.

Why would that be?  Why does God prefer honest doubts and questions over a mask of faith? 

Frederick Buechner points out, “Doubts prove that we are in touch with reality, with the things that threaten faith as well as with things that nourish it.  If we are not in touch with reality, then our faith is apt to be blind, fragile, and irrelevant.”  God wants us to be open and honest about our doubts so that we can move from a blind, fragile, and irrelevant faith into a faith that is real and growing.

Ruth Senter adds, “God’s love isn’t so fickle that my doubts cause him to love me less.  God sticks with people through their doubts; he hangs on to people when they’re wandering off in the wrong direction.  I saw that kind of love other places in Scripture.  God didn’t strike Job dead when Job did some loud complaining.  Nor did God put David on the shelf when David asked some tough questions (see the Psalms)…. I haven’t outgrown all my doubts.  There are still many loose ends of life which I haven’t been able to tie together—and probably never will.  I’ll never understand all the ways of God.  He doesn’t even expect me to.  But he does expect me to love him.  And loving means honesty.  I wish I’d learned a long time ago that God does understand about doubts.  It would have saved me a lot of energy I wasted trying to pretend my questions didn’t exist.”    

The conclusion I come to is that one of the keys to spiritual growth has to do with taking off the mask and being genuine with God about our questions and doubts.


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