Faith and Doubt

In conversations with students, I've been faced with the relationship between faith and doubt.  Somehow, somewhere, students seem to believe that faith and doubt cannot coexist; that the existence of doubt is the negation of faith.  Where do they get this notion?

This has caused me to wonder just how many young people, or anyone for that matter, have left faith because they were discouraged by doubt.  How many have we lost who believe faith and doubt were at odds?  Isn't it more true to suggest that doubt drives us to deeper faith; that is, when we are able to truly wrestle with and deal honestly with our doubts, we are able to arrive at a deeper, more robust faith?

In Rob Bell's most recent book, What We Talk About When We Talk About God, this quote grabbed my attention:
"For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites; they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners."

Doubt is a sign your faith has a pulse.
Doubt and Faith are excellent dance partners.

I find myself agreeing with these notions.  I think this will be helpful for students with whom I work.  I am reminded of the man who said to Jesus, "I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief."  Unbelief, doubt, uncertainty - this is where Jesus steps in and moves us, shapes us, changes our hearts and beliefs, our attitudes and understandings.

So why are we so uncomfortable with doubt?  Why does it seem so scary?


Make It Salty

After reading the Kierkegaard parables I shared in my last post and reading/listening to Peter Rollins over the last month or so, I've been thinking a lot about the role of story in our preaching/teaching.  Rollins uses parables A LOT, and they're effective.  It's crazy how I remember these stories he tells.

Rollins says, "Instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, Jesus made his teaching salty, evoking thirst."  He explains this further in a video from 2011:

The Power of Parable from Peter Rollins on Vimeo.

I wonder whether our Christian teaching/preaching, even our conversations with others, focus too much on giving answers or providing solutions to biblical/theological issues.

We use a lot of words in Christianity.  We have a language that we use, and many of us who grew up in church or who have been around church are quite comfortable with this language - whether we realize it or not.  But, how do we use these words, this language, in order to communicate with others - even fellow believers?  Do we give out answers?  Do we give easy to stomach definitions, black and white, that no one should dare have to think or wrestle with faith, doubt, the Bible?  Do we give self-help?  Do we peddle feel-goodism?

Rollins says,
"It is all too common for Christians to attempt to do justice to the scriptural narrative by listening to it, learning from it, and attempting to extract a way of viewing the world from it. But the narrative itself is asking us to approach it in a much more radical way. It is inviting us to wrestle with it, disagree with it, contend with it, and contest it—not as an end in itself, but as a means of approaching its life-transforming truth, a truth that dwells within and yet beyond the words." 
I like this idea of using parable, stories, that our words would be salty; thus, evoking thirst in our hearers.  I'd love to have some salty conversations where I walked away thirsty, literally seeking out the water, Jesus himself.  I'd love it if my preaching/teaching left people with questions, not of me, but of the text, of Jesus himself.  I'd love it if they walked away looking for water, searching for life-giving water.

Let's wrestle through this together.  Let's sharpen one another as we seek answers and contend with, contest, disagree with one another, SO THAT we can be transformed by Jesus.

May your words be salty.  May your words invoke thirst.


A Pentecost Message

Jesus taught using parables, one author says, “So that instead of religious discourse being a type of drink designed to satisfy our thirst for answers, his teachings would be salty, evoking thirst.”

This Pentecost Sunday, as we celebrate God’s gift of the Holy Spirit and the birth of the church, I want to share with you two parables attributed to Danish philosopher Soren Kierkagaard, that these teachings might evoke thirst for the Holy Spirit.
“There was a rich man.  At an outrageous price he bought a team of entirely flawless, splendid horses, which he had wanted for his own pleasure and for the pleasure of driving  himself.  About a year or two passed by.  If anyone who had known the horses earlier now saw him driving them, he would not be able to recognize them: their eyes had become dull and drowsy; their gait lacked style and precision; they had no staying power, no endurance; he could drive them scarcely four miles without having to stop on the way, and sometimes they came to a standstill just when he was driving his best; moreover, they had acquired all sorts of quirks and bad habits, and although they of course had plenty of feed they grew thinner day by day.
 Then he called the royal coachman.  He drove them for a month.  In the whole countryside there was not a team of horses that carried their heads so proudly, whose eyes were so fiery, who gait was so beautiful; there was no team of horses that could hold out running as they did, even thirty miles in a stretch without stopping.  How did this happen?  It is easy to see:  the owner, who without being a coachman meddled with being a coachman, drove the horses according to the horses’ understanding of what it is to drive; the royal coachman drove them according to the coachman’s understanding of what it is to drive.”
So ends the parable.  Kierkegaard follows this parable saying, “So also with us human beings.  When I think of myself and the countless people I have come to know, I have often said to myself sadly:  here are capacities and talents and qualifications enough, but the coachman is lacking.” 

Today, 2000 years removed from the day of Pentecost, we are in dire need of submission to the divine coachman, the Holy Spirit; the same Spirit that drove the Apostles to preach, heal, and serve in the face of great uncertainty and even physical harm.  We, like the Apostles, must first die to self, and die to the notion that we can drive these bodies of ours through the perils of life, on our own, without aid, without God.  We must die to self, that we might allow the Spirit of life, the Spirit of Truth, the Holy Spirit of God to be our guide, our driver, our coachman.

In John 14, Jesus promises the Holy Spirit to those who would keep his commands and remain in him.  In this chapter, Jesus makes two statements I find quite interesting.  First, he says, “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father.”  Even greater things.  Whoever believes in me will do not only the things Jesus has been doing, but more.  The second thing I find fascinating is when Jesus says that it is actually better that he leaves.  It is better for us that Jesus go to the Father.  He says, “If you loved me, you would be glad that I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I.”  This is most certainly interesting.  It seems reasonable that life would be much better if Jesus were to stay, but Jesus seems to say that it is better that he leaves, for the presence of the Holy Spirit will allow us to do GREATER things that even Jesus did.

To further evoke thirst, allow me to share the second parable.
There was a certain town where all the residents are ducks.  Every Sunday the ducks waddle out of their houses and waddle down Main Street to their church. They waddle into the sanctuary and squat in their proper pews. The duck choir waddles in and takes its place, and then the duck minister comes forward and opens the duck Bible.He reads to them: "Ducks! God has given you wings! With wings you can fly! With wings you can mount up and soar like eagles. No walls can confine you! No fences can hold you! You have wings. God has given you wings, and you can fly like birds!"All the ducks shout, "Amen!"And then they all waddle home.


Parable On Heaven - At Last

I can't seem to shake the power of this parable Peter Rollins shares in his book, Fidelity of Betrayal.  He shares it in the video I've posted below.  I found this parable, originally told by Philip Harrison, to be challenging and encouraging in that it surprised me, caught me off guard, and messed with my preconceived notions of the allure of heaven.  The promise of heaven is unbelievable, indescribable, even considering the amazing revelation given to St. John.  I'm interested in reactions to this parable.  I'm wrestling with what it means for us, particularly for people like me who live comfortably as Christians in this world that is not our home.

You can also read the parable from Rollins' book if a 3 minute video seems to long for you!

The other day I had a dream. I dreamed I arrived at the gates of heaven, heavy-shut, pure oak, bevelled and crafted, glinting sharp in the sunlight. St. Peter stood to greet me; the big man wore brown, smile set deep against his ruddy cheeks.

“You’re here,” he said.

“I am,” I said.

“Great to see you—been expecting you,” he smiled. “Come on in.”

He pushed gently against the huge door; it swung silently, creakless. I took a couple of steps forward until, at the threshold, one more step up and in, I realized I wasn’t alone. My friends had joined me, but they hovered behind, silently, looking on. None spoke. I realized only I could speak. I looked at them; some were Christians, some Hindus, some Buddhists, some muslims, some Jews, some atheists. Some God knows what. I stopped, paused. A hesitant St. Peter looked at me, patiently, expectantly.

“What about these guys?” I asked him. “My friends. Can they come?”

“Well, Phil,” he replied, soft in the still air, “you know the rules. I’m sorry, but that’s the way things are. Only the right ones.”

I looked at him. He seemed genuinely pained by his answer. I stood, considering. What should I do? I thought about my reference points, and thought about Jesus, the bastard, the outsider, the unacceptable, the drunkard, the fool, the heretic, the criminal, and I knew exactly where I belonged.

“I’ll just stay here then too,” I said, taking my one foot out of heaven. And I’ll tell you, I’d swear I saw something like a grin break across St. Peter’s face, and a voice from inside whispered, “At last.”


Come to _____________ ?

This video from Len Sweet created by "The Work of the People" was speaking my language today.  I'm going to leave this short as I'm still processing these thoughts.  Maybe you can enter into the current monologue I have going in my brain.  Watch the video first, then think about this phrase that's been stuck in my head today:
Our benchmark for Christian faith isn't the Bible, it's Jesus.
I'm not sure I have much more to say.  This thought - this phrase - was stuck in my head as I drove to a youth pastor meeting today.  Is it a true statement?  Is it intelligible?  I'm not sure what to make of it, but there it is!

Like I said, check out the video.  Reflect.  Comment.