Over the last year or so there have been some big names that are popular in the Christian subculture that have shared publicly their stories of "deconstruction.” Some have called them “deconversion testimonies.” I’m not going to share their names, if you’re interested you can go looking for them. Also, what I’m going to write here is not about their stories. No, what I am going to take a moment to write about is doubt and faith.
A few years ago a friend of mine died. He got sick as a result of complications from some underlying health issues and he never recovered. Shortly thereafter another friend got cancer and died. All the while there were children at our middle school committing suicide. Also during that time a couple of kids were killed in car accidents. To say it was a difficult couple of years is a bit of understatement.
As a pastor I did all the right things. I prayed and asked others to pray. We had the Elders pray and anoint with oil. We did all the right things. Yet, the deaths kept coming. The pain seemed to be never ceasing. It seemed like every week there was something else that came down the pipe to give us the chance to weep and mourn.
I experienced doubt on a daily basis. There was little that made sense. I couldn’t fathom the inaction of God. Why didn’t God respond to our prayer the way we wanted him to?
During that time, I had multiple conversations with young people about their doubts. I also had conversations with older people about their doubts. They all came looking for answers.
Answers that I didn’t have.
That’s not entirely true. I knew what I answers I was supposed to give them. But, those answers felt lame and shallow and weak.
Instead, I chose to be honest.
During those conversations I opened myself up to some of those people and let them take a peak into my own struggles of faith. I think I used the words, “I don’t know,” more than I have before or since.
As I walked through those months of struggle I came to a couple of realizations about the necessity of doubt in the life of faith. First, I am convinced that doubt is the natural companion of faith. If we are truly living by faith then doubt is right there. We don’t need to fear it, we don’t need to worry about it, and we don’t need to try to minimize it in ourselves or others. Faith without doubt is no faith at all, it is certainty.
I also grew more convinced that the mystery of God is one that we must enter into without fear. John says that we are to trust the love that God has for us (1 John 4:16). If we do that then we can cry out in our doubt without fear of judgment from God. The Scriptures tell us to be merciful to those who doubt (Jude 22). The Psalms are filled with people crying out to God in the midst of their anguish. They hold nothing back. We don’t need to either. If we believe in the God of the Bible then we believe in a God that is big enough to handle our doubts and all of our questions. Yet, as we wade into our doubt we may not find all the answers we want. Why? Because God is ineffable. While we can truly know God we will never exhaustively understand God. In the same way, we can truly know another person and yet we will never exhaustively understand them.
I think many are deconverting or leaving their faith communities because they don’t feel or think there is space for them to explore and enter into doubt. Their feelings are often the result of implicit or explicit teaching or communication from the leaders of their faith communities. When we create space for those who are questioning or wrestling with their faith then what happens is that we make a way for them to stay connected. In almost all of these stories that I have heard over the last few years there is a stated desire to be in community with others and that the deepest grieving took place as a result of the loss of community.
Because these folks are “public” Christians, or were, their stories of deconstruction are picked apart. They are used as a means of apologetics to “protect” others from leaving the faith. Because of this the fear or worry of the faith community not welcoming those who doubt is re-confirmed. In many folks efforts to stem the tide of those leaving the community of faith they simply become a self-fulfilling prophecy showing that the one who is deconstructing was right to think there is no place for them.
One of the frustrations that I see in some of the responses to the stories of deconstruction is that there doesn’t appear to be a reconstruction. This is called “lazy” or disingenuous by those responding to the stories. My question is, “If these people are not welcomed in their faith communities where are they going to reconstruct or why should we expect them to reconstruct? Or, what do you think reconstruction looks like?”
I grieve with those who are stuck in deconstruction. To be in a place where there are no answers but only questions is really hard. It is emotionally and mentally exhausting. When you add the sense that you will be rejected from your community for asking the questions, it becomes infinitely worse.
During my recent season of deconstruction, I realized that this was going to be an ongoing process because I was going to press toward the reconstruction of my beliefs. This allows me to dive deep into my doubts and struggle but then to come out the other side with a clearer and often simpler faith. I am able to invite others into my process because we have created a community where doubts are understood to be necessary to faith.
If you’re walking through a season of doubt, that’s good. It means that you are living in faith. Your struggle is beautiful. The questions that you are asking may not have concrete answers but if you pursue them honestly the worst thing that will happen is that you will come to a place with a deeper, more authentic, appreciation of mystery. If you think your community is going to reject you during this time, reach out and let me know. I will be more than happy to help connect you to a community that will welcome your questions and doubts.
I’d love to hear your stories of doubt in the midst of faith. It’s great to know that we are not alone in the community of those who cry out, “Jesus, I believe, help me in my unbelief! (Mark 9:14-29)”