I Doubt It

These days I am losing my faith. The faith of my past, that is. I’m not sure how it will grow from here, and I’m doing my best to live in the tension and uncertainty of asking questions I’ve pushed away at other times in my life. Questions like, was Jesus’ crucifixion necessary to redeem humanity, or was it more of an inevitability for someone who loved so fully and stood so faithfully with the marginalized in the face of corrupt power, both religious and political? Did God really require an innocent sacrifice to compensate for the sins of the world? I seek to emulate a savior who is the prince of peace. Why would the God with whom that savior is one be thirsty for innocent blood (taking alone the teaching that Jesus is God’s son, differentiated from God the father?) Is there really ‘power in the blood’ of Jesus, and if so, does that power come from his blood crucified, or is it the living, healing, incarnate and resurrected Christ alone that was only ever necessary for the salvation of the world? (I understand resurrection could not happen without death, but my question is, did that death have to be an execution, a bloody sacrifice to appease a wrathful God?)

That’s a significant question for a lifelong evangelical, ever-so-familiar with the simple drawing of a stick man, a chasm, and God at the other side, with a cross bridging the man and God. There is much more I am pondering about this question, and I am hungry to ask other questions too – to research the canonization of scripture, the formation of the doctrines considered fundamental to my faith tradition – not to disprove, but to understand.

It’s clear to me that I couldn’t have faced these questions honestly or bravely earlier in my life. I would not have been able to live in the tension of uncertainty. For the years that these questions have been forming in me, I have often chosen to remain willfully ignorant, believing that my only other choice was to make a clean break and declare myself an atheist or agnostic. It’s complicated and difficult to face doubts and questions, to speak honestly about them, and at the same time to remain in community with other believers with whom I really do want to commune. It’s tempting and would be easier, in the short run, to be the extremist I often have been – to throw it all out, even the stuff I love and believe, rather than pursue the path of growth my inner life is demanding in all its twists and turns and switchbacks.

There is so much of my faith tradition that I do love and believe. At the core of these half-understood, inconsistent doctrines and dogma is something alive, a power and a love and grace that has undeniably pursued me, carried me, drawn me to itself. I have always called that presence God, understanding God to be three persons – a Father, a Son and a Holy Spirit. But my hungry mind is dissatisfied these days with leaving it at that when it has not meaningfully wrestled with the larger questions of who God is, who Jesus is, how these doctrines and ideas we call orthodox have been decided.

Some of us are dancers, some dreamers, some thinkers, most of us are unique combinations of these and more. The thinker in me wants to build a faith she can sink her teeth into.

The people-pleasing pastor’s kid in me, however, shrinks from all this. She sees the agnostic shortcut as much less messy – “just cut the cord and be done with it!” she begs. “What will people think if I ask these questions out loud and expect to still be accepted as a fellow believer? Escape, escape!”

It’s my mounting suspicion, however, that most of us – at least, those of us with significant ‘thinker’ sides – have doubts we are afraid to voice; and that the fear of what others will say or do in response to our doubts keeps us paralyzed, going through religious motions or else walking away from it all. I’ve decided to be more transparent with my own doubts and questions, and to hold fast to my faith that God and God’s people have arms wide enough for every seeker, every believer, every doubter, every messy mix of believer and doubter.

When I started this blog, I titled it “The More I Learn the More I Wonder,” with the intention of hashing out some of these doubts and questions, musings and wonderings I have, and hoping others will interact, challenge, agree or disagree, move the conversation along. I’ve done that a bit, and I hope to keep working at it – not just in cyberspace but in every space of my life.

15 Comments

  1. Julia,

    *Big sigh of relief* Thank you for posting your personal thoughts on a very delicate subject. These questions have haunted me for a very long time, and I chose to walk away from it all a few years ago. However, it only torments me because I experience God’s presence daily in my life, yet I don’t know how to understand the enormous chains that seem to be surrounding the “faith of my past”. Finding my way back has been painful and emotional. It was easy to break away yet incredibly hard to return. At the time I was too afraid of what others might think to stay in that circle and ask the questions. Now I know that my seeking is only natural and necessary for me. It may not be necessary for everyone, but I’ve had too much uncertainty in my childhood to blindly believe something I don’t understand as an adult.

    Your honest comments are sincerely appreciated and keep them coming. In a strange way your words are helping me heal.

    🙂

    Karen

    • Thank you dear Karen. Your words are a great encouragement to me!
      julia

  2. Julia,

    Thank you so much for posting your intermost feelings. Many people would shy away from being open and transparent because of the judgement of others. As you know, I too, am struggling with evangelicalism and how it has held me back in so many ways. There have been times that I have asked some of those same questions and tried to find the answers until my head began to hurt. Both Rhonda and I just finished a book called loosing my faith. It was written by a Los Angeles Times Reporter named Lobdall who takes you through his walk in life and how he processed religion and what it really meant to him. After reading the book, we had a better understanding of why we believe in Jesus.
    A pastor from St. Paul has been very helpful in helping me understand some of those tough quesions because he openly asks many of those same questions himself. I pod cast him regularly.
    Blessings Julia as you continue on your journey.

    Tim

    • hi Tim,

      Thanks for reading and interacting with the blog. I wrote this post from the same spot at the same table at Dunn Bros. where i was sitting a couple weeks ago when you and i talked and you prayed a blessing over me. Like i said that day, people like you and Rhonda who have been in my life since childhood and have remained faithful to Jesus but consistently growing, not afraid to rethink things, have been a great encouragement to me!

    • hi Tim,
      Just finished reading Losing My Religion – thanks so much for mentioning that book. Lobdell honestly and eloquently articulates his crisis of faith. I could so identify with pieces of his journey, and didn’t feel threatened in my own faith by his choice to reject his. I think it would be so great for every evangelical to read this book, to get a human picture of a ‘reluctant atheist,’ rather than the black-and-white caricature too many church folks use for atheists. I’m still in the middle of my own ‘dark night of the soul,’ but this book was a sympathetic companion for the journey.

  3. Julia,
    Thank you for your thoughts. I know God is certainly NOT offended by your questions, and neither should anyone else be. Over the years, I’ve asked similiar questions, and kept pressing into Him. He always answers, sometimes in very unusual ways. One of my frustrations was that the traditional church didn’t really seem like the church of Acts. So I sought out living like the early church and surrounding myself with like-minded individuals that would stir me up in my faith. And what I found out is that God is certainly still in the business of raising the dead, healing the lame, causing tumors to disappear, setting the captives free…etc. God is a whole lot bigger than what church tradition says He is.
    Many blessings to you, dear, as you seek out the King of Kings.
    Love, Melanie

    • Hi Melanie. Thanks for your insights, and sharing some of your own story. Nathan has always valued your friendship, and I’ve also enjoyed getting to know the thoughtful, expressive, joyful person that is you!
      julia

  4. Sweet,sweet Julia,
    I love the way you think, interact and share WHO you are right now. And, do you know what is amazing? So does our precious, shared Jesus! Keep asking, keep asking……He WILL answer!
    Love,
    Karen

  5. Thanks, dear daughter, for your courageous transparency. It’s caused me to again ponder my lifestyle which surrenders the risk of honest questioning to the security of a static, settled belief system; trades walking with Him for standing in community; perpetuates time-tested precepts in place of spontaneous, honest relationship.

  6. Julia,

    You may not remember me, but we worked together at HyVee Food Store when you were in High School – I graduated from PBBC, have taught math in private, public schools, currently am an Adjunct Math Instructor at Front Range Community College in Westminster, CO, and own Mountain Creek Tutoring Services.
    Anyway, I was literally fired from my last teaching job, not for my teaching, but for the ‘sin’ of questioning our former church pastor’s controlling, abusive, twisting of the Scriptures under the guise of ‘nouthetic counseling’, etc… I was further lied to our church, and literally voted out of the church because I dared to think and question the fundamentalist Baptist theology.
    I too, have many great memories from growing up a Baptist pastor’s kid, yet, after many years of agonizing research, have come to realize that a number of their basic premises are simply not based in reality.
    Following the truth wherever it leads, is extremely hard many times, yet the upheaval my wife and I experienced has created the opportunity to be business owners, be free of an oppressive church system, make and meet many new friends, and dig down deep inside ourselves to survive and prosper.
    In all honesty, currently, my former worldview was blown away, and I am trying to piece it back together into something that makes sense, eventually.
    I enjoyed reading your comments – I actually think that an agnostic is at least honest in his/her view about God.
    Glad I found this blog – very cool! Kelly

    • Hi Kelly,
      I follow Julia’s blog and just received your comment. It’s good to hear from you and about your story. It amazes me, how many of us have had similar-yet-distinct paths through the past 10 – 15 years, in sorting through our theological and religious upbringings, in a quest to know His truth. At the risk of sounding too much like a “proud PaPa,” I think you will find Julia’s transparency with the struggle to be refreshing and helpful, as you seek to go forward with truth.
      I’d love to hear more about Mountain Creek Tutoring Services. (I’m an adjunct and online teacher, along with being a Trainer and Coach in a one year old company in which I share ownership with 2 partners.)
      Again – good hearing your story. Please be encouraged that there are a lot of us with similar backgrounds who are on a similar journey!
      At His pace,
      Larry Tindall

      • Hello Larry,

        Your comments were a balm – thank you. I have all but given up on people who call themselves ‘Christians’ generally, have stopped attending church; although we are officially members of a Nazarene church in Westminster, CO, and Becky attends regularly and enjoys it. It’s hard to care after a lifetime of being so compliant, really believing and defending fundamentalist beliefs then realizing that much of it is factually incorrect, and irelevent. My life has been based on false premises, and I have been living a delusion.
        I am not, by any means, an atheist; I’ve just been blown out of the water, and am trying to collect the shreds that are falling around me and make sense of them.
        What business are you in now? Kelly

        • Hi Kelly,
          Thanks for sharing a bit of your story. It’s not unlike mine in the “based on false premises” characteristic. I think that God’s “spiritual deorientation” takes us through phases, not unlike the grieving process. I seem to have moved past the “resentment” phase and into the “what’s next?” stage. And with that, I’m growing deeper in understanding that my experiences were not “God’s fault” but rather reflect the natural sequence of events of being born into a fallen world. Most religions of the world (including Fundamentalism) are human efforts trying to explain God. I am currently enjoying “drying out” from my churchaholic life. As a “recovering religionist,” I am being re-introduced (or is it “introduced?”) to God and once again, find I very much enjoy being with people who are really trying to know Him. And we are a “confused bunch” but trying to better understand the light handed to us a long while back by religionists. But it’s no longer about “building religious organizations and institutions” it’s now about relating to Him and being around those who share that same thirst (come to think of it – isn’t that what the 1st C. church was doing?)
          As far as my business, I’m an independent teacher/trainer/writer and take on projects in teaching, technical writing, managing, business coaching and church-related needs (e.g. interim pastorates, etc.) I’m also one of 3 partners in a business coaching group called Envisage. We do coaching for business and for Healthcare organizations. Here’s the link/address to our Healthcare division: http://www.envisage-health.com .

    • Hello Kelly – I certainly do remember you! Thanks for reading and interacting with the blog and sharing a bit of your story. May you find the wisdom, love, and courage you need for your journey.
      Peace to you,
      julia
      PS – You should see the Owatonna Hy-Vee now! New building, convenience store out front, la-te-da! (i’m still waiting for the Starbucks they were forecasting at one point 🙂

      • Hello Julia,

        Once in a great while, I get an urge to sack groceries (for at least 30 seconds!) My son worked for King Soopers, ( a local chain out here), I went in one night as he was checking and started sacking groceries for about 15 minutes before anyone there bothered to take over for me – but we had fun! 🙂

        You write thoughtfully honestly – I appreciate that very much! Kelly

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