Scot McKnight has started a discussion over an extremely important topic: doubts (for people of “faith”). He is highlighting what may be the best book I’ve seen for Christians in the middle of serious doubts, and he’s asking for stories and experiences. Drop in at Scot’s blog an join the discussion. Below is my comment as well as comments from Scot and David Opderbeck that really surprised and encouraged me; we need to talk about this more in our churches:
My most serious doubts were about my own salvation and along the Calvinist-Arminian fault lines. There was never a doubt about whether God was real, just whether I was “in” or “out” with him. Growing up in evangelical/fundamentalist churches and schools, that was THE question, and it remained the question for me for years even after I finally gave in to Jesus in a serious way. I knew I was “saved by faith alone” so what happened if I doubted my salvation? It was like having doubt in a faith-healing except the healing was my justification. It was a downward spiral of doubt and depression. Those passages in Hebrews about never entering God’s rest because of unbelief and others couldn’t have been more intense.
No amount of theologizing helped or could have helped. As a lawyer in training, I saw holes in every would-be propositional solution. Here’s what helped, in no particular order: I found solace in the Psalms, where people were “officially” praying what I was feeling and fearing. And I made the decision that even if I was damned/not elect and such a decision “does not depend on [my] desire or effort”, I still had to follow Jesus as best I could, mainly for my wife’s sake (my thought was for helping her and treating her as she should be treated). So basically, I eventually just accepted that I couldn’t do anything about it and gave the issue of my justification over to Jesus (the judge) while I read the Psalms and went to church (thankfully not an argumentative one). I accepted that I may be damned unless he said otherwise, which I may not know about in this life if at all. Over time, my thinking changed and the locus of my “faith” and hope slowly shifted from the salvation formula (which seemed to hinge on my faith) to Jesus as a person and on his love (a theme from the Psalms). Things got better. Much, much better.
. . . not unlike my own experience in my college years and early seminary years. Shifting from “am I in?” and “do I have that saving faith or is my faith a self-deceptive fraud?” to “Look to Christ” led me out of that morass and spiral, during which time I learned deeply in theology, into a second naivete.
I can totally, totally relate to your story. Isn’t it interesting that the end result of the kind of struggle you describe often is a kind of resignation: “it is all in Christ’s hands and there is nothing more I can do about it.” We realize then that this ultimately is “faith,” and all the formulas and formulations often are ways in which we try to control things ourselves.