The Dilemma of Doubt

thomas.jpg

Help!

Both the pastor and the associate at our church will be away at a conference this weekend and they’ve asked me to fill in the pulpit for them.

Since they didn’t assign any particular passage or topic, I’m planning to use the gospel reading in the lectionary–John 20:19-31. In this passage, the risen Jesus appears to his disciples. Thomas, who hears the news, says (in so many words), “Yeah right, I’ll believe it when I see it.”

Here we have the first recorded account of an skeptic of the empirical stripe–and he comes from within Jesus’ camp! This passage addresses the reality of questions/doubts and Jesus’ response to them:

“Peace to you…Put your hands in my sides. Reach out your hand and put them into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

The main point of the passage (at least my take on it)? We usually respond to question and doubts by ignoring them/stuffing them when they come from ourselves, or getting defensive when they come from others. But questions are okay; Jesus is big enough for our questions.

Anyway, back to the reason I’m posting this…I’d love to incorporate some actual questions/doubts young adults actually struggle with when it comes to issues of faith.

So…

What are some questions you ask/doubts you have with it comes to your faith?

What are some of the questions/doubts your non-Christian/non-Adventist friends have when it comes to your faith?

If you minister to young adults, what are the most frequent/difficult questions you encounter in your ministry?

Your feedback (and permission to share it) would be really helpful and very much appreciated! (If you’d like, feel free to post anonymously.)

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16 Responses to The Dilemma of Doubt

  1. manny says:

    one of my non-christian/non-adventist friends has a hard time understanding why i believe the Bible. he, instead, desires to be his own man and make his own destiny. if he reads the Bible, he reads it more as a story rather than a black-and-white fact. his argument is that the Bible was written/made available by Catholics and Romans and so how much God influence is there on the Bible?

    another big issue, with my above friend, and with many “outsiders,” if you will, is that we, as Christians, seem to portray a faith that leaves no room for open-mindedness — going back to the black-and-white fact comment above. i was having a discussion my friend. we had just watched a history documentary by Terry Jones (they guy from Monty Python — great series by the way!) and it’s his series on Medieval Lives. well, this particular episode was on “the Monks.” it shows how monks originally spent their days in prayer and so people began to believe that their prayers were of value. so instead of praying for yourself you would pay a monk to pray for you. one example Jones gives is of William the Conqueror who killed so many people that he had to make more monasteries to pray for his sins.

    at any rate, we began to talk about the subject of intercessory prayer. he said he had never thought about the origins of intercessory prayer — now keep in mind this is a non-christian/non-adventist guy we’re talking about. i’m digressing from my original intent of speaking on being “open-minded.” well there was another mutual friend with us and his response was that the Bible would be further back than the monks with intercessory prayer. he got up and left.

    my non-christian friend and i kept talking and out-of-nowhere, although i expected it was coming at some point, he says, “you guys (christians), some of you at least, not very open-minded and will probably solidify in that stance the older you get. just thinking about him leaving reminds me that i want to be tolerant, and loving, and understanding (hell, like Jesus was portrayed) and not to get stuck in my ways that i can’t agree with or pound with intellectual prowess with others.”

    how true! his statement not only speaks to the lack of open-minds among many christians, but also the “our mission is to get you saved” mentality that christians are viewed as having. enough said. i’ve rambled long enough. let me recommend a great resource which i think has been mentioned somewhere in the ignition blog. it’s written by David Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons and is entitled, “unChristian: what a new generation rally thinks about christianity…and why it matters.”

    my prayer is that i, too, can be tolerant, and loving, and understanding — yes, like Jesus was…

  2. aamphd says:

    Thanks Zane for giving us an opportunity to be part of your sermon/homily.

    The biggest doubt that I face in young adult ministry as well as my own “dance” with the church is this:

    “We are challenged by the doubt as to whether or not our church (Christ’s body) is authentically interested?”

    It comes down to a relational question. I find young adults skiddish to become vulnerable to an “institution” that has such a poor track record of relationships with people, especially “non-perfect” people. People like me.

    That is the main “doubt” I have faced in young adult ministry. That is a doubt I have personally wrestled with both as a young adult and now “part of the machine.”

    Unfortunately, by association, Jesus Christ maybe finds me tentative towards relationship with Him because of what I see in His believers. That includes the hypocrisy in my own life.

  3. J.B. says:

    Zane,

    The doubt i have most often is does my church really care?

    Often I find that my home church is too busy with the business that is church, that they, and I, lose grip with what a church really is. And that is a community. And community is built on relationships. Relationships that not just care ABOUT one another but that actively care FOR one another. Church is more than just a meeting place. It should be a home, refuge and community of active love.

  4. Renee Stepp says:

    I think one of the doubts that my friends really struggle with and I struggled with for a long time, is:

    “How does God really feel about me?”

    I think this comes up so often because the people who say they are Christians have so little love for others. I know that I want to be a better rep for him than people in my church were to me…not saying i’m better than them, but saying it is my desire. I think that I could influence a lot more of my friends to think twice about Jesus if I loved them like He does, than condemn them like so many people do.

    I’m really thankful that God put a group of people into my life that loved me unconditionally (REALLY UNCONDITIONALLY), even when they found out about my lowest of low points. That is what really made me want to live differently and share that love with even more people.

  5. Amy says:

    One of the main doubts I hear from un-churched friends (and many who regularly attend) is that salvation is as easy as grace. People seem to strive to DO something because we cannot make ourselves believe it has nothing to do with us or what we do.

  6. Randy says:

    for perspective on my thoughts, i was raised adventist, attended adventist schools from grades 1 – 12. my journey as a christian was de-railed for thirteen years, from the age of 16 until 29.

    my doubt has been, and continues to be a struggle with me and my feelings towards “church”. i believe that we as a “church” identify more as a brick and mortar establishment with thousands of employees and corporate identity than as a “church” made of people. as someone who has spent much of their christian experience on the fringe i feel like i’ve been through the gamut of emotions in my journey and have a passion for trying to be a transparent follower of Christ only, no more, no less. i have been told that wearing jeans to church was a sin, that i was no longer welcomed to participate in church because of a wedding band and other jewelry, and although my service was no longer needed/wanted i was more than welcome to continue attending. this came during a time in my life when darkness WAS my life, i was asked, in my view, to give up my only connection to church (which unfortunately i also thought was my only connection to Jesus) because i didn’t look or act like everyone else. where were all the parables? he who has not sinned my cast the first stone, the pharisee who invited Jesus to his house only to be upstaged in etiquette and devotion by a prostitute and bottle of perfume, the countless times when Jesus associated with those among us that made the establishment cringe? when i looked all i saw, right or wrong, was the church’s disdain for the sin that i lived, not the life that Jesus love promises me. i walked away with no regrets because i could find acceptance in many places…just not in church.

    i didn’t come to realize who Jesus really was until I was 29 years old with the help of my wife. it wasn’t accomplished by bible study, by seminar’s, by 27 beliefs, by being a baptized member of “the church”, but by her example of living for Jesus because of a desire that only comes when you follow Jesus and Him alone.

    to answer those who may doubt my faith, my beliefs, my worthiness as a christian, it comes down to one thing…transparency. we can talk about doctrine, we can point to the “truth”, we can trumpet the health message, we can praise the beauty of the sabbath, we give the best bible studies in history, all of which can be positives in the proper context, but if we can’t join our fellow humans and admit that like them we are sinners in need of grace and salvation, we will never be more than puppets in the devil’s theatre. if our broken lives aren’t transparent to those who feel like all is lost how will they ever see that there is light at the end of the tunnel? if all you can see is “saturday morning perfection” and not the struggle and sin of the remaining 165 hours in the week what’s the point of trying when i’m so bad? if you can see the “perfection” for it is than why would you want to waste your the 165 hours to achieve so little?

    my thoughts on this subject are only that, thoughts. my heart has traveled a very long road to arrive at a place of peace with Jesus and what i believe He wants from me. with my upbringing i always assumed i would have arrived here much sooner than this but unfortunately for my journey i was exposed to the transparent life of my Jesus, the one thing i needed most, much too late and with way too many detours.

  7. Zane says:

    Thanks everyone, for your sharing your thoughts and experiences so openly.

    I was actually surprised at how most the “doubts” expressed here have to with people (who are close-minded, judgmental, uncaring, “institutional”, etc.) and very little to do with actual beliefs themselves; this is not what I expected. I’ll be sure to emphasize/address the relational component of doubt this Saturday. (Do have the permission to quote some of you? If not, please say so.)

    Randy, I want to thank you especially for your transparency and openness. I’m glad to hear that your journey has brought to a clearer and stronger relationship with Jesus. I want the same for myself! The last sentences of your post reminded me of a wonderful prayer by the Christian thinker Augustine, who after “journeying” intellectually and spiritually all over the place, eventually found his way back to Christ.

    He wrote at the end of his life: “Too late came I to love You, O Beauty both ancient and ever new; too late came I to love You. Behold! you were within me, and I was out of myself searching for You. You, indeed, were with me, but I was not with You. You called to me; yes, You even broke open my deafness. Your beams shined unto me and cast away my blindness. You blew upon me, and I drew in my breath and panted after You. I tasted You, and now I hunger and thirst for You. You touched me, and I ever burn again to enjoy Your peace.”

  8. elisa says:

    thanks randy for your candid post – i appreciate you and am so glad that God has brought you to where you are.

    zane – in my conversations with people at all stages of involvment or not in the church there never seems to be a questions or concern about the doctrines or standards of the church – it ALWAYS has to do with their relationships (or lack of). these few posts reflects that as well. i bet you will find many people who consider themselves Adventist and agree with the teachings but don’t attend because of the lack of community. there is a grave deficit in this area.

  9. Linda says:

    Hi Zane,

    The exciting thing about writing a sermon is that you are not alone in it! The Holy Spirit will guide, and will make you a blessing!
    Anyway, as to some questions: non-believing young adults (that I know at least) want to know what you base your beliefs on. Like Thomas actually, he wanted to see first. Young people want to see your experience, your encounter with God. Because how can we love a God that didn’t reveal Himself to us?
    A question I have is how do I know this is the right way? Mabye I’m like Thomas too, I want to see things, really be confirmed in the way I’m going, in the thing that I’m doing. Unfortunately, faith does not always work that way, “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1).

    God bless you on your sermon!

    Blessings,
    Linda

  10. carolynmacomber says:

    I have waited to comment about your post Zane. Not sure if I could articulate my answer to your question well.

    Currently, I’m involved with a group that calls themselves the “Search Party”. It is a group of young adults who have grown up Adventist and currently, are unsure of the church or their faith. Last time we met, the leader (I’m supposed to be a co-leader) asked the group the question, “If you could ask God any question – what would it be?” One young adult said, “Do you exist? – Why don’t You make Yourself known?” Another young adult asked, “Why are there so many denominations? In my understanding they all lead to You.” There were others . . . doubts, questions, struggles . . .

    I remember something of Paul . . . He says the “fight” of faith. Paul doesn’t say it is a tip toe through the tulips kind of walk of faith. No, he (the great Paul, the great writer of the New Testament) says the FIGHT of faith. We fight to believe in a God when His children act nothing like Him, we fight to believe in a God when the world seems turned upside down, we fight to believe in His goodness when evil strikes hard, we fight . . . and He keeps whispering listen, listen, hang on, hang on. I personally will be glad when the fight of sin or the effects of sin are completely done and I’m living in a world without conflict – whether internally or externally.

    Godspead to you Zane this Sabbath as you preach. May the Holy Spirit simply use you as His speaking piece.

  11. Zane says:

    Elisa, I’m wondering if there the reasons for doubt are different for young adults leaving the church those those entering it–relationships being more important for the former than the later? I don’t know… I really am surprised how much relationships play a role in the plausibility/implausibility and attractiveness/unattractiveness of Christian/Adventist beliefs. Perhaps that just the modernist in me; I want to think that the issue is the intelligibility of the beliefs themselves.

    Linda, thanks for your encouragement and that text from Hebrews…I intend to include in the sermon this weekend.

    Carolyn, the group you lead sounds fascinating. I’d love to hear more about it,..How did you get such a group together?

    As for you other comment, I wonder how much of “faith” is something that we fight for and produce (an act of the will) and how much if it is something passive…something God gives us or is automatic when God shows himself to us. Maybe a bit of both?

  12. carolynmacomber says:

    Zane, you ask a good question. How much of faith is an act of the will and how much is it something that God gives us or is automatic when God shows himself? I wonder, too, how much of faith is an element of obedience to what we understand God is telling us. For example, Abraham . . . by faith Abraham left the land that he knew to go to a place that God would show him. We are also told in the faith chapter that we need faith in order to please God. Jesus’ often said, “Oh, ye, of little faith” when referring to his disciples. Hmmm. You ask a very good question. I tend to believe that faith is a gift of God and a choice of mine – so I see it as both.

    In regards to the first question . . the group is made up of people that the leader knows and a couple of people that I am acquainted with. I really enjoy the group, but you can definitely keep us in your prayers . . . as we search for a faith to live by.

  13. aamphd says:

    Zane,
    Our prayers are with you as you worship with your church and offer the “sermon” as a sacred space to ask big questions of a Bigger GOD.

    I pray the texture of the corporate worship will be rich and appreciate your allowing us to be part of the tapestry.

    If you are inclined would love to hear how it goes.

  14. Zane says:

    Hey Allen,

    Thanks so much for your encouragement and prayers. They were felt this morning.

    We used the following clip as an introduction:

    http://www.theworkofthepeople.com/index.php?ct=store.details&pid=V00028

    A huge thanks (again) to everyone to took the time to comment to this post. This was the first time I team wrote a sermon via blog. (Welcome to the 21st century, right?) Your feedback really shaped the direction of the sermon.

    I shared a part of Randy’s post word for word during the first part of the sermon on the sources/causes of doubt; many people, especially young adults, really connected with it and the experience of being turned off to “beliefs” because of the unpleasant people that profess to hold them. One woman even asked for the address of this site for her son…

    God really blessed and the “texture” of the service as a whole (as you put it, Allan) came together nicely. At the end, we invited people to write down their questions/doubts on response cards and received quite a few of them back. We are going to try to follow up with a teaching series, seminars, small groups, etc. devoted to dealing with the issues that come up…much prayer is needed and appreciated in this as well.

  15. carolynmacomber says:

    Zane – Thank you so much for posting the “rest of the story”. It is always nice to hear how God uses people and shows up.

    I’d be curious if you could post or even send me some of the questions/doubts that you received on your response cards. I’m thinking those thoughts might be a good jumping off point with the young adult “Search Party” that I am working with.

    Blessings and thanks again for sharing this experience with us. – Carolyn

  16. Zane says:

    Carolyn,

    I just heard back from the church. Here are some of the questions:

    1. “Is Jesus the only way to salvation? Is there salvation outside of
    Christianity?”:

    2. “Why is it that good people have terrible things happen to them?”

    3. “Will God not bless a marriage to an unbeliever?”

    4. “Please give a seminar on forgiveness.”

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