Okay, so I owe you all an apology—I strive for clarity, and in last month’s column I was less than clear about my feelings toward doubt. I railed against the media blitz of goofball stories around Easter that served only to plant seeds of doubt. I likened doubt to a worm that can burrow its way to your students’ hearts. But based on some of the letters I received, I concentrated too heavily on doubt as a bad thing. I do believe that left unchecked and unaddressed, doubt can be a terrible thing…but that doesn’t make it a bad thing.
After all, there are numerous cases of people in the Bible experiencing doubt: Abraham doubted that he and Sarah would actually have a little bundle of joy in their twilight years. John the Baptist doubted whether Jesus was the Messiah, so he sent his disciples to ask Jesus themselves. And after Jesus had risen, Matthew tells us that “When [the disciples] saw him they worshipped him; but some doubted.” And of course, Thomas, who earned the moniker “Doubting,” wanted to feel the wounds of Christ before he’d believe, and when he had, Jesus told him to “stop doubting and believe.”
And I know I’ve experienced doubt. Haven’t you?
Like when I accepted Christ—I didn’t immediately stop lusting, stop gossiping, and stop thinking Celine Dion sounds like kittens being tortured. I doubted whether I’d “done the right thing.” Blessedly, I had people who walked beside me on that journey, answering questions, discussing doubts, and sharing their own with me.
A few years ago I was laid off from my job as the product editor for an IT magazine. And God took me on a strange journey to bring me where I am today…doing exactly what I always wanted. After the layoff I felt him leading me toward a career as an elementary school teacher. So for a whole year I was a substitute teacher while I pursued a full-time teaching job (I think having done this should grant me automatic sainthood, but my wife’s not buying that one).
So when the job opening came up here at Group, I was hesitant, because “this isn’t teaching elementary school, God.” I doubted he’d really been leading me to teach. I doubted he wanted me right back in the publishing industry. I doubted that working at Starbucks, selling half-caf/soy/sugar-free vanilla/extra hot/foamy lattes made from free-range coffee beans wasn’t my “true calling” after all. I had to work through that doubt, and listen when he told me to “stop doubting and believe.”
Think about how many things wouldn’t be here if someone hadn’t doubted. Alexander Graham Bell doubted the telegraph was the best way to communicate, so he pushed himself to invent the telephone. And the Wright Brothers doubted that people wanted to stay safe and sound on the ground, so they tinkered until they achieved flight. And Celine Dion doubted that people enjoyed listening to good music like Nirvana, so she recorded her first album—wait…scratch that example.
Don’t get me wrong; I’m not advocating searching for doubt, or trying to find reasons to doubt, but when we do experience it, we need to use that opportunity to seek God’s answers and go from unsure to sure.
One of my favorite authors, Frederick Buechner, said that doubts are the “ants in the pants of faith; they keep it awake and moving.” Amen! I’ve been in too many churches where the people just park their cabooses on a pew and collect dust. They need some ants!
Teens’ lives are all about questions and doubt—parents, school, authority, and sometimes church. So what are you going to do about it when it happens? Let them know that you won’t squash doubt, but that you’re willing to work through it with them. Tell them about times you’ve doubted. Tell them about biblical figures who doubted. Tell them about the man who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus and said, “Help us, if you can.” When Jesus replied, “What do you mean, ‘If I can’?” the man immediately cried out “I do believe!” And his son was healed. Alfred Lord Tennyson said, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” Amen to that, too.
So I maintain that doubt is a worm; but we can’t forget that a worm is also a sign of good soil.
Scott Firestone IV is the assistant editor for Group Magazine(firstname.lastname@example.org).
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