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Sunday, September 8, 2013

Three Things When I Wrestle with My Doubts

Sundays are the hardest day of my week.  I always feel like a hypocrite every time I preach.  I often think about the lies and shame I carry.   It is very difficult. … I’ve come to dread Sunday mornings.  I try to keep up a good front.  I have done it for many years, but I am getting tired of it.

This was the message I received from a pastor friend of mine this morning.  

And, if I am honest, this is something I have felt myself at times.  I would be surprised if there was a pastor anywhere who hadn’t at some point felt like this.  Life is hard.  And sometimes God is silent.  Sometimes that silence comes in the ‘long dark night of the soul.’  And sometimes that long night is very long indeed.

I have no real advice for my friend.  I certainly wish I did, but I don’t.  All I can do is to share three things that have helped me in those times (yes, plural) when I’ve felt something similar.

First is the man in Mark chapter 9 who exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”  Maybe it’s even been, “I want to believe, help me overcome my disbelief.”   I don’t know how to take people who claim to never have any doubts.  No questions?  Not a flicker of doubt?[i]  I’m not sure I believe them.   I’m not sure I can believe them.

The second thing I cling to in my own periods of doubt and despair comes from John Wesley, who at one point, became convinced of his own “unbelief, of the want of that faith whereby alone we are saved.”  He thought that the only thing to do was to “Leave off preaching. How can you preach to others, who have not faith yourself?”   But a trusted friend who, unlike me, was able to give good advice told Wesley, “Preach faith till you have it; and then, because you have it, you will preach faith.”[ii]

This reminds me of the “fake it till you make it” suggestion, often associated with the Alcoholics Anonymous program (though it isn’t actually in any of their literature.)  But the idea goes back even further… even to Aristotle who suggested that acting virtuous can, in time, make one virtuous.

But that, for me, has led to the same feelings of hypocrisy that my friend expressed.  I know that I’m not able to be all that I know (and preach) that I should be.  How can I preach this stuff if I can’t do it? Am I a hypocrite?  Am I a liar?

I asked these questions of one of my mentors, Vic Danielson, when I was still a very young man.  He let me cry for a while and then he asked me this question: “Are you God?”  And then after a moment of silence he continued, “Of course not. You’re an imitator of God[iii].  You’re pretending; you’re assuming a goodness that is yours in promise, if not yet in actuality.” 

I wish that I were better able to answer my friend’s doubts, but I cannot.  I cannot tell him things will be all right.  I know something of his situation, and there will be no easy answers.  All I can do is to share these three things that have helped me as I’ve wrestled with my own doubts.

[i][i] Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead – Tom Stoppard….
[iii] Ephesians 5: 1 - 2

1 comment:

  1. I had a friend who was a minister. The entire time I knew him, he almost never mentioned God during service - instead, he talked about social justice, ethics, and other more humanist issues. He told me that he wasn't sure he believed in God any more - hadn't been for years - but that didn't mean that he didn't still have a lot to say. He said that he believed that church was more than just religion, that it was a place for people to come and, in fellowship, learn how to become better people.


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