I decided to depart from the sunnier subject of style and embrace a darker side of life today. Doubt is a hole I want to enter rather than just try and fill. Doubt hasn’t destroyed a person…it’s the energy expended trying to avoid the doubt that does that.
I have been challenging myself by reading authors who generally have my same faith, but who hold different beliefs. They interpret scripture differently than I have interpreted it. They live different lifestyles. They see and know and experience God from a different perspective. Some hold many more firm beliefs and have many more specific convictions than I have, and some have uncomfortably less!
One person’s convictions could fill libraries of theological commentary and another’s on a few pieces of paper in a small shoebox by their bed. These seasons are always challenging for me because they give me a healthy, yet uncomfortable dose of doubt.
I went on a walk this morning to try and clear my head. As crazy as it sounds, I am learning to trust doubt. I’m not scared of it like I used to be. I purposely enter seasons that require me to lean into doubts of all shapes and sizes because I’ve seen that God is bigger than even my biggest doubts. I’ve begun to trust doubt, because ironically doubt leads me back to trust. And at the end of it all that trust is deeper, more relational and intimate, more nuanced and mysterious, more authentic and distinctly human.
As I was walking, a new thought occurred to me. It was a picture as usual. One picture was of the Almighty, Unfathomable, Great and Glorious Creator and Sustainer of the Universe. Ha. What did HE look like, right? Well, I don’t know. He was beyond my imagination. But my imagination was trying really hard to communicate it to my logic. And though it fell far short, the effort in and of itself left an impression on my soul. Suddenly, (in my imagination) I was face flat on the cement sidewalk unable to even glance in His direction. I began to worship.
In the next moment, I had another picture. I could hear it first, actually…giggling. Giggling?? Yep! Then there were two people on a cozy couch leaning close to each other, talking deeply, intimately, lovingly and totally enjoying one another. It was the same God I couldn’t even look at the moment before! But there we were…friends.
And then this thought: “Doubt overcomes you when you exist in between these two realities – in the wilderness that fosters neither reverence nor relationship.” Hmmmm. What does it look like there, God? What fruit is born in that wilderness? As clear as day, one word: “Debate.” Wow.
Okay, then. But debate is healthy, I argue. It sharpens us, challenges us, refines our thinking. (I had just read debates between a Muslim and a Christian, between a gay Christian and a straight one, between an Episcopal existentialist, a Presbyterian rationalist and a Baptist idealist – and found all of them to be fascinating and quite helpful.)
“Yes, I have gifted many people with those abilities. But you’re missing the heart of my words. You may walk into that wilderness, but you must not live there. 40 days, max…ok?” I giggled.
Ok, I get it. The possibilities for different interpretations of God – exactly who He is and exactly what He requires – are truly endless. Living in that wilderness is like trying to walk on soft, sinking sand. Your legs will give out and you’ll end up on your face. That face plant could lead you to a healthy fear of God’s unfathomable nature or into the despair of fatalism.
”Hold on to your beliefs, Ansley. But hold onto your faith tighter. Your beliefs will surely change. But I’m praying your faith never will.”
Usually after a picture, a poem arrives:
Transcendent and Immanent
Incarnate and Divine
Above me and within me
Creation’s and mine.
Big sigh. The best kind of diety is the kind you can’t fathom, the kind that requires unending awe and adoration simply because of who He is. The best kind of friend is the one who loves and laughs and listens, the kind that lives alongside you. Our God is mysteriously mixed and beautifully both. Venture out into the wilderness of debate and doubt if your western thought and intellect require it. But don’t stay there for long. Super and Natural will be waiting for you when you return.
Critically and creatively yours,