Is it ironic that I was skeptical about a book about doubt? That’s fine. I fully admit that I was. I was excited to read it, don’t get me wrong. I mean, this is what happened when my copy of Jason Boyett‘s new book, O Me of Little Faith, came in the mail:
But as excited as I was to read it, I have to say that I wasn’t even through the Introduction before I got a little uneasy about the whole thing. Ok, so raise your hand if you’ve ever taken a test to discover your spiritual gifts. I have taken several, and they’ve always had different outcomes. My theory is that you either are given or develop different gifts based on the roles you have at the time, so that makes sense. But one of the gifts I’ve always had is faith.
I would never have classified myself as a doubter. I still wouldn’t. So when the third page of a book about doubt said, “if you are rock-steady in your faith…then by all means, put this [book] down. Put it back on the shelf. Walk away slowly and enjoy your blessings,” I considered taking it up on the offer. But I’d promised to read it, and the part I left out in the ellipsis there said, “…and [if you] have no interest in reading a book about doubt…,” and I was interested. Wary, but definitely interested. So I kept going.
One of my college English professors told me at the end of the course that he wished I was as open-minded as I was intelligent and analytical. I said I could say the same for him, he threatened my grade, I laughed at him, he gave me an A. Looking back, several things occur to me:
- I think he was flirting with me. Creepy.
- I was definitely more closed-minded and legalistic in college.
- But I wasn’t judgmental of other people. I just kept myself on a short leash.
- I don’t look back on that closed-mindedness as entirely a bad thing.
My mind has always been closed in a healthy way from SO many harmful things. To discuss all of that would be irrelevant, but all’s I’m sayin’ is that I think there’s a difference between being closed-minded and having a mind that’s guarded or shielded. To me, the former implies ignorance and prejudice while the latter implies informed decision and strength. If you disagree, then forget the words “closed-minded” and “guarded,” and just consider the difference in implications.
(I know I’m rambling a little. Stay with me.)
What I’m getting at is the difference between me and Jason Boyett. You might not know it based on any number of ridiculous conversations or activities I’ve been involved in, but I’m smart. Jason’s the same way (no offense, buddy). He’s funny and goofy, and there’s a kid on the front of his book with band-aids on his nipples, but this is a guy who’s been on the History Channel as one of those experts they bring in to sit in leather arm-chairs and talk about the Apocalypse. He knows stuff.
And curious minds like that are not often satisfied with Sunday School felt-board answers to big theological questions like, “Why did Satan and hell not appear on the scene until the New Testament if God was the same God and reality was the same reality all along?” and, “Is Christianity just one, crazy, made-up thing that developed out of centuries of cultural mixing?” Indeed, I’d love to see the look on a Sunday School teacher’s face if an 8-year-old brought up such questions.
But the difference between me and Jason is that while his honest questioning causes him to doubt, mine causes me to trust. I’m not saying one is better than the other. I envy his passion for learning, and honestly, my faith and my mind would probably be stronger if I had that to the same degree that he does. I AM saying that he and I have different faith paths, different journeys, and I learned a lot from reading about his.
In no particular order, here’s what I learned:
- I do have doubts. They’re not crippling or faith-shattering, but sometimes things don’t add up like I want them to.
- It’s ok to doubt. It means you’re thinking.
- It’s not ok for doubt to be the end. That means you’ve stopped thinking. Doubt is not a decision you make to live by. It is a step in a process. When you doubt whether your dryer is actually drying your clothes, you don’t just turn it off and give up. You run some tests. You put it on different settings with different clothes inside. You unplug it and plug it back in. You kick it. You stand back and stare at it for a moment, then kick it again. Determining conclusively that your dryer is broken is completely different from doubting that it works. Doubting God’s existence is totally different from determining it conclusively. And if you have determined conclusively that God does or does not exist, I’m sure we’d all love to hear about it.
- It’s ok to be honest about doubt. It won’t make you a bad Christian (or a bad Atheist for that matter). In fact, it’s much better to have other people to discuss things with instead of going round and round in your own mind about it until your brain begins to resemble the jell-o you’ll be eating in the asylum before long.
- Lying about your doubt doesn’t make it go away. It just makes you a liar.
- Doubt does not cancel out faith. Faith does not indicate an absence of doubt.
- Faith is a choice and an action. We are never guaranteed another year, another day, another breath, but we live as though we believe we will have them by making plans. We don’t sit around paralyzed with indecision about tomorrow’s lunch because we don’t know whether tomorrow will even come. That’s just silly. We believe we will have more time because we always have in the past. Personally, I have never felt let-down by God, so for me, faith is living in the belief that this will continue. If you do feel that God has let you down, you have every right to doubt, but like I said, don’t stop there. Keep running tests. Keep searching.
If you struggle with doubt, seriously, read O Me of Little Faith. If you have no doubts at all, awesome. Keep it up. But if you’re interested in reading about it, this is a good place to start. It’s funny, it’s deep but still easy to read, it’s totally honest, and it has the most footnotes of any non-academic book I’ve ever read. Fun footnotes, though, not the boring kind that make you wish you hadn’t wasted your time and lost your place on the page.
Next week, I’m super-excited to share with you an interview with Jason Boyett in which he answers some big questions like how he responds to the Bible’s many contradictions and whether or not he can set me up with Donald Miller. Stay tuned!!