Forward by Megan Jessop
Doubt is something that can be necessary in order to have true faith. Contrary to what many believe, it takes more faith to be okay with your doubt than it does to go along with what everyone else says is true. Scott's story is one in which he boldly admits his doubts, along with admitting the ways he tried to hide them behind religion and intellect, among other things. Although Scott is still in search of something tangible that will silence many of these doubts, he has committed to loving Jesus with that intellect all the same. I think many can relate to wrestling with doubt, and I hope this PigTale will create some peace for our readers in knowing that many are, in fact, strengthened by embracing their doubts rather than being fearful of what their questions could mean. The foundations we thought we had might just well be there beneath the things we aren't willing to address at times.
Several months ago, when I was first told about the concept behind Christian Pig, I admit to not being super thrilled about the idea. But the more I thought about it the more the concept grew on me. I mean, I at least am willing to admit that people's past experiences play a huge role in those people coming to believe whatever it is they currently believe, irrelevant as those prior circumstances may be on the matter of whether or not their current beliefs are true. Is there value in the narrative apart from the role it plays in personal development? I've never been one to find much in the past. But then I started thinking about it. There must be value, otherwise John the Revelator wouldn't have been so high on the word of the saints' testimony. So what is it about testimony that's of such value? I think the value is threefold. First, it's good for the teller. It can remind us how blessed we've been or make us remember the good God has done in our lives. Next, others can hear it and be amazed, even shocked, to the point that it inspires their beliefs to align. Third, and I think most importantly, it helps people relate. If they've been in a similar situation it can help shine new light for them by hearing how others dealt with it. It also gives one the feeling that he or she is not alone.
With those thoughts in mind, I struggled to think of something – anything – that I've experienced that may be of value to others. After doubting myself over and over again, I realized that I had my theme: doubt. I'm a doubter. St. Thomas the Apostle (a.k.a. Doubting Thomas) has long been my favorite Bible character because I feel I can relate with him. The guy gets a bad rap! Why wouldn't you ask for evidence if evidence is available? Anyway, as to the points above, it’s in the third way that I think my tale of doubt may find its value. I doubt. I know I’m not alone. I hope reading my tale of doubt will help others in the same boat feel less isolated, especially in church settings.
I used to be so sure of myself. How did I get here? When I really stop and think about it, I'm pretty sure it has to do with my spiritual history. I was raised as a PK – a preacher's kid – in the Assembly of God denomination. One thing about the A/G was that it seemed to promote the A/G more than it did Mere Christianity. All other denominations were seen to be in some way inferior because of their lack of emphasis on the Gifts of the Spirit, especially speaking in tongues and prophecy. In my late teens I discovered a new branch of Christianity called Messianic Judaism. Within a few months I became more or less Torah observant. I ate only kosher food, celebrated Shabbat and the festivals, wore a tallit, etc. Within the particular brand of Messianic Judaism I had found, there was a new air of superiority that went beyond what I was raised with in the A/G. Not only did we emphasize the Gifts of the Spirit, we also obeyed God's Law out of a sense of honor to Him, so we said, rather than legalism. The implication, of course, was that those who didn't take on Torah observance were not going as far in their attempts to honor God.
Then other stuff happened. My dad died of cancer in 2001 despite thousands of prayers from the most devout people I knew and dozens of “prophecies” and “words of knowledge” “from God” guaranteeing the contrary. How were these people so sure they had heard from God only to be wrong? How could I be sure my interactions with God weren't on par with theirs? To compound this all, I began to have real theological doubts about the cavalier interpretations of scripture needed to support my Messianic Judaism. I came to the startling revelation that the reason the rest of Christendom wasn't A/G had more to do with the A/G's doctrinal shortcomings than with those of the rest of Christianity. To most this would come as no big shock. To me, however, it was the dismantling of a belief system, the truth of which I was positive and had never so much as questioned.
I was forced to come to terms with the fact that I'd never really doubted myself. In fact, a lot of people I knew – some of whom were close friends – told me they had never heard me admit to having been wrong. While I'm sure they were mistaken, the point still stood: at the very least, my admissions of fallibility were few and far between. For a kid who rocked a sterling 2.7 GPA in high school and who dropped out of college after one semester rather than face academic probation, my estimations of myself were unreasonably high.
And that realization was the turning point. I started to doubt myself. A lot. No matter the subject, no matter the situation, I doubted. Some doubt is healthy, though. I truly believe the Socratic refrain that “the unexamined life is not worth living.” Testing one's beliefs and seeking out opposing views are healthy intellectual habits. With the realization that I was occasionally (nay, often) wrong came the question of whether or not I could be wrong about (gulp) my own religious experiences.
I began to ponder the oddities of the Christian worldview. One that has really puzzled me is the Judeo-Christian belief about the relationship between blood and sin. Sin (a purely metaphysical concept) is committed by humans (beings who are either some combination of metaphysical/physical or are entirely physical) and must be atoned for with blood (a purely physical thing). Why? What is so special about blood? Doesn't that whole system seem arbitrary? Why would God require the physical death of an innocent creature to atone for that which causes spiritual death? We have other weird beliefs as well. The obvious ones are things like the Incarnation and Virgin Birth. Another one that has always bugged me is prayer. God knows if/how much we love him. He knows all our wants, needs, desires, loves, things we're thankful for. So why pray at all? Wouldn't it be easier to just say, “God, you know what I think, have a nice day”?
Doubts about individual beliefs, though, can be overcome quite easily so long the system as a whole makes sense. My real problem arose (and remains) in the area of religious experience rather than religious belief. Growing up Pentecostal kind of requires one to make certain claims about his religious experiences in order to fit in. Hyper-emotion rules the day. I can remember times when I thought I felt God. Even times I “knew” He was listening and “moving” in me. I even remember faking quite a bit in my teen years – tears, passing out, even just praying (face down in the pew is a great way to catch some much-needed Z's). Mostly I remember being so confident that God had spoken to me that I knew – KNEW – my dad was going to be healed and not die.
But he still did.
More than this, I came to doubt the religious experiences of others. I had one guy from a Master's Commission (who knows...possibly the very one Tierney attended and discussed in her PigTale) actually claim to have a “Word of Knowledge” over me. He started telling me all the things God had told him about my past and my family life...all of which was blatantly false. This did not instill confidence. If he was wrong there, on what else was he wrong where he claimed to speak with God's authority? I cannot count the number of times I've heard people “prophecy” of an imminent revival to sweep across the planet or nation or state or city. I also cannot count the number of times those prophecies have come true...but for a different reason. I remember a woman in our church growing up who would “speak in tongues” virtually every Sunday, simply repeating the phrase, “heekady sheekady, nah, nah, nah, nah, nah.” Yes, that is a direct quote. I see fun videos like this one and this one and think obviously a lot of folks out there are faking it, even if they don't realize it's fake.
So I've decided it's time to stop faking it. I admit that I have no idea if I have ever actually heard from God. Uh-oh. Now there's a problem. If Christianity just boils down, as Evangelical preachers are wont to tell us these days, to a “personal relationship with Jesus Christ,” then how do I fit in? Perhaps it's just a one-sided relationship...like that pathetic little nerd in high school who keeps trying to talk to the stuck-up hottie. He talks, she turns and looks at him, then turns right back to talking with the rest of the cheerleaders. Oh, she heard, but she won't risk her rep to give a response. Hmm...kinda rough if that's the attitude I feel like ascribing to God.
But I still believe. I cannot but believe! My belief in Christianity is best described how C.S. Lewis said it: “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen; not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” I cannot imagine a world in which Christianity is not true, especially given the lack of viable alternatives.
So what am I to do with this? Well both the Torah and Jesus say to love the Lord our God with all our heart and soul. But Jesus adds that we may love Him with our MIND! What if someone has tried really, really hard to make that heart and soul thing work, but it just doesn't work out? Shouldn't the mind be the next step? Yes, I think so.
St. John of the Cross refers to this experience of looking for but being unable to find God as “The Dark Night of the Soul” in the title of his famous poem. It's an ideal title. The seeker seeks but finds darkness, but hangs on to what he knows is out there for hope of later finding his beloved. One of my favorite philosophers, St. Anselm of Canterbury, went through a similar situation. He complained to God, “it is thou that hast made me, and hast made me anew, and hast bestowed upon me all the blessings I enjoy; and not yet do I know thee.” And that just about sums it up for me as well. But there is hope! St. John of the Cross DOES find his beloved! Anselm continued in his darkness to love God with his mind, even if he could not find God in his heart. Anselm's most famous philosophical achievement is the Ontological Argument for God's existence, an argument that continues to bless/vex the world of philosophy today. He believed that God gave him that argument as a response to his complaints about spiritual darkness.
My answer, then, is this: God is there and Christianity is true. Christ is risen! For some reason God has seen fit to let me and many other believers wander in darkness. Perhaps, since I'm better at loving God with my mind than with my heart and soul, God will one day answer me as he did St. Anselm – by revealing himself in a purely intellectual way but in a way that is nevertheless unmistakably Him. That is my hope. Until then I will continue loving Him in the only way I know how: with my mind.