Sacred Skepticism

For some reason, most churches that I’ve been a part of assume that just because a person is 19 or 20 and interested in ministry, they would be great at working with the middle school/high school kids. Fun fact: plenty of us are terrible at it. I wish that I could track down every kid who used to be in my youth group and apologize for the horrendous job that I did. It is definitely a gift that I do not have. That being said, one of the best parts of spending that much time talking about God with 13 year olds is the fact that they are not yet afraid to ask the really big questions that we older Christians are too embarrassed to ask.

“If God flooded the whole Earth, how did the animals from America get to Noah?”
“Why did God send Jesus to die when he could have just forgiven us?”
“How did Cain go to a city full of people?”
“Why did God let the serpent into the garden in the first place?”
“It’s been 2000 years. Is Jesus really coming back?”

Most older Christians have either soothed themselves with easy answers to these questions or stopped asking them for fear of being seen as a weak and faithless Christian. Honestly, I have spent much of my life doubting what I believe, but I have rarely had the confidence to admit it to anyone. The main reason why I have felt unable to share my doubts is because of the typical response that I get…

“You just have to pray for faith.”
“I used to have doubts too, but now I just trust Jesus.”
“I’m sure you’ll come around soon enough.”
“I believe it because the Bible says so, and that’s good enough for me.”
“Oh, I don’t think about those kinds of things. They are just a waste of time.”
“Don’t be such a doubting Thomas.”

Poor Thomas. Just a week before his infamous line, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe”, he said, “Let us also go, that we may die with him”. He was the only disciple that actually understood what was going to happen to Jesus and still said, “Let’s do this!”. Then the poor guy watches Jesus helplessly manhandled by the Romans and killed without even putting up a fight. I would be pretty shaken up too. Also, keep in mind that the other 10 disciples didn’t believe that Jesus had come back until they saw him either. Let’s all agree to never use the phrase “Doubting Thomas” again. The only people in the whole story who actually had faith were Jesus’ female followers, and they didn’t even believe that Jesus had been resurrected until they saw him. None of Jesus’ closest friends believed until they saw proof. “Doubting Disciples” would be a better moniker than “Doubting Thomas”.

The disciples saw Jesus walk on water, feed thousands of people, heal countless people, cast out demons, raise the dead, and even have a conversation with Moses and Elijah. He spent all day with them for three years, and they still doubted him when, as Kurt Vonnegut used to say, the excrement hit the air-conditioner. Jesus was often annoyed by their lack of faith, but he was always patient, allowing them the space to figure it out for themselves. He didn’t tell Peter that he was the Son of God, he asked him, “Who do you say that I am?”. When Thomas refused to believe this miraculous truth until he could see it for himself, Jesus showed up and met him where he was.

This is the same Jesus that I sit here wondering about today with a sort of sacred skepticism.

I like that phrase, and I think that I’m going to keep it.

It might sound odd, but I believe that Christians need to be the best, most careful skeptics of them all. For too long have we let the nonreligious people ask all of the good questions as we blindly accept whatever we are taught. As we read in 1 John 4, “Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God”, and in 1 Thessalonians 5, “Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil”. We believe that there is more truth, more reality, and more knowledge in a splinter of God’s throne than in the entire collective knowledge of human history. We are a people who believe crazy things like, “Love your enemies” and “Whoever seeks their life will lose it but whoever loses their life for my sake will find it”. Whenever Jesus came face to face with an established authority who had all of the answers, he pushed back. He pushed them to the limits of their knowledge and invited them to jump off into the unknown with him. Very few of them took the plunge, but Jesus succeeded in convincing billions of people throughout history to stop accepting easy answers and start pushing into the mysteries of the Kingdom of God.

Are you questioning your faith? Do you feel like you can’t believe the things that you used to believe? Good. You might finally be ready to become a sacred skeptic. I imagine my faith like one of those beach houses that are lofted up on columns to avoid storm damage. At some point, I built it with wooden columns for support. They worked well for a time, but I don’t really know how to build a house, so they were bound to fall apart soon. The problem is, when they started decaying I was so terrified of losing my house that I nailed some boards, beams, and sticks to them to keep them standing. After a few years of trying in vain to support these weak and rotten supports, my house is in serious trouble, and something needs to happen. Instead of continuously rebuilding these old and poorly constructed supports, the time must come to rip them down and put something better in their place. Maybe, the house needs to just fall down and lie in ruins for a little while before something new can come up, or maybe the new supports will come painlessly. Either way, something needs to change.

We humans are tiny and weak. We need to have the freedom to not have all the answers. When we force ourselves to believe that we know everything and have no more need for questions, we wither and die. Humans are seekers. We need to know more. We need to know who, what, where, when, why, and how about everything. God has proven year after year that he wants to share his truth with us. The Holy Spirit is the best example of this. She is working within all of us, subtly teaching us the ways of Heaven despite our obtuseness. This God who has spent all of human history building a personal relationship with humanity invites questions. Question doctrine, question interpretations, question practices, question everything. It is only through first acknowledging the fact that we don’t know it all that we able to actually build any sort of faith that is more than empty platitudes that help us to sleep at night.

Press into the mystery. I think you’ll find that God is more often in the questions than in the answers.

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