Doubting to Understand

“Give me doubt.” – The Brilliance

I am terrified of doubt.

I can easily curl up into the security of assurances and absolutes. I seek out truth like it’s the cure for any discomfort I have with reality. Wrestling with doubt means headaches, stomach aches, neck aches. It means lack of sleep. Bad dreams.

This year, I have encountered many stories of brokenness and lost faith. The easy, this-or-that world blurred as friends, colleagues, and students shared their stories. The vague ideas, philosophies, and lifestyles we talk about in small groups from afar became people with full lives and real hurts. And I loved them. And that love sometimes created voices of doubt.

I recently encountered a band that I thought was Christian until I listened more deeply to the lyrics and read their bio. The band members had faced doubts because of similar reasons. They questioned this: If I love my neighbor so much, then why doesn’t God? Or, How is it that I can love my neighbor more than God does? They couldn’t answer this question. In one song, they describe leaving their religion for the sake of their friends.

This shook me. It used to never occur to me that I might love someone more than God loved them. But when you encounter broken people whom God has not redeemed yet, it can feel like God has abandoned them. I see people struggling with their own doubts and sins and think God hasn’t given them the capacity to have faith. But “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit” (Psalm 34:8, NIV), and “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8).

We have a difficult time seeing passed what people are today and how God might break through. We love them because we see God’s sparks in them. We don’t want them to change because who they are is amazing. Or we don’t want them to have to change because change is painful. But we cannot know what God will do, perhaps even through us. We forget that God loved us for who we are but also saw who we could be and helped us be that. And often we can’t even see how God has enriched our own lives and transformed us into richer versions of our old selves, and how all of the difficulty of being God’s follower is so undeniably worth it. 

I think the band, in asking how they could love someone more than God did, was asking the wrong question. They assumed that their statement was true. They assumed that their capacity for love was greater than God’s. But our tiny hearts have only as much love as God has given to us from God’s never-ending resources.

A better question would be: Why has God given me the capacity to love these people?

Could it be that God loves people far more than we or anyone else ever could, and that God wants us to love them, too?

Love is hard, especially love that brings doubt. But sometimes that doubt is a pathway to more love.

In a concert that I went to a few months ago, The Brilliance sang a new song about doubt. Unfortunately, the song is not out yet, and I can’t share the lyrics. The song asks God to give us doubt so that we can understand others. It shifts our reactions to doubt from fear to gratitude.

Now, whenever I wrestle with doubt because of a new perspective or a new story, I want to thank God because this means I am growing in empathy. It means I am beginning to understand. It means God is giving me a greater capacity to love.

The example of doubting above is only one small type of doubt that can lead to empathy. But other doubts might even be doubting the Bible, doubting our denomination, doubting our stance on certain issues, or even our political views. These kinds of doubt, even if they do not lead to a change of heart and mind, help us understand other perspectives and allow us to have grace for them. Sometimes doubt does change us, and sometimes that is a beautiful thing, but other times we hold scripture to our doubts and stand even more firmly in something that is true. Wherever our doubts lead us in our beliefs, we can be grateful that they have led us towards greater empathy and love. They allow us to be humbled, gracious, and welcoming.

Without doubt, we can become mean, bitter people who only see others as “the enemy.” Healthy doubt–a doubt that is firm in faith–gives us humility.

The Pharisees can give us an example of this. Jesus often did things with great love and humility that caused the Pharisees to second-guess what they expected about God. One example of this is when the Pharisees bring out a woman caught in adultery and ask Jesus what to do–reminding him that scriptures say that they should stone her. Instead of condemning her, Jesus disengages from the question by stooping to the ground and drawing in the sand. But they won’t let Jesus alone, so he finally says, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” Amazed, the Pharisees leave. Jesus then tells the woman that he doesn’t condemn her.

The Pharisees had a strict, unbending idea about God and the law. Jesus again and again shows them that they are mistaken, and that their treatment of others because of their religious bigotry is unacceptable to God.

For me, doubt came from knowing people and sharing stories. I used to hide away from other people or from media (books, shows, movies) that share stories that are contrary to our believes. But I now believe these things enrich us when we are firm in our faith but soft in heart, when we are so confident in our faith that we have room for doubt, and when we can see how unthinkable it is that God loves us and are able to understand how God might love other people, too.

In the end, the band I mentioned chose their love for their friends over their love for God. This heartbreaking decision comes from a misunderstanding of God’s love for our friends and God’s call to us. It is not possible for us to love a person more than God loves them. But it is possible–even inevitable–that we will sometimes love another person more than we love God. This is when doubt becomes corruptive.

God does call us to love other people. This call is throughout scripture. But the first command is this: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37, NIV).

In my last post, “Even though he loved”: Trusting Amidst Disappointment, I wrote about God’s timing, and with that came the understanding that Jesus always followed God and not man. We are called to do the same. Jesus tell us, “Anyone who comes to me but refuses to let go of father, mother, spouse, children, brothers, sisters—yes, even one’s own self!—can’t be my disciple” (Luke 14:26, MSG).

God’s law gives us boundaries for our love. We love God with all of our hearts, but we only love others as we love ourselves.

When we love others as we love ourselves, we have more grace and understanding. We have doubts that make us love like we have never loved. But we are also called to love God even more, to follow God and not man, and to trust God’s word.

My prayer is that God would give me doubt so that I can love, and faith to follow God even when others go the other way.

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