Direct Talk On Doubt

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Direct Talk About Doubt

By Pastor Vinnie

 

This article is dedicated to all who have doubt, doubted, or who are seeking to help people who doubt.

 

I have heard a lot of crazy stuff on YouTube, but I could hardly believe what I was hearing that morning; Flat Earthers? Somehow, I had stumbled upon some of the most whack people the internet had to offer up, and they were top-ranking celebrity athletes, people of both education and influence[1]. How could people like this believe such utter nonsense? How could they deny and doubt such a basic fact that the Earth is a globe? Their YouTube channels where full of subscribers and for three years running they had held national conventions on this belief. I could not fathom how the repudiation of such an elemental certainty like the Earth being round could have such hefty backing!

They doubted. They doubted everything. They doubted pictures taken from space. They doubted the evidence. They doubted the whole educational system. They doubted science. They doubted their own governments. They doubted their own experiences in airplanes. They doubted, quite literally, the rising and setting sun; and I, of course, doubted them! I just wanted to scream at my monitor, “What’s wrong with you? Are you really that stupid?!” Yet, really would that have helped them?

Why, do we meet doubt with anger? Are we really that insecure about the things that we believe that we have to resort to disdain, distrust, and disapproval of people who struggle to see things the same way we do? The question my anger at these “Flat Earthers” produced in me was, “Why was I so bent out of shape on such a trivial matter?” Jesus, after all, was doubted by people his entire life; about much more important things. They not only doubted who He was, what his mission was, and who had sent him; they even straight out called him Beelzebub which is to call him Ekron, Baal, the chief of demons, or if you will, Satan! Yet none of that made him the slightest bit upset. Why? Jesus knew who He was and He knew his Father knew who He was, so the doubt of others had no glue on him. So, if Jesus does not get upset about doubt then why do I? Could it be, my anger is my own deeply buried uncertainties?

I am glad, I did not give up on YouTube that day. Trust me, after the Flat Earther’s I was ready to. However, I stumbled upon an ABC Nightline[2] segment that changed how I process doubt and people who deal with it, forever. In this segment, Eva Pilgrim[3] was sent by NightLine to cover the very first Flat Earth Society National Convention, and as a respected journalist, Eva could not just attack them, dismiss them, or laugh them away; she had to deal with them as real. Eva had to act like a journalist and not a late night talk show host. She also understood she had a moral obligation as an ABC journalist to dispel what is false and while she had to cover the story she could not just promote their doubt nationally.

Eva Pilgrim for Nightline at the first Flat Earth convention.

Eva Pilgrim handled the situation with much more grace and tact then I ever could. She engaged three profound procedures that I hope to emulate:
1) She asked honest questions, sometimes with humor, but never, at all, condescendingly.
2) She listened without judgment
3) She sought out an eyewitness rather than debate credentials, wits, or authority. She clinched her segment by seeking out Dr. Mike Massimino who was a former NASA astronaut who had left the earth and seen its shape, first hand. She brought him into the segment as a living expert eyewitness who had actually left the planet and seen it for himself and could report back to the rest of us. And she treated him the exact way she treated the doubters; she asked questions, and listened, letting people come to their own conclusions.

People dismiss facts easily that don’t fit their own narrative. And let’s be honest, worldviews, and what you end up believing about the facts and experiences you have is all about the narrative your mind and heart builds with that information. Facts that don’t fit that rising narrative tend to get misplaced, weighed more lightly, or outright dismissed simply for not fitting the narrative you have built. We reject them out of hand as if they somehow don’t matter despite the phenomenon of their absoluteness. It is a normative characteristic of being human that no other animal of the planet shares, that is the ability to simply excuse reality when we don’t care for it. It is much harder to dismiss is another person’s eyewitness, because, to do so is to dismiss them as a person of credibility or assume them as a liar. It is not just to dismiss a simple fact that does not fit your narrative but to dismiss another person’s very experience of existence.

When I think about doubt, and the motivations that produce it in another, I often am not able to understand it, only because I fail to validate the doubter’s experience of existence. This, actually, is a gross practice of arrogance. I mean when I stop and think of their doubt from the doubter’s narrative and existence, asking honest questions and listening honestly to their answers, it likely will weave a story I can at least relate to, if not conform to.

The truth about doubt is there is often very good reasons for it even when it is skewed. I remember a woman I once knew who just could never come to terms with believing her second husband really loved her, despite clear evidence of his vast affection and tender care. But the fact that her first husband, before this man, also said he loved her yet beat her in times of rage, colored her narrative with understandable doubt, even if it produced a false sequential narrative. What about the doubt of an addict that he/she will ever be free from addiction? Especially when the reality is their historical narrative casts serious shade on God’s ability to rescue them from their cycle of descending shame. Imagine a teenager who was raised to trust God’s love, to believe in God’s love, and to follow the moral behavior God has prescribed in love. Yet, they have these feelings of sexual attraction to people they know are not natural according to the Bible. Imagine they have prayed and prayed, and yet those feelings won’t go away until they finally feel like God could never love them again. Rather than stand outside their experience, casting judgments, are we willing to ask questions, truthfully listen, enter their narrative with them and bear witness of Jesus?

Being willing to enter into another person’s narrative experience, and to view it from their level, and not impose your automatic conclusions on it, but rather to kindly ask questions, honestly listen to answers, and bear witness of God’s love amidst doubt, confusion and pain, is often times the very doubt- breaker people need and crave! An ounce of empathy is worth a ton of sage advice, or even straight facts. In the church, it is usually intolerance, insecure absolutism, and fear- produced motivation that is the fertile ground that doubt takes root in and breeds sprouts that spread across our pews. Jesus was not intolerant. Jesus was not insecure. Jesus did not lead by fear, but with the compassion of this Father. He did not shame, He emancipated people from the sewage of imposing narratives and changed people from inside their very own story. Jesus did not fear their opposing stories, their views, their narratives, which produced their doubts, he became one with them in order to redeem them.

Doubt is a natural element of faith building in a fallen world. Because of the fallen world we live in is full of extremely valid experiences, pieces of our narrative, that produce legitimate doubt even if it is skewed by our own perception of our experience. A person who never doubts while living in this deranged world is not converted, but rather spiritually naïve, or unevenly brainwashed! To purposely misquote a common colloquial euphemism, “Doubt happens!” This is exactly why, when I have doubt, I need a loving community. I need others, to enter into my experience not with judgment, but with questions, listening, and witness. I need them to give me courage, through empathy, to reconstruct my skewed self-narrative to an adjusted hope-filled narrative that Christ interjects into my story, expressed to me by the love of others, who have been there, even if in other ways. In the same way, our bodies were never meant to have to fight off bacteria and viruses, yet the act of doing so creates antibodies, that in the end make us stronger. Doubt in the church member, when processed in a godly fashion, will produce a strength that will build up the whole body of Christ for the better. Churches need to stop being defensive about doubt, it not only makes the church an unsafe place for doubters but it ensures the church will be found jammed packed with spiritual midgets.

In John 20 we find the story of Thomas, who missed the appearing of Jesus after his crucifixion and thus for a full week genuinely doubted the very resurrection of his Lord and Savior. However, it is sad we have made the headline, “Thomas Doubts,” instead of “The Disciples Offer No Rebuttal to Doubt.” They told Thomas what they saw, they listened to his doubt, for seven long days, and they offered zero rebuttal to it. Think about it, Thomas was one of the 12 and if he doubted the resurrection why would anyone else ever believe it? The whole weight of future of the church was on the line, however not one of the 12 attacked his doubt, belittled his faith, or sought to change his mind with guilt, fear, or human authority. They did not have to defend Jesus, they knew Jesus would show up and defend Himself. And when He did, Jesus did not scold Thomas, He did not get upset, He simply declared, “Peace be with you,” and went about proving his existence to Thomas in every way Thomas had sought it. The noir de nadir of this story is that while neither the disciples nor Jesus rebuked Thomas’s doubt, somehow the Church at large, over the centuries, have sought to shame him with the nickname, “Doubting Tom.”

Shame, and shaming, only exposes our own noir de nadir fears, that perhaps their doubt is true, and that Jesus won’t show up, and our only option is to silence them, with force if necessary, before it spreads. Understand though, if you engage in such nonsense it is because you lack faith in the ability of Jesus to show up and prove himself. If you suffer from doubt, get to a safe community of believers, don’t stay in toxic environments, seek support in loving people and accept no less. If you love those who doubt, help make your faith community a safe, strong, thriving community by entering into the narrative of doubters with questions, honest listening, and seeking out witnesses who can testify that there is hope on the other side.



Appendix:

Sermon Version of this article



Footnotes:

[1] Kyrie Irving, Tila Tequila, Freddie Flintoff, AJ Styles, Daniel Shenton, rapper B.o.B

[2] Nightline is a half-hour program that provides viewers with in-depth reporting on one or more of the major stories in the news, with occasional segments on pop culture.

[3] https://twitter.com/EvaPilgrim

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