Doubt and Certainty. I’ve been chewing on these words for a few weeks and something I read online yesterday brought them both into sharper focus for me. I have been thinking about the moments in my life where I was the most certain about certain things of God and how those moments didn’t serve me very well. Moments like when I was absolutely certain that there was no hell. Or moments when I was absolutely certain that there was. Moments when I was absolutely certain that no one would be in hell as well as moments when I was certain I knew exactly who will one day be there. Additionally, there have been moments when I was absolutely certain that God blesses and celebrates gay men and women and moments when I was absoulely certain that God abhorred such unions.
These are just a few examples of things I have believed passionately at one time or another. They are very different from each other but the one thing they all have in common is the tenacity and certainty with which I held those beliefs. It felt good to be certain – to have a side on which I could plant my flag among a community of like minded people who were equally certain that we were right and they were wrong.
I have also had moments – even long seasons – of doubt. In recent months and years I have doubted that God loves me. I have doubted that God is for me. I have doubted that God would want anything to do with me because of choices I had made and habits in which I have gleefully wallowed. I have doubted that my life can be salvaged or that I could be forgiven. I’ve doubted that the church could be a place of healing and restoration, or that she would even welcome me were I to return.
Doubt, coupled with shame, have been my most constant companions for much of the past few years.
I share all that to say this: I think one of the things God is trying to teach me, and the thing I have been chewing on these last few weeks, is that neither one of these places – certainty and doubt – are healthy places for me. Certainty tends to give root to pride, and doubt tends to give root to hopelessness. These are not the best God has for me, or for you. God hasn’t saved me so that I can be certain about certain theological concepts nor so that I might never doubt again. God knows I am human and designed me that way. God knows my weaknesses far better than I and isn’t expecting that I never doubt again or that I never get puffed up with certainty again. But just because he understands me and knows my heart is prone to wander into either of these two extremes doesn’t mean he desires for me to stay there.
I’m grateful that there have been people in my life who encourage and exhort me towards humilty when I am certain and trust when I am doubting. It is humilty and trust, rather than certainty and doubt, which are the virtues that serve me best in my Christian journey. This is what I am learning.
When people ask me today what my thoughts are about the existence of hell or the posture God has towards gay people, my answer is this: I don’t know. I leave those things to God who I am learning to trust is loving, just, good and true. My job, as I see it, is to love people and embrace them where they are, as they are, for who they are. Rather than try to make them fit my mold I pray that God would see fit to move in their lives in whatever way God sees fit today and that they, and I, be humble enough and open enough to receive it. I am learning that this way works for me far better than the other ways I have tried. I’m amazed to see how the Holy Spirit is capable of enlightening others to the way of Jesus when I just get out of the way and choose to be a friend.
And as for my doubts, I still struggle but I am learning to trust more. The more I sit in circles with recovering addicts like myself and hear people share their own struggles as well as joys around God and life, or how they too doubt God’s love for them at times or have witnessed God’s hand in something as simple as a cup of coffee or a hug, the more I realize that God is with me in ways I have not previously seen or understood. I’m learning to trust that he is with me and that he is someone I can once more turn my will and life over to one day at a time.
Humility and Trust. These are the spiritual realms in which I strive to live but don’t always succeed. When I do get side-tracked and slip into the far more human realms of Certainty and Doubt, I welcome feedback from fellow pilgrims who speak truth into my life and remind me that there is something better than both of those states. They aren’t trying to shame me for feeling that way. Rather, they are loving me by wanting more for me – for reminding me that I, too, want more for me. And so does God. In this way, these friends and reminders are, to steal a phrase from Barbara Brown Taylor, like altars in this world. I don’t always see them or heed them, but when I do, it’s a moment worthy of giving thanks, as I trust this hastily written post serves to do.
Thank you to all of you who have been, and continue to be, altars in this world.