Herald Journal Columns
May 19, 2003
Pastor's Column

The virtue of doubt and how it plays a factor in our life

By Rev. Bill Baldwin, Prairie Community Church, Lester Prairie

There is a lot of doubt in the Bible.

I know, it seems like it would be a book of hugely faithful people, but it often isn't so.

A few weeks back we had the "doubting Thomas" story in our lectionary reading. Unless he had the hard evidence, Thomas was not going to believe in the risen Christ.

Nothing uncommon about that, for the world is full of people like Thomas who are skeptical about all kinds of things. I am here today to celebrate those for whom doubt and skepticism is a way of life.

It has occurred to me that without doubt and skepticism a person never really wrestles to find their true beliefs and faith commitments.

Jesus said, "blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe." He might have also been thinking, "but there aren't a whole lot of those kind of people out there."

Most of us have a healthy sense of doubt and skepticism that protects us from being easily duped and having someone take advantage of our quick receptivity.

There are certainly people looking for black and white answers about life, based on the rise in popularity of conservative and fundamental Christian churches.

I, for one, am proud to be part of a church that says go ahead and question, God can handle it.

I welcome doubters and skeptics at any church I am part of, and thankfully I know quite a few. Don't get me wrong, I am not saying that the answer to not accepting black and white answers is to dismiss them and ignore them altogether.

I am also not saying that the very things that people doubt aren't fully true and vitally important to life and salvation. What I am saying is that when people engage their minds and admit where they really are on various issues, there is an honesty and openness that I admire and find hopeful.

Did Jesus really and truly rise from the dead? Some can quickly say "yes" with all honesty, but I admire those who say, "you know, I'm just not sure. I really have a hard time with that concept."

It shows that they are wrestling with it and sizing up how it resonates within. Doubt has always been a part of what it means to be a Christian. I can personally say, even as a pastor, that I struggle with doubts about different aspects of Christian belief, and that doubt can waver from day to day.

One day I can boldly say that I believe without a doubt, and the next day I am saying that I'm not so sure.

Many people have stayed away from church because they think that unless they accept and believe the "whole package" about Christianity, that they won't be welcome or fit in.

At least at my church I can say that doubters and skeptics are entirely welcome and encouraged. Just bring your willingness to be who you really are and share it with the rest of us and that's all we ask.

I try very hard to create an atmosphere where people can hear the Scriptures, hear the classic doctrines of the faith, and question them to their hearts content. Does that mean that anything goes, and that I have no standards by which a persons standing in the church is measured? By no means.

The church I love to be part of is much more concerned with following the example set by Christ than having the correct orthodox beliefs about Christ.

For example, are people kind and tolerant of one another? Do they show respect for all types of people in all their diversity? Do they reach out and offer to help those in need?

I read recently in a book on evangelism that even skeptical non-Christians are impressed when they see Christians treating each other well and sustaining each other in love. Of course they are, because everyone loves to be treated well no matter who they are or what they believe.

Just think of the impact a church could make in a community just by being known as the church that really practices Jesus' command that we love one another.

Without a doubt, the kind of church I am advocating will probably be a little messier and less manageable than a church where everything is cut, dried, and orderly. But a spotless, orderly church is kind of like an empty barn; there is no mess and no smell, but there isn't any life there either.

Give me the mess! Give me the smell! And thank God that God is grand enough to welcome all who long to find connection with fellow questioning humans on the journey of life.

Peace.


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