Diary of a Plain Pastor: Doubt

Faith is not a thing which one ‘loses,’ we merely cease to shape our lives by it. That is why old-fashioned confessors are not far wrong in showing a certain amount of skepticism when dealing with ‘intellectual crises,’ doubtless far more rare than people imagine.

{Diary of a Country Priest}

Wrangling with doubt and questions comes easy for me, too easy perhaps. One of the chapters in my first book opened with this line: “A pastor really ought to believe in God. It works better that way.” (it’s still true, by the way.) And this was no quick two-week rabbit trail for me. My quandary with doubt popped up again in Holy Curiosity. Doubt has been a companion, weaving it’s way in and out of my story for the past 15 years or so. For some, faith comes easy. For others, faith comes through blood, sweat and fears.

Doubt’s a tricky thing, though. The old cliche says that faith’s a crutch; well, doubt’s a crutch too. When doubt keeps me honest, keeps me human, it can be a friend. But when doubt isolates me or encourages my cynical side, whenever doubt diminishes the life I could be busy living, doubt has become my enemy (or “my foe,” as six-year-old Seth called a kindergarten pal who grew mean on the playground).

I cling to doubt because it provides an allure of protection. Left free to roam and pillage, doubt runs right past being honest and on to constructing barricades. Nothing required of me. Nothing to disappoint me. No one to criticize me – because I’ve committed to nothing. We cannibalize ourselves, rushing to dismantle our beliefs before anybody else tries.

Doubt as one voice keeping us honest is a good thing. Doubt as the voice telling us who we are is a horrible thing. Believing in the gospel is a posture of faith. And being a pastor is a life of living toward – and inviting others toward – faith.

If my life is defined by doubt, then I’m not getting on with actually being who I am in this world. I’m not living toward anything. Rather than giving myself to my church and my family and my craft and my friends, I’m simply detracting, deconstructing. I’m withering away. That’s no way to live.

In the wise words of the Avett Brothers, “Decide what to be. And go be it.”

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