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The Ants in the Pants of Faith

2005 October 20
by Mike

Yesterday we talked about doubts in my Bible class at ACU. It always comes as a relief to some students to learn that doubting is not the opposite of belief. That would be unbelief. Doubt is suspended on a continuum between the two and decides whether to lean in the direction of belief or unbelief.

It also relieves some (and probably frightens others who crave certainty) to know that their own teacher has his bouts with doubt.

There are times when it just doesn’t seem that this world works the way it ought to if a loving, all-powerful God is in charge. Even after all the talk about free will, natural disasters, and the effects of sin, sometimes that just doesn’t quite fix the problem. And there are times when you wonder about all the people in the world who will fight wars over their old books–which old book depends on their religion–written by people from long ago.

As I said, for those who need absolute certainty and don’t want anyone to mess with it–and I’m not just talking about college students now–that’s not anything they want to hear. They probably tell themselves that it’s because their faith is so strong. That may be right. Or maybe their faith is so fragile.

But others know the threat of being fully awake in a world that is confusing. It isn’t certainty they have, most of the time, but faith. Struggling, seeking, journeying faith.

As Frederick Buechner put it, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.” For some people, those doubts keep the faith fresh, alive, and vibrant–always searching over the next ridge for what lies ahead.

29 Responses leave one →
  1. October 20, 2005

    Right about now the faith I cling to is in the love of the Father. I really do believe he is who he says he is and that he can do what he says he can do. Through that belief I can determine that I am who he says I am – his child – adopted into the Kingdom of light. Yes, the world is a very dark place and yet I continue to anticipate the sun to rise every morning. This may sound simple but I’m finding that it’s really not all that difficult to believe him. Mostly it’s just a choice.

  2. October 20, 2005

    Great quote about “doubt”.. Thanks Mike.

  3. October 20, 2005

    I have always considered doubt to be the opposite of faith. I am not sure if it’s something which I was taught or inferred from the Scriptures. This thinking does tend to bring shame upon those who think that way. We process to ourselves, “if only I had enough faith!”

    Recognizing that our emotional being and the reality of doubt is a part of who we are, frees us to embrace our doubts for what they could be and what they reveal to us.

    This reality that doubts will come, that times of persisent uncertainity will shake our inner being and even though we yearn to look away from them, I encourge us not to run from them! Like you already said, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith.”

    What does doubt cause you to do? To either look to myself or look to my Savior. What a wonderful change to see Jesus in our times of doubt. For it’s He who can increase our faith!

  4. October 20, 2005

    I found out for myself that the more I am in the scriptures, studying, meditating, praying, the less room their is in my head for doubt. Before I started being in God’s inspired word on a regular basis I had many doubts, God just express mailing me faith through thin air never happened for me, once I started to read His words I was able to start building on a cornerstone of truth, the Holy Spirit became so much more apparent in my life, and like Candy said above I made a choice to believe. It is such a journey, never over, but the road we are on is the most blessed.

  5. October 20, 2005

    Hope some of you are getting to peek in on the Carepage for Tyler Stewart. Here’s a letter from his dad:

    Dear Tyler,

    I hear your breathing behind me as you sleep in our hotel room in Memphis tonight. I’m glad you can sleep because I can’t. Tomorrow is a big day for us; actually one of many. You will be examined by your surgeon to determine the most appropriate surgery and/or treatment to get rid of that “golf ball” in your head. Then we’ll find out when your surgery will be. If there was a way that I could have that “golf ball” in me I would do it this second. It hurts so much to have this happen to you; I can’t even describe the pain.

    I marvel at how well you handle things. A lot of that has to do with your age, but there is a lesson that you’ve taught me: Take one day at a time and make the most of them. You don’t worry, you just live for today. Mom and I will try to do the same as we go through this with you.

    Mom and I love you so much. Since the day you were born until right now, I am honored that God chose me to be your Dad. We would not want to change one thing about you. How could I have been so lucky to have two great sons like you and Luke?

    We told you last night at dinner that you’re going to be a big brother. Mom and I loved your reaction! I can’t wait to see you as a big brother. I’m sure you will be a great one.

    Tyler, you are in your eternal Father’s hands and He loves you. He will take care of our family. We are not sure about the details, but we know that He loves us. Know that people are thinking about you, praying for you, and cheering for you. We wish everyone could know your little sweet, spunky, cheerful personality. Of course you have moments when you test us, but we cherish those things about you too!

    Please know that Mom and I will do anything to help you. We are here by your side as we take another step in the journey. Mom and I will hold your hands as we go through this tough time. We love you now and always will! Thank you for being my son.

    Love,
    Dad

  6. October 20, 2005

    Doubt may be what saves me from unbelief – or maybe I should say misplaced belief.

    If it were not for doubt, how many false beliefs would I maintain with the certainty that they were actually reflective of God? And what is belief in something false but an insidious and dangerous kind of unbelief?

    My experience, riddled with doubt as it is, tells me that God gives us the gift of doubt so that we will have good faith and not settle for bad faith. He allows it in ours lives not because he takes any pleasure in our suffering, but as a way of loving us away from that which would cause a much greater suffering.

  7. October 20, 2005

    Great blog on a topic that remains largely swept under the carpet in our tradition and in the church at large.

    Like Yancey, I’m sometimes a “reluctant Christian.” I wish it could be otherwise (that I could be “fat, dumb and happy”) but I’m just not wired that way.

    The Buechner quote is on the mark. I also love the analogy that Frank Schaeffer (the dad, not the son) used to use. He spoke of a climber stranded on a fog-shrouded alpine mountain. From the fog comes a voice that tells the climber that if he just takes a step into the fog, there is a ledge that will provide safety. The skeptical climber questions the voice and discovers that it belongs to a guide who knows the mountain well and has all the information the climber needs to make his way to safety.

    I always thought that analogy put some flesh to the phrase “leap of faith” and made it a more palatable idea for an old saved skeptic like me to accept.

  8. October 20, 2005

    Is it possible to have faith where there is no chance for doubt? It seems to me that it is belief in the face of doubt and uncertaintly that defines faith. Not only that, but it it is maintaining faith in the face of doubt personalizes our faith- making it ours handed down by God rather than a by-product of something institutionalized and handed down by men. Good post.

  9. October 20, 2005

    This post typifies why I come here. I’m so weary of preachers who are absolutely positive about everything — whether it’s the divinity of Christ or their understanding of some obscure passage or their political views.

  10. October 20, 2005

    I join many on this blog today as one that wrestles with doubt. The passage of Scripture that I find my life immersed in is Mark 9:24, where the father of a boy cries out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief.” I have prayed that short prayer hundreds of times in the past year.
    Right now, I am in Fred Aquino’s “Systematic Theology” course. Talk about a class that will challenge your faith. So, yesterday while I was driving out to Ballinger where I preach, I decided to cultivate a spiritual discipline of declaring through prayer what I believe. The 55 minute drive ended up being split into 3 sections: I believe that God is______; I believe that Jesus is______; and I believe that the Holy Spirit is_____. It was a wonderful experience of faith. I need to do it more often.

  11. October 20, 2005

    Great post on a topic that is often swept under the rug in out tradition and the church at large.

    Like Yancey, I’m sometimes a “reluctant Christian.” I wish I could be otherwise, but I’m just not wired that way.

    The Buechner quote is on the mark. I also like the story that Frank Schaeffer (the father, not the son) used to tell. He wrote of a climber who was stranded on a fog-shrouded alpine mountain. A voice suddenly calls out and tells him that if he will just take a step into fog, he will find a safe ledge. The skeptical climber questions the voice as to who he is and his credentials. The voice replies that he is an experienced guide who knows the mountains well and who has all the information the climber needs to make his way to safety.

    I always thought that put some flesh to the phrase “leap of faith” and made it a more palatable idea for an old saved skeptic like me to accept.

  12. October 20, 2005

    mike,
    sorry about the double (now triple) post, I thought the first one had been lost in “cyberspace.” Newbie mistake.

  13. October 20, 2005

    Here’s the full Buechner quote on doubt, for those who are interested:

    Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts, you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.

    There are two principal kinds of doubt, one of the head and the other of the stomach.

    In my head there is almost nothing I can’t doubt when the fit is upon me — the divinity of Christ, the efficacy of the sacraments, the significance of the church, the existence of God. But even when I am at my most skeptical, I go on with my life as though nothing untoward has happened.

    I have never experienced stomach doubt, but I think Jesus did. When he cried out, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me!” I don’t think he was raising a theological issue any more than he was quoting Psalm 22. I think he looked into the abyss itself and found there a darkness that spiritually, viscerally, totally engulfed him. I think God allows that kind of darkness to happen only to God’s saints. The rest of us aren’t up to doubting that way — or maybe believing that way either.

    When our faith is strongest, we believe with our hearts as well as with our heads, but only at a few rare moments, I think, do we feel in our stomachs what it must be like to be engulfed by light.

    And on a separate note, how ’bout them ‘Stros?!?

  14. October 20, 2005

    This is totally changing the subject, but if any of you out there in Mike’s blog land know David Underwood(who posts often) from HU years 1974-78, please wish him a HAPPY 50th today–he’s my good bro-in-law! Thanks for helping him celebrate today!

  15. October 20, 2005

    Randy Harris addressed the “doubters” in Monday’s undergraduate Chapel (I was there with my parents and brother). He repeated several times, “I speak to you as someone without authority. I struggle with my faith every day.” Randy Harris. Struggling with his faith. I think the talk hit lots and lots of students where they are…

    Powerful.

  16. October 20, 2005

    Take heart. It does get a bit ‘easier’ as we walk life’s path, where we accept that we are closer to the end of our earthly journey than we are to its beginning.

    Doubts and struggles continue, but with each episode, as I call out in my faith and love to God, the doubts and struggles are of shorter tenure and faith is deepened, gratitude and thanksgiving engulf the heart.

    As vagrant thoughts of “what if this isn’t so” occasionally wander through my mind, I find that calling out in belief to Jesus brings His Light of ever stronger faith to me and I yearn for the day I’ll see His loving face, when faith and hope will be replaced with glorious eternal reality.

    Maranatha, LORD Jesus, come quickly!!

    Ya’ did it Astros!! :O)

  17. October 20, 2005

    More Buechner:
    “Not the least of my problems is that I can hardly even imagine what kind of an experience a genuine, self-authenticating religious experience would be without somehow destroying me in the process. How could God reveal Himself in a way that would leave no room for doubt? If there were no room for doubt, there would be no room for me.”

  18. October 20, 2005

    YEA, MIKE! Exactly what I needed today. Exactly what friends of mine needed today. Thank you!

    I’ve often heralded the fact that youa re one of my heroes. Josh Ross is too. Thanks for your comment, Josh!

    Keep talking about this. There are so many who need to hear us wrestle with these things. It breads authenticity, in my opinion. I cannot tell you how appropriate this was for me today.

    PS: Will I get to see you in a couple of weeks?

  19. October 20, 2005

    I have encountered people who have no doubts. Some frighten me. Others make it difficult for me to love them.

    It seems so often that confidence in being right about everything leads to arrogance and aggression. Not always. But often.

    I’d rather have my doubts and keep my faith in God than lose them and have too much faith in myself.

  20. October 20, 2005

    When I doubt, sometimes the simplest response I give myself is “To whom else could I turn?”

  21. October 20, 2005

    I like “Beaner’s” comment. When Jesus suffered a huge drop in attendance, and asked if His closest guys would also leave, they had a similar response: there’s nowhere else to go.

    It bothers me that Mike leaps to the conclusion that just because doubt is a part of our lives that it isn’t the opposite of faith. Of course it’s the opposite of faith. And of course we struggle with it.

    It also bothers me that many of you seem to have come to the conclusion that just because you know some who are obnoxious know-it-alls in the name of faith … that therefore all who are certain are also these iron-clad knuckleheads.

    I’ve betting my eternal soul on something … the grace of God. I’m one of those people you don’t like, for I am certain. Surely Mike’s correct that my faith is fragile, but I don’t take that as an insult, but rather a fact. The bottom line is that I believe, but continue to need help. While at the same time, I’m certain of that for which I hope.

    I feel sorry for those of you who don’t know what it is to struggle and be certain at the same time.

  22. October 20, 2005

    Oh, Willshat, do I have a church where you’d be so happy! People are absolutely certain about everything. Doubters are considered 2nd class citizens (as in your comment) — people to feel sorry for. It’s a very, very popular church, I might add. Certainly sells really well these days.

    But is that faith? Faith has cycles of confidence and certainty, but aren’t there also moments of doubt and failure? Isn’t it all right to wonder if the whole thing is wrong — if this old book is just an old book, if Jesus was just a really good teacher, etc. — while continuing to turn (as Beaner suggested) to the one we follow?

    In my own life, doubt absolutely is NOT the opposite of faith. They walk holding hands at times. But I keep tilting toward putting my trust in Christ.

    He was so gentle with stumbling doubters/believers. The church is so hard.

  23. October 20, 2005

    Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. Not pretty sure, but assured, convinced.

    The psalmists wrote from a standpoint of faith, but often wrote “what the hell is going on down here? — Things don’t make sense, God.” I don’t say that to be crude, but to accurately express what I think many of the Psalms say; this planet is more often than not quite hellish. Such questions that the Psalms ask can be asked in partnership with faith, not in opposition to it.

    I was in my twenties before I realized that it is ok to question God, and such freedom came with that knowledge. I walked away from the faith in my teens, mostly because I wanted to serve myself instead of God, but in part because of questions I had that I thought should not be asked by a person of faith. I felt that God was unwilling to listen to such questions.

    I was wrong.

    Jonathan

  24. October 20, 2005

    Didn’t Jesus say that if you had faith as small as a mustard seed, that you could move mountains? I don’t see a bunch of people moving the Rockies around & yet I believe Jesus told the truth, so my deduction is that there is no one alive who does not doubt – whether they want to admit it or not.

  25. October 21, 2005

    To talk about the struggle to trust God acknowedlges our humanity and reveals our great need for a Savior. We need to acknowledge our struggle to trust God. But sometimes in our culture there is an emphasis on what we do not know, rather than an emphasis on what we do know. This makes the fog of doubt heavier. I think another reason we struggle with the faith is that the philosophical climate we live in tends to puff us up. So, there is a climate of deconstruction that emphasizes what we don’t know and a climate of selfism. This climate tends to minimize the presence of God in the world–even the very clear signs of God in nature. I try to combat this puffiness in my own life by reading Scripture, history, and reading about the reasons for belief in God. At the end of the day though, I have learned that no matter how many reasons for God’s existence, or the divinity of Christ, or studying Scripture, nothing draws me deeper into faith like a steady, slow, and intimate prayer life with the Father.

    Matt

  26. October 21, 2005

    I used to concentrate on how Satan was tormenting me when I doubted. Then one day it came to me… Satan was not the only there, God was right there whispering in my ear and not letting me go. Its amazing how my attitude changed and the fear of doubting eased when I concentrated on God holding on to methrough those times.

  27. October 21, 2005

    “We too often forget that faith is a matter of questioning and struggle before it becomes one of certitude and peace. You have to doubt and reject everything else in order to believe firmly in Christ, and after you have begun to believe, your faith itself must be tested and purified. Christianity is not merely a set of forgone conclusions. Faith tends to be defeated by the burning presence of God in mystery, and seeks refuge from him, flying to comfortable social forms and safe convictions in which purification is no longer an inner battle but a matter of outward gesture.”

    – Thomas Merton

  28. October 24, 2005

    What are some of the things we don’t doubt, or are there no such things? If we are certain about things other than God, what are those things and how do we maintain that certainty? If we are doubtful about everything, even doubt, then why are we surprised when we doubt God?

    Part of the problem, I am afraid, is that Christians try to quantify faith: If only I had ENOUGH faith I could move mountains. Oddly, Jesus seems to be saying that if you have virtually no faith at all you can move mountains: there isn’t much to a mustard seed (in quantity, at least).

    Jesus raised the dead, walked on water, healed the sick, fed the hungry, rebuked the winds. And yet he told his disciples “Greater things than these you shall do.” Hmmm. What things are greater than these things? Great question, and one I’ve asked many of my Christian friends, classmates and Christian Ed. students. Could we be thinking erroneously when we say “I don’t have much faith …”? How much faith is enough? What is 100 percent faith? What is 10 percent faith? Is this whole anxiety rooted in our misunderstanding “faith” just like we might be misunderstanding what Jesus means by “doing greater things than these?”

    I have doubts, of course. I have questions. Even Jesus had questions: My God, why have you forsaken me? And I believe this: the more mature a believer becomes in the faith, the more questions he or she is likely to have. I was more certain as a novice than I am as an expert. I had fewer questions as a novice skier than I have as an expert one. I had more certainty as a freshman than I did as a senior. You get the picture.

    And yet, I think the doubts are only gifts through which I struggle so that I may gain mastery, mastery I can share with those who are suffering through a “dark night of the soul.” I welcome the doubt. My only concern is when I turn doubt into an end rather than a means to an end; or when I turn doubt into an idol, convinced that my searching spirit is somehow more intellectually or spiritually important than my contented neighbor who never seems to ask God a question.

    Look. I think must of us have who have doubts about the Faith are actually reacting, unwittingly perhaps, to the bogus bag of goods we were sold by so many bad sermons and so many bad Sunday School lessons. Usually we are unwinding some erroneous belief when we struggle through doubt. Doubt is the wrappings of Lazarus. Jesus cries out “Come forth!” and we begin the unwrapping process. Surely Mary and Martha know what it is liked to be bound and wrapped by misconceptions. Jesus came to set them and all of us free from those things that bind us; and the liberation feels a lot like doubt.

    Peace,

    Gnade

  29. October 27, 2005

    Doubt, but don’t rest in doubt. Doubt, and search. Doubt, and ask. Doubt, and don’t be content until you have found a firm place to stand.

    Truth doesn’t change, but until the day I fully know Him, my understanding of truth is always being refined.

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