Monday, January 2, 2012

Coming to Terms with [Her] Doubt

“And have mercy on those who doubt.” — Jude 22

'Broken Windows' photo (c) 2006, TheGiantVermin - license:
For the Christian, doubt is normal. We experience seasons of doubt about the security of our souls. We doubt if there’s a heaven, and/or a hell, from time to time. We doubt the Canon, the cross and the credibility of all things unseen. Prominent Christians misbehave, and we feel a strong temptation to dissociate with them by dissociating with God and/or the church altogether. We all have Thomas-like tendencies, and it’s a broad spectrum.

For what it’s worth, my wife and I sit at quite different points on this vast spectrum of Christian doubt, with me on the more confident end. Sure, I have doubted my faith at points in my life. I do not wear a cape. But God has been kind to give me an abiding assurance that He is good, His promises are true, and He is bringing all things to pass in His perfect time and wisdom. Most of the time.

Speaking of His wisdom, God united me permanently to a wonderful woman who has, in recent years, been severely dogged by doubt. She shrouded it for the first several years of our marriage—tagging along on my theological journey with unquestioning affirmation. We attended Bible conferences and retreats together. We sang duets together. We read theology books together. We talked about spiritual things for hours on end. There was no sign that anything was eating her. I was completely clueless.

Then in 2008, tragedy shook the rafters of our relationship, and her insides oozed out. Our 8-year-old daughter’s sudden death was a kind of soul-deep explosion that turned her affirming smile to an accusatory scowl. She began to indict the doctrines she’d once affirmed. Safety, it seemed, was something she had always expected from God. He had catastrophically let her down.

Tragedy shattered her faith into unrecognizable fragments, right before my eyes. It felt like I was helplessly watching a priceless vase fall off a table onto a tile floor.

If Elli’s death was the explosion, my wife’s spiritual recovery since has been much like the 47 reconstructive surgeries for anyone who miraculously survives a blast. She lived. Thank God, she lived. But holding her hand through this process (3 years and counting) has been marked by slow, steady improvements punctuated by discouraging setbacks and turns for the worse. It has not been an easy road being at her bedside, nursing her back to health.

As one who has a difficult time relating to chronic doubt, I first saw hers as a real downer in our relationship. It embittered me, and I did not meet it with grace. To this day, it can be a mountainous test of my patience and gentleness. I have not been the perfect husband. My responses to her doubt have, at times, been heated and condescending. Sometimes I want to hold her face in my hands and whisper, “Will you just snap out of it?”

But God has been working in me as much as He has been working in her. In my own shock, embarrassment, guilt and anger, I have experienced grace that I never thought possible. God’s grace has been sufficient, and has allowed me to spill it over into her life.

In Jude 22, “Have mercy on those who doubt” refers to people in the church to whom Jude was writing who stood on shaky spiritual ground after the destructive influence of false teachers. Forces from without had shaken the foundations of their faith, and they had not made it out unscathed. They were still staggering around the blast site, spiritually disoriented from their injuries. They were victims—yes, victims—who were still recovering from an explosion. And Jude’s words are like pure gold: “Have mercy on those who doubt.”

If God brings a person into your life who doubts—whether it’s your spouse, a close friend or a fellow church member—treat their doubt like a wound. This is no self-inflicted wound. It is probably collateral damage, shrapnel from a trial that has rattled their faith somewhere along the way. Sometimes it takes a long, long time to heal. Infections flare up and take you by surprise when you thought everything was better.

Be sure of this: no one enjoys their doubt. They want to work through it as badly as you want them to. As odd as it may sound, sometimes silence is the best counsel you can offer someone who struggles with doubt. Words—even well thought-out ones—often fall short. Hug them. Tell them you are there for them, no matter what. And pray for them. We can’t try to be their Holy Spirit and strong-arm their spiritual growth on our timetable.

Above all, be a friend who is truthful yet tender, patiently waiting for God to work his good pleasure in them. Love them unconditionally—and tell them you love them unconditionally. Weep with them. And when the time is right, do a happy dance and rejoice with them.

Or better said, “Have mercy on those who doubt.” You will probably find that you grow as much as they do in the process. It's just like God to work that way.

1 comment:

  1. Without going into detail, I've experienced some of what you've described from both ends of the spectrum. I've been the one who thought "this is unfair to her...she married a Christian" and also the one who is confident while she struggles.

    I appreciate your honesty and transparency as well as your wife's.


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