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In Faith and Doubt

When I first started to articulate my calling, I was told repeatedly that seminary would be a difficult time. I was told it would take my comfortable Christianity and rip it up until I wasn’t sure what to believe. I don’t know if it was ignorance or pride that propelled me to thinking that I was exempt from these seminarian struggles, but I was wrong. Within the first couple weeks of being a student at Duke I started to get overwhelmed… started to wonder if I was meant to be in the ministry…started to entertain the possibility that God might not exist. This is an excerpt from a song I wrote at the time:

“I start to wonder if I could do this at all

Is there merit to this path if its base is off

I have twisted my whole life so that I could not

get out, I’m alright…

I look back to the days when I was so convinced

When I received Charismatic experience,

I wonder if my dopamine was imbalanced,

I’m fine – I’m alright…”

This was by far the most doubt I had ever experienced. I spent weeks hiding it and pretending everything was okay… thinking that eventually it would pass on its own accord. But it persisted long enough for me to realize I needed to actively work to get rid of it. So, I talked to my wife and friends and anyone who would listen. I realized I had been feeling a tremendous amount of guilt for the doubt I was holding. I realized I had not been given a framework to deal with doubt. John 3:16 tells us “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (NIV) But what happens when you just can’t make yourself believe?

The word πιστευω is translated as ‘faith’ and ‘belief’ interchangeably throughout scripture. But in English, these words have different nuances. We believe something when we accept it and consider it true, but faith connotes more of an allegiance or loyalty. If we read John 3:16 as saying “whoever has faith in him shall not perish,” I think it radically changes our Christianity. I firmly believe that there will be times in all confessing Christians’ lives in which they are experiencing doubt. If we hide that doubt or are ashamed of it, it acts as a blight – consuming us from the inside and growing exponentially. If we have a belief-centered Christianity, then we can feel guilty for our doubt. But if we have a faith-centered Christianity, we can recognize the presence of doubt without breaking. Faith-centered Christianity has a backbone that belief-centered Christianity lacks.

I have a friend who signs every email “In faith and doubt.” I find this dramatically profound. Being honest in my doubt got me through the hardest semester of my life. And I think we need to recognize doubt as a hard-but-inevitable aspect of walking with Christ. We need to be open about our doubts and tell when we don’t feel God. It does not mean you are a bad Christian – it means you’re an honest Christian. I later went back and added an ending to the song quoted above:

“I will wait until I feel you again

I hold on hope that it will happen

But even if I don’t feel you, you are present

If I don’t feel you, you’re still here”

                  I could not have written that during the pinnacle of my doubt. But I was told God would never leave me nor forsake me, (Hebrews 13:5) and… while I couldn’t have swallowed that while I wasn’t feeling God, it makes so much sense to me now.

In Faith and Doubt,

Brandon J Miller

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Brandon Miller

Brandon Miller is currently a student at Duke Divinity School and a candidate for ordination in the United Methodist Church. He and his wife Meredith live in Durham, North Carolina

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