I’ve always had a good memory. I remember moving into our house in Pasadena, Texas, before I was three. My father had accepted the pastorate of a small Pentecostal church there. That one sentence provides a contextual frame to my young world view. I was the daughter of a fundamentalist Pentecostal pastor in the South. That understanding is important to have in mind when you consider another of my early memories. I don’t remember what had started my mind worrying, but I was wrestling with the concept of doubting God. I realize this isn’t a typical four-year-old concern, which seems currently to run more to playing with Tickle Me Elmo and wondering whether there will be chocolate pudding for dessert. But as I said, it’s important to remember the context I grew up in. Likely it was something I heard in a sermon that started the thought process for me, either one of my father’s, or one of the myriad others I’d heard. It was not at all unusual for me to hear three or four sermons a week, plus Sunday School lessons. Clearly I had ample input to glean from.
As my mom was tucking me in for the night, I decided I had to risk asking her the question that had been plaguing me. “Mom, is it a sin to doubt God?” I remember time seemed to move more slowly as I lay there waiting for her response, staring intently at her face, looking for any indication of what her answer would be. The answer was vital because my young mind very clearly understood that if you sinned, God would get mad at you and send you to hell. I knew that if doubting God was a sin, then I was sinning and God would send me to hell. Not that I doubted that God existed, I was certain He did. My dilemma was I didn’t seem to feel and believe what others around me were feeling and believing ABOUT God.
Finally my mother gave me the answer I’d been afraid I’d hear. “Yes,” she said, “it is.”
In retrospect I have nothing but sympathy for her. What mother expects to field THIS question from a child not yet in kindergarten. She was merely passing on the theology she had been taught. For me, however, that answer confirmed my worst fears. I was sinning and there was nothing I could do to stop.
Over the years I have encountered many more people who were taught as I was, that doubt was to be avoided. By acknowledging doubt we were somehow expressing a sinful attitude toward God, calling into question His integrity and faithfulness. In fact if we expressed doubt, our salvation itself was highly suspect. Whew!
Recently I came across this quote from Jon Sweeney by way of the blog O Me Of Little Faith:
Belief comes and goes. It is fleeting. It is a state of mind. Belief is
far too ephemeral upon which to rest something so important as faith.
Instead, it is doubt that truly binds us together, and to God.
All these years later, I’m still on a journey to know God. I’m continuing to learn how to surrender as He gently yet tenaciously changes me so that I can reflect His image more clearly. One of the great joys of my journey has been discovering the freedom of doubting God. I am growing in my realization that there is no question, no challenge, no exploration of belief that threatens Him. In fact He encourages me to ask the questions, challenge and explore the beliefs, all out of His desire to be known by me. Some days I wish I could go to that 4-year-old and her mom and tell them doubt isn’t a sin. Sadly I’m not sure either would believe me.