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  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”

- Frederick Buechner

I recently started “Faith After Doubt: Why Your Beliefs Stopped Working and What To Do About It,” by Brian McLaren. I don’t agree with everything I’ve read so far, but I must say that it’s served as a great reference for some of the conversations we need to have at home in this season. McLaren’s framework puts language to my experiences, many of which were difficult to communicate and reconcile prior to reading this book. I also think it resonates because of the recent loss in the family. McLaren starts his book with the following passage.

“There are recovery programs for people grieving the loss of a parent, sibling or spouse. You can buy books on how to cope with the death of a beloved pet or work through the anguish of a miscarriage. We speak openly with one another about the bereavement that can accompany a layoff, a move, a diagnosis, or a dream deferred. But no one really teaches you how to grieve the loss of your faith. You’re on your own for that.”

I grew up in the church, accepted Jesus into my life at 12, and when I turned 14 I learned about evolution in Biology Class and Buddhism, Hinduism and Islam in History Class. I realized that there are billions of people out there, many of them much smarter and more experienced than I was, who believed things I didn’t believe. “Who am I to tell them that I’m right and you’re wrong?” I thought to myself. As I questioned and eventually abandoned my faith, I felt a deep melancholy.

I’m reminded of that sense of bereavement, something similar to what I feel now as I grieve my father’s death. As hard as this season is for me now, I feel I’ll get through because so many people are supporting me. I know I’m not alone. Whatever you think about McLaren’s theology, I guess his book serves that same purpose. People have doubts about their faith, but at least while reading this, they can know that they’re not alone. Thank God for that.

  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

Jude 1:22 “And have mercy on those who doubt.”

I once brought Kyan to an enrichment center and waited patiently in the hallway. Anxious to see how he did on his first day, I burst into the classroom upon dismissal and asked the teacher. She responded “well, good… except you know… he kind of asked a lot of questions.” Her face squinted in an apologetic air, as if she just announced that my son had no hope of amounting to anything.

This response shocked me, because I’d been raised with the idea that questions are a good thing. I see with the founders that I work with, that when they question things, they build great companies. When they doubt the assumptions of the status quo, it serves as a doorway to the magical.

I had an Israeli friend over for a playdate with our kids this weekend, and when another friend asked him why it was that Jews were so successful, he responded that “it’s because we’re taught to think outside the box and question everything. A rabbi will often pit two of his students against each other in an argument about a particular passage, and when they’re done duking it out, he’ll reverse their positions and have them duel the other side. The commentaries on Torah fill infinitely more volumes than Torah itself, because scholars constantly question why this verse was included, or how the lesson would have shifted if this circumstance changed, or whether an accepted interpretation needed a revolutionary overhaul.”

If Jesus came from such a rich spiritual tradition of questioning, why is it that doubt and questioning are off-limits in many of the institutions that bear his name? My sense is that many pastors have a lot more doubts than they’re willing to let on, mostly because they feel it's unsafe to share within the walls of the church. I’ve heard of several pastors who got fired when they expressed some doubts to their leaders. Many of those pastors then become vocal opponents to doubt and questioning when approached by struggling congregants. Many of those congregants then turn away from faith altogether.

I believe more churches and more people are becoming more open to approaching doubt head on… even seeing it as a blessing. We have a long way to go, but I’m encouraged by that.

  • Writer's pictureJohn Kim

Mark 9:24 "I believe; help my unbelief."

My son Kyan recently asked “hey Apa… what’s that word the pastor used this weekend? Like when you’re not sure there is a god because you believe nothing can be known about the nature of god?”

“You mean agnostic?”

“Yeah. I think that’s what I am. I think I’m agnostic.”

He proceeded to lay out how, though he appreciated his Christian upbringing, he couldn’t logically understand how to prove anything about the existence of any god, let alone a specific god of a specific religion. I freaked out for a second, as questions about my parental efficacy flashed across my mind, but then I remembered that I had the same sorts of questions in my youth (though I was 14 and Kyan is only 11). My questions back then led me on a winding journey, that eventually led back to my faith, albeit with a more open-minded perspective than what I probably started with.

I called a few friends this week to discuss. My mentor Dave Gibbons told me that doubt is not necessarily a bad thing. He’s actually going through a sermon series on doubt now at his church @Newsong. Then I called another friend Jason Min, who told me that facing doubt is actually a core value of his church @CitizensLa.

I think I’m going to explore more about the role of doubt in faith in the days ahead. Given my dad’s passing, there are lots of questions floating around our household about the nature of God and the world He created. “If God exists, why do people have to die? Why do bad things happen to good people? How does he decide such different outcomes for people if he loves all his children?” Though catalyzed by Kyan’s somewhat startling comment, in an increasingly transparent, connected world, there is no doubt that we all need to figure out how to surface, address and maybe even encourage more questions about why we believe what we believe.

Dear God, I feel like you’re shifting some things in the atmosphere. I don’t know what you have in store, but I know that it is good, because you are good. Even when we have questions and we can’t understand, we can take comfort that you love us, even when we don’t understand. I thank you for Kyan and his questions, and for the road ahead. In your son’s name, Amen.

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