Beyond Faking It: 12 Steps for Doubting God, Following Jesus and Participating in a Church

Chris —  October 2, 2014

Should you “fake it” on Sunday morning?

There are a lot of good reasons to be a part of a church community.

A few of them have to do existential affirmations on eternity.

People who are a part of a church community tend to live longer, stay married longer and be generally healthier. Church provides a sense of shared cultural practices identity that seems to be disappearing from our increasingly monolithic culture. A lot of people go to church because they think it’s good for their families.

So it has its benefits.

Beneficial enough that some might consider joining a church community even if they don’t buy into the belief system. Faking it can lead to three different results:

  1. Internal angst from a sense of dishonesty
  2. Outright hypocrisy
  3. Slowly assimilating to the beliefs around you

None of those seem terribly honest or helpful.

N E E D  A  B U I L D I N GS U R V E Y E (1)

The Idol of Certainty

Greg Boyd is talking a lot these days about how our culture tends to make an idol out of certainty. Our world is changing faster than we can comprehend. Groping for something to anchor us, we manufacture a sense of certainty.

You’ve probably encountered some religious people like this. They place all beliefs are on a level field. You must have complete and certain trust in Jesus. You must also have an equally strong faith in other concepts, such as the historicity of Genesis, certain sexual ethics and a specific political platform.

I have encountered people that said that if you consider the first few chapters of Genesis to include metaphor, then Jesus’s death is meaningless.

Unfortunately, we’ve seen how idolizing certainty plays out.

The loner who has no one to tell about their pain. Their loneliness might lead to risky behaviors or even suicide.

The heresy hunter makes it their personal quest to discredit or even ruin those who doesn’t fit their definition of orthodoxy.

The manipulator, who uses the language of certainty to gain prowess.

The phony, who creates a secret life to indulge in what they cannot publically proclaim.

None of these is good options. But let’s be honest. We all have doubts.

How do we move beyond faking it?

1. Admit we have a problem.

Be certain of this: forced certainty is not the answer.

You will have doubts. They might never go away.

There is an amazing sense of freedom and relief that comes from just saying to yourself and to others: I’m not sure about _______.

Many people aren’t exactly sure what specific doubts they have. Admitting that you have doubts and learning to name them clearly is the first step to learning how to live with them.

2. Decide on a practical core.

It’s pretty hard to go through life doubting everything. Eventually, you have to make a few assumptions if you want to get through life.

Most people decide to trust gravity. It’s impractical not too. In fact, assuming gravity will always continue to work the way it does today will keep you from hurting yourself.

Rather than focusing on exactly what we believe, we should ask the question: “What beliefs and practices are necessary for me to be the kind of person I want to be and the world needs?” The key is to be practical. Decide on daily actions and postures worthy of shaping your life.

For me, this is the teachings of Jesus, most clearly stated in the Sermon on the Mount. Turning the other cheek (choosing peacemaking over violence) and storing up treasures in heaven (choosing to focus on goals that serve a higher purpose) result in practices that will guide me when my beliefs do not.

2. Determine what is tangential.

Boyd suggests that all Christian beliefs should be formed in four concentric circles.


(Image Credit, ReKnew)

The pain point with the idol of certainty is that ideas that should be opinions are given the same weight as the core ideas. Many people struggle or even walk away from faith when concepts from the outer circle run up against reality.

Just like #2, there’s a lot of freedom that comes with clarifying your doctrines and opinions. When you can say “this is my opinion” you suddenly become a much more pleasant human being. You have to the freedom to admit you are wrong. You are brave enough to admit that people who disagree with you can also be smart.

Admitting you have opinions is part of what it means to be human: we don’t know everything. Opinions change, become nuanced or dropped altogether.

By separating core practices from opinions, you are free to delve into doubt and still live an honest life.

3. Commit to a community.

In The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg tells the story of an alcoholic who committed to joining AA. He didn’t believe in God.

In time, he sobered up.

In time, he found himself saying “this is what we believe.”

The American ideal of individualism makes it hard to believe things. It is hard to sustain anything, much less an esoteric existential concept, alone.

It breaks my heart when people withdraw from communities because of a sense of doubt. It’s also not a very effective method of dealing with the problem.

You can’t believe anything alone for long. Counter-intuitively, being a part of a community will make you a “better doubter.” You’ll have to make sure your doubts hold up to the beliefs and practices of smart people all around you.

Commit to a community. In time, you’ll know what to believe, and what to doubt.

4. Listen to a multitude of voices.

A sure sign of certainty-worshippers is a fear of outside voices. They tell you what thinkers to avoid. They ban books.

Since we are going to doubt, let’s doubt well. Go out of your way to listen to different voices. Find out what they believe and why.

You wouldn’t stop going to restaurants because of one bad night out. Don’t walk away from everything that might be worth believing because of one voice you now doubt.

5. Submit to the creeds.

Nadia Bolz-Webber tells a story about discovering why the creeds are full of “we” language . The creeds boil down the Christian story into a few dogmatic statements. Over centuries, we’ve decided that these are worthing sharing with those in our church community and the “communion of the saints” across the ages.

The creeds are “we” statements because WE BELIEVE. We, the Jesus followers in the room and for centuries before us.

As we know, I BELIEVE statements won’t get you very far.

YOU might not believe at this moment. But WE do.

6. Forgive those who force their certainty on you.

There’s a lot of pain tied up in certainty worship. Some cling to certainty because of their own insecurities. They can often do hurtful things to others to ensure their certainty continues.

Much of what we call doubt is actually a sense of dread. We’re afraid of being associated with such hurtful people.

Freedom comes from admitting that they hurt you and others with their certainty. This probably is based in deep, sinful malfunctions you’ll never understand.

By forgiving them, you can judge their beliefs on the merit of the belief, not the jerk who held it.

7. Avoid ruminating.

Deep thinking is good. Time for meditation and contemplation is good. Ruminating is bad.

Ruminating, or sustained focus on how you have been hurt will only magnify the pain.

To avoid rumination, find a safe setting to work through your doubts and associated pains. Create boundaries and employ distractions. You might even need to limit some friendships with bitter, cynical people or certain types of media.

The goal is not to create an echo chamber (see #4). The
goal is to address them fully and proactively, without creating more unneccessary pain.

8. Find ways to serve.

A lot of unhelpful doubts crop up in your free time. Focus on doing what you know is right, and also doing what you like.

A lot of doubts come from the theoretical approach we take to faith. Even scripture says that this is a bad idea.

If you are busy serving others in need, you might find that your doubts seem like that big of a deal.

9. Become articulate in both sides of the coin.

Make it a goal to state what you doubt and why. Be able to argue from both sides.

You may find that you doubted something that was stupid and should not be believed.

You may find that you did not doubt, just misunderstood.

You may find a third way that you don’t doubt.

Most often, I find that when I truly understand an issue my doubt remains, it just doesn’t hurt as much.

10. Be completely honest with at least one person.

Doubts and loneliness are best friends. Those who become phonies or manipulators are often keeping their deepest thought to themselves.

Since doubt is inevitable, find a way to share it! If you can, tell your best friend or a spouse or pastor.

Going to a professional counselor has taught me how to be a person who confides. I continue to confide in counselors and individuals I am learning how to trust others with my doubts, too.

11. Tell your story.

Doubt is always part of a bigger story. It is a journey, where you move from false certainty, through doubt, and land in a place completely new.

Many people don’t realize they have been on a journey until they tell their story. Sharing it with others helps you understand the context of your beliefs and doubts. It may also help you know exactly how much attention a specific doubt deserves.

Get good at telling your story, and you might come to love your doubts!

12. Give up on “arriving.”

Here’s one thing you can be certain of: you will never arrive.

You’ll always be changing. Some beliefs will come and go. Some will become core to your being. Some will cease to matter.

Churches that focus on “making a decision” and holding to specific beliefs make this journey unnecessarily difficult. For instance, it makes sense that if you become a Christ-follower at 16 years old you could have new ideas and doubts at 32. They might be even more different at 64.

Jesus said “follow me!” He never said “affirm these theological statements!”

You have a whole life ahead of you. It will be better if you are a part of a church community. More so, it will be better if you are following a path. I suggest Jesus.

While you journey, get comfortable with doubt. It will often visit you along the way.

Related posts: