Immersion Therapy for Doubters


by Rachel Held Evans Read Distraction Free

For me, Thanksgiving wouldn't be complete without turkey, stuffing, football, and late night conversations about the hermeneutical inconsistencies of five-point Calvinism. It’s as American as Black Friday. 

This year, Dan and I were fortunate to have our good friends from college—Micah and Judi—stay over for a few nights. I always learn a lot from these two, and enjoyed picking their brains about everything from church planting to politics to eschatology.

One night, our conversation turned to those troubling passages of Scripture that seem to condone genocide. 

Micah told the story of how he took a graduate course on Joshua and Judges in which the professor, on the first day of class, went around the room and asked each student why he or she elected to study these two Old Testament books. 

When it was his turn to respond, Micah said, “Because if I could take out any two books of the Bible, it would be these.”

I thought that was a fantastic response.

Like me, Micah struggled to reconcile God’s love with his command to kill every man, woman, and child in Jericho. But rather than ignoring these questions, Micah confronted them head-on.  Instead of suppressing his doubts and fears, he acknowledged and addressed them and took an entire course that discussed them.

Sometimes I’m reluctant to take the same approach. Admitting that I take issue with certain tenants of Christianity and then purposefully studying those tenants in order to better understand them takes a lot of courage. Sometimes I’m afraid that the more I learn, the more I will doubt. And the more I doubt, the more faith I will lose.

But this hasn’t been the case.

In fact, when I’ve actually taken the time to study the issues that trigger my doubts—issues like religious pluralism, the Problem of Evil, biblical interpretation, evolution, predestination and free will—I come out with a stronger, more resilient faith. It’s not because all my questions go away. It’s because I’ve subjected myself to all the fears and insecurities surrounding those questions and managed to survive. It’s a bit like spiritual immersion therapy, I suppose.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Serious doubt, the kind that leads to despair, does not begin when we start asking God questions, but when out of fear, we stop.

Micah says he isn’t completely satisfied with the various solutions he encountered regarding Joshua, the Battle of Jericho, and other startling Old Testament tales. These are difficult stories for a modern reader to accept, and to claim immunity from their potency is to show a callousness that borders on pride.

But as we talked late into the night about ancient Near Eastern culture, Rahab, and the goodness of God, I felt strangely comforted. Questions are a lot less scary when they are out in the open and when, in a moment of solidarity and relief, you discover that they are shared.

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What questions tend to trigger doubt in your life?  What have you done to confront those questions? What have you learned from them?

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