This post has been updated with additional content since its first publication.
“Would you like to pick a show to watch,” the dental assistant asked as she handed me the remote. “Sure, why not,” I replied, and I started channel hopping while I waited for the numbness to kick in. Get comfy for the tooth diggin’. So, I settled on a Gold Prospector reality show, feet crossed and hands clenched on my comfy dentist’s chair, and cheek becoming numb.
The show was about the adventures of three men looking for gold in the great Alaskan wilderness. The first was an older gentleman, retired, with beard and gear that made him look like one of those old prospectors back in the Gold Rush days. This adventure was to be his retirement, and if he found gold, then GREAT! The other two were younger men: one…unmarried; the other..I’m not sure. Both were ambitious, had dreams of “hitting the jackpot”, and wanted to prove to their families that they were Prospector-material. The 3 men were isolated from each other, each searching for the perfect spot by a river to find gold, and camping and eating off a harsh, untamed wilderness.
Each man had ideas of where to look for gold. The old man set up camp near a small tributary, kind of like a brook-ish area with lots of rocks and fallen trees. One young man was still looking for a place and was trying to cross the river to get to the other side where he was sure great deposits of gold would be found. Unfortunately, the river was too wide and too strong, and chopping down a tree to act as a bridge proved too unsuccessful. He left the area, dejected, frustrated, failed. The other young man found himself unprepared to face the harsh wilderness because his food was starting to run out, and he still hadn’t gotten himself near the river to start panning. He was desperate to find food instead of gold, or else he wouldn’t survive.
The old man started taking soil samples from different areas: near fallen trees, near rocks, samples by the bank, and other spots. Back at the camp, he started panning each sample and explained what he was doing: he was looking for flecks of gold. And he did!
And he’d suck up the little flecks with his squeeze bottle. From each of the samples, there were flecks of gold and even tiny nuggets of gold. “You don’t have to look too hard…you just have to know where too look,” he explained. “And as you patiently collect the flecks, pretty soon, your bottle gets filled up with gold.” He was giggling like a schoolboy, encouraged by his finds!
And the dentist then said, “That’s it! You’re all done!” End of show for me. I can’t help but wonder what happened to the two young men and their dreams of finding gold and hitting it big.
Conversations of Skepticism and Doubt
Somehow, my mind reflected back on two incidents I encountered not too long ago. One was with an individual who, despite being a Christian and having practiced Christianity all his life and even serving as a missionary to teach others about God, found himself having doubts about God…now. He had questions, he was introduced to new thoughts and new questions, and now, he wasn’t quite so sure of what he believed. His doubts and concerns grew…and as he sought answers at church…from leaders and people he respected, he was brushed aside and even condemned for thinking such things. The culture didn’t want to make room for his doubts and uncertainties. They stifled his questions…and questioning, and he felt isolated and estranged from the culture he grew up with.
The other instance was in a group discussion about how Millenials were starting to lose their faith in God and Christianity. They were more willing to give up faith in God because they didn’t believe in any religion. They were becoming more world-focused instead. Many in that group were older folks who were die-hard believers, anchored to the Christian faith because of the faith of their forefathers. The prevailing idea was, “You just gotta know for yourself. You’ve gotta find out that it’s true. If you don’t get anchored, it’ll be easy to throw you off.” However, other questions came up: “How do we, who claim to know, help our children and others who don’t quite know just yet?”, “How do we help them stay anchored to what they already know?”
One man piped up, “You know, whenever I hear of people claiming to know, I get intimidated. I try to avoid them altogether, because, sometimes, I’m not sure I know what I think I know. Sometimes, I can only believe…because I don’t know for sure.”
These conversations changed me.
God Bless the Doubter and the Skeptic
We live in a society and culture that prizes Certainty and an assurance of that Certainty. We highly value Knowledge and Surety. We want to be able to predict the future, and assure that that prediction happens. And we want to know everything…right now. It’s in the world’s culture. Now, mix all of that with Traditionalism, Information Overload, Authoritarianism, and Culturally-accepted Deception, and you have an environment that is hungry for one thing: Truth. Unfortunately, because we are all saturated by this environment in some degree…because we work in that world, we are schooled by that world, we are surrounded by that world, the perspectives, attitudes, and expectations of that world seeps into our churches and into our families. We start emulating that outside world in our personal lives without really thinking about it.
I feel that Doubters and Skeptics have reason to be doubtful and skeptical. They sense that something’s not right…that something, somehow, doesn’t make sense, and so they have to ask questions. However, Authoritarians don’t like to be questioned, Traditionalists don’t like to be changed, Information-Overlords just overwhelm you with waste, and Deception wants to keep you in the dark. Why shouldn’t a Skeptic be skeptical? Why wouldn’t Doubters have reason to doubt?
I personally feel that our Doubts and Skepticisms are Gifts from God, given to us because He knew we’d be coming to a world that wasn’t always Truthful, that was full of Deception and wasteful knowledge, that was full of Tradition, and that lacked Sincerity and Heart. Hence, our Doubts would be a first line defense against immediately trusting everything in our path…so that we wouldn’t always be led astray…at least, not at first. Doubt and Skepticism are just our tools to help us say, “Wait a minute. Let me think this through.” It gives us a moment to pause
Unfortunately, God ends up in the line of fire as well. He knew this full well coming in. He knew we’d doubt Him. We’d be skeptical of Him. He knew we’d forget Him, and there’d be others who’d cause us to question Him, doubt Him, and even reject Him. He still knows it. Yet….why does He let us?
Because He wants to know this: Do we really want to know Him? Do we really want to look for Him? Do we really care enough to treasure that knowledge? Do we want to know how we stand before Him? And do we really want to come back to Him? He wants all of us to come back Home to Him. But He wants us to want to come Home. He wants it to come from within us…not because He said so. So, he’ll risk Himself…that knowledge and relationship between us and Him…to let us want to know for ourselves. He wants us to look for Him…because, then, it’s the most valuable thing in our hearts…even more valuable than gold.
To those who claim to know God, let me say this:
Let us make room for the Skeptic, the Doubter. Not all are unbelievers (yes, there are Rejecters and Defectors, too). Most are just Not-Quite-Sure-ers. They may not have had their questions answered, and they’re still looking, trying to understand, trying to discover. We may have to be patient as we try to show them what we know and have discovered. It may take a while for them to catch on and discover God. And they may even ask legitimate questions we may never have considered to ask, or were probably afraid to ask.
We may also have to reconsider what we claim to know. Sometimes, their questions are legitimate and sincere…and we just don’t have the ability to answer them. It doesn’t make them invalid…but it doesn’t necessarily give us reason to condemn them either. We don’t have to feel challenged by a question that really probes us and what we know and feel and believe. In a way, we, like them, have reached a boundary and limit of our faith, and when a Doubter or Skeptic points that out…it may be a good time to re-evaluate ourselves as well. And that’s okay…because who knows if what we claim to believe or know is a result of tradition, of false premises, or a true discovery of God that’s been validated by the Holy Spirit.
So, allow the questions to come, and let’s answer them as honestly as we can, with as much love and patience and compassion as we can muster.
To the Doubter and Skeptic, let me say this:
Doubt and Skepticism is okay to have in your heart….if you’re sincerely looking for the Truth….and especially if you’re looking for God. Faith exists because there is Uncertainty. That’s okay. It’s suppposed to be that way. If you already knew the answers, there would be no need for Faith. It’s okay to ask questions. It’s okay to Not Be Sure. Be brave when you ask your questions…but ask in order to Understand, in order to Figure Out, in order to Come Closer to God. Don’t ask to Defy or Rebel or Challenge or Belittle. Ask because you truly want to know. You have a sincere intent to know the Truth. And you have the desire to embrace the Truth you’ve found and share it with others….because it is a Good Truth, and it has become Delicious to you.
Just like that Prospector who found flecks of gold in the usual…and even unusual places, I know that you’ll find flecks of God. You’ll find Him in the usual places where He’s said you’ll find flecks of God: praying to Him, studying his words from what prophets and apostles have recorded Scriptures of old, and from prophets and apostles of today. You’ll also find flecks of God in the unusual nooks and crannies of your life’s experiences, and those who have had similar experiences as yourself–and maybe even those who haven’t but are experienced “God-fleck-spotters”–can help point out those flecks of God to you when you can’t recognize them yet. There are many of us who’ve found those flecks of God, and we’ve collected them in the bottles of our hearts and minds and even personal records. Some of us have had quite the collection of “God-flecks”…and even “God-nuggets”. We can also show you where to go and how to find them. You just need to be patient with yourself…and with us. You’ll learn to spot them too as we teach you what we’ve learned.
We may not be saying, “Thar’s gold in them thar hills!” but we are saying “There’s God out thar!” You just have to know where to look, and how to look. Prize those little flecks of God that you’ve found. Don’t discard them…and don’t listen to those who would tell you to give up those little flecks either, telling you they’re not worth much. All of those flecks of God came from the same mountain of God. And when you discover those flecks, those little nuggets of God aren’t too far away either. Don’t ever expect to hit the jackpot mountain of God…but expect that those flecks and nuggets will lead you to Him as you sincerely keep looking for Him. It’s okay to say, “Lord, I believe. Help thou mine unbelief.” Sometimes, we truly do need help in that part of us that doesn’t believe just yet. And that’s okay.
So keep asking, keep searching, and listen to those who offer you a sample of experiences to pan, and find flecks of God. As you go through life, collecting flecks of God into the bottles of your heart and mind and spirit…you, too, will be able to say, “You know what, I also know!”