Note: This is part of a group of posts on the place of doubt in Christian faith. Check out the hub here.
So admittedly, Pentecostalism sounds like a “know-too-much” tradition. Not only do we claim the revelation of God in Jesus Christ, but also in the Scriptures — not only as historical witness, but as personal and congregational direction. And if that were not enough, we’ve the audacity to claim that the Holy Spirit speaks in other ways– dreams/visions, prophecies, impressions, and languages we’ve never learned. It can seem like a know-it-all atmosphere…and for some people,it probably is. It was for me. And it wasn’t healthy. In fact, it was only when Jesus forced me to my knees with the weight of my own questions that I began to know Jesus Himself.
You know that annoying kid in your children’s church class who carries a “real” Bible (as opposed to a picture Bible) or the obnoxious teenager who acts like he’s starting seminary next year in discussion time at youth group? Don’t you just hate that guy/girl? Their arrogance. Their self-assured grasp on the Bible and everything that has to do with Christian faith. That was me. I was that guy. And I’m not proud of it.
Most times when I share my testimony, I talk about how it was a gift of God that I had a love for the Scriptures. I still believe it was. But it was definitely a gift that I misused. Because my Christian identity was bound up in my knowledge of this book. I judged my spiritual maturity by how many generations in a Biblical genealogy I could name. The strength of my faith was measured by how much of Hebrews 11 I could recite from memory. I was a Gnostic searching for secret knowledge in the Bible so that I could be a better Christian.
It made my parents proud. It impressed my pastors and teachers. It made me at once the envy and enemy of my peers. I did everything to be the debater of the age (or apologetics expert). I love the Scriptures. But for too long, I loved them because I thought they were something I could master. But in trying to master them, I became a slave to certainty, to arrogance. In short, by looking as closely at the Bible as I did, I put a huge distance between me and the Word.
When I went to college, I didn’t just pack up fresh clothes, a new computer, and school supplies (with the obligatory ramen and munchies). I also brought that certainty that I had a handle on what was going on in the Scriptures. My freshman year did nothing to cure me of that. Nevermind that my New Testament grade was average (C+). That summer, while working on a golf course doing maintenance, I decided to memorize the epistle of James. For what it’s worth, I still remember most of it. But it started to affect me differently. As I was listening to the Word with my own voice, for the first time I heard James. And what it brought for me were questions: “Do I even know what perseverance means?” “Isn’t religion just man’s attempts to get to God?” “Does this mean being wealthy is morally deficient?” I didn’t have commentaries. I didn’t have professors. I didn’t know. I just had the Spirit speaking through the Word…and that was okay for me. Except for one question that haunted me.
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1:6-8 NIV)
What haunted me was that I felt like the description described me: not receiving from the Lord. Blown here and there. Unstable in everything. But I didn’t think I doubted. I had certainty about everything about the Bible, about Jesus, about the Church, and about my stances on any number of things. So why did I feel like the double-minded man of James?
What I’ve learned in the five years since then is pretty simple: I had certainty, not a submission to the Truth. I had facts, not a grounding in the “faith once for all delivered to the saints.” I had my own reason and intellectual assent, not the incredible experience of intimately knowing a God who loved me and gave Himself for me. I had all the answers…and none of the right questions. Brothers and sisters, the Faith — the Scriptures, the creeds and traditions that we’ve received — are not meant to give us certainty. They call us to question, deeply and sometimes painfully, so that we can be embraced by the answer of the Word of God, Jesus Christ.