Dare We Doubt Together?

Nine years ago Jennifer delivered Leah stillborn. The next Sunday her congregation sang, “God is so good.” The words caught in Jennifer’s throat, and she could not sing. Instead she found a place to weep alone.

“I’m dead inside,” Becky says. Her church, shepherds, family and friends had begged God for sixteen-year-old Joshua. But Jeff’s and Becky’s only son died as a result of surgical complications nearly a year ago. “How, God, can this be the reality of my life?” Becky asks.

Though for six months Liesa had requested special prayers for her only son, 23-year-old Chad died in a car accident one year ago. Feeling the overwhelming shock and loss, Liesa, along with her husband Ted, struggles to find the heart to worship.
Like Jeff and Becky, we also named our only son Joshua with the prayer that God would make him a leader among his people. He lived sixteen years before his weak body lost its long struggle with a genetic disorder two years ago.

Since October Becky and Jeff, Liesa and Ted, and Jennifer and I have met twice a month to share our hearts and thoughts. We cry and pray together. We study Scripture and discuss the twists and turns that happen in our lives. We vent our feelings and hurts.

Grief has not created intellectual doubt within our group. We believe God is there, but we do wonder why God is not here. We believe God exists, but we wonder why he permitted such horrendous loss in our lives. Like C. S. Lewis, after the death of his wife of three years, we are not “in much danger of ceasing to believe in God” as much as “coming to believe such dreadful things about Him” (Grief Observed, 5).

Grief has not attacked the intellectual dimensions of our faith but did create an emotional distance between God and us. We do not doubt God’s reality, but he feels so distant. We feel angry. Did God not hear us? Did he forget us? We hurt. Did he decide to leave us in pain instead of continue our joy? We feel betrayed. Did God give us such wonderful gifts of life only to, as Job says, take them away? (Job 1:21). We even sometimes feel abandoned.

The lament Psalms ask similar questions. “Why do you hide yourself, Lord, in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1b). “How long, O Lord…How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long?” (Psalm 13:1a, 2). “Lord, where is your steadfast love of old”? (Psalm 89:49). “Why do you hold back your hand; why do you keep your hand in your bosom?” (Psalm 74:11).

We discovered that our relationships with God enabled total honesty with him. In grace we are free to be honest—-to pray what we authentically feel. Before God and with each other we are able to be who we are rather than pretend who we are “supposed” to be. We bonded as a group because we shared the same journey in our lives. Indeed, through the journey we have experienced God’s presence through confronting him with our hurt and anger.

Most—-perhaps those who have not lost a child—-would be appalled at the words we speak. Many would not understand, and some might condemn. We do not expect everyone to understand. Perhaps without experiencing loss of this magnitude there is no genuine empathy or understanding. We feel safe in our little group because of our shared experience. We verbalize our feelings, confess our ignorance and wrestle with God together. It is our “safe place” to express our faith through doubts and questions. All grievers need a “safe place.”

Can faith doubt and question? The doubts and questions are real, but it is faith nonetheless. Genuine faith perseveres and is sustained through faithful lament. Without lament emotional doubt would eat away faith like a cancer, but through lament faith speaks to the one who alone can heal that emotional pain and close the distance. God, we are confident, will hear us and comfort us through our lament. God will draw near even as we at times feel so distant from him. He will carry us when we cannot walk and he will be present even when we are angry.

Lord, we believe. Help our unbelief.

Originally published in New Wineskins (May-June 2003)

13 Responses to “Dare We Doubt Together?”

  1.   Roberto Says:

    I just want you to know that I agree. It is hard for me, who has not lost too much, to understand. However, thank you for taking a stand for those who need to hear it is okay to doubt, cry, and journey.

  2.   eddy Says:

    Years ago, my wife and I experienced the death of a baby. At the time, I was preaching and thought faith meant I had to have all the answers. By the grace of God, I now know faith involves knowing God is big enough to handle our questions. I believe my God is big enough to defend me–not so small that I have to defend Him and His actions/inactions.

  3.   Missionary's Missionary Says:

    I understand and I don’t understand. My daughter lost four babies and all I could do was hold her and cry with her. My best friend lost her sister and her sister left two young children. All I knew to do was cry with her. My husband died after a year of excruciating pain. It was the worst year and the best year of my life.

    When my son died the verse people would quote to me was Romans 8:28. I hated that verse. I lived in Job, Psalms and Ecclesiastes a long time. I read every book that explained why God acted as He did and found them all unsatisfactory. You had not written your book yet, John Mark. At one time I thought I might write my own book, but I still don’t have anything better to say. I will tell you that who I am today was forged in fire back then. I don’t understand this God, who allows us to endure such pain, but I love Him. I finally had to decide that God is all powerful and that He is also good. I think that is called faith…and if the mountains fall, the earth trembles and the sea roars, I decided to trust Him – no matter what. I will never understand, however. May God bless each of you in your faith journey.

    Love’s prayers,
    Dottie Schulz

  4.   KMiV Says:

    Thanks John Mark. I remember hearing your thoughts on some of life’s isues in Philosophy of Religion back at HUGSR. Your words have always helped me to listen to those suffering and allow them time to be angry with God. Job took on a whole new meaning after that class.

    I have also found comfort in Greg Boyd’s book “Is God to Blame?” on Job. Maybe it is the way our parents raised us, “Don’t you talk to me that way,” that causes us to be afraid to speak to God truthfully. Yet Job and God had a relationship that allowed them to talk it out.

    Maybe people think that questioning means walking away from God. Yet Job’s words “Even if he slaughters me, I will still hope in him; but I will defend my ways to his face…” (13:12) seem to indicated that doubt and faithfulness can still work together.

    Thanks again for wonderful words,
    Ron Clark

  5.   Keith Brenton Says:

    A lot of churches have moved to offer Taize worship as an alternative … sometimes I wonder if we should offer lamentation worship hours for those who need to weep together.

    “A joy shared is a joy doubled; a sorrow shared is a sorrow halved.”

  6.   K. Rex Butts Says:

    I am learning that the pain, doubt, questions, the nearness yet seemingly distant God… I am learning it never goes away completely, rather God teaches me how to trust and endure. I still wish it was different.

    Both of my grandmothers lost children as well. They both were part of a generation that saw a lot of tragedy in life, perhaps more than my generation (at least it seems that way). I now at least know one of the reasons why they tended to cling to songs about heaven and the coming of Jesus.

    Hope seems to be the only thing that keeps grief from consumming.

  7.   Michael Potthoff Says:

    I don’t know you but I stumbled upon your blog.This post helps me minister to people in ways that are much more meaningful. Thanks again for sharing this journey of faith.

  8.   RC Says:

    Hello, my old friend. I too stumbled on to your blog after waking up in the middle of the night and deciding to check email and check a blog or two. I really struggle when people talk of God as if he were their next door neighbor. I sometimes am made to feel guilty because God is not that way for me. I feel His distance far too often, and I have suffered far to little to feel this way, or at least that is what I am made to feel at times.

  9.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I appreciate the responses to this post. It is an ongoing struggle and conversation. Our group does not meet as often as we once did, but we do still get together at times.

    The journey with God is about relationship–it has its ups and downs, hills and valleys, just like all relationships. I know that is superficial, but I think it is faithful to the actual story itself.

    We do not understand; indeed, we protest. But nevertheless we trust–whom else or what else shall we trust?

  10.   CJB Says:

    I am relieved to see that I am not alone in my stuggle. I have felt at times that God has left me alone, and no matter how much I pray and ask for help, or faith, I don’t feel I have been heard. Thank you everyone for allowing me to read what you heart feels. It gives me great comfort.

  11.   CJB Says:

    I am relieved to see that I am not alone in my stuggle. I have felt at times that God has left me alone, and no matter how much I pray and ask for help, or faith, I don’t feel I have been heard. Thank you everyone for allowing me to read what you heart feels. It gives me great comfort.

  12.   Blogging by Tina Says:

    I hear you, John Mark. My father died a month before I got married. I didn’t get the privilege of having him walk me down the aisle. That was twelve and a half years ago and I still don’t get it. I have rationalized as much as I can, I have tried to “understand” and I still don’t.

    My son was diagnosed with autism at the age of three. He’s come a long way since, but I still look at babies and asked, “Why are they ‘normal’ and not my son? Why can a typical seven year old have a conversation with his parents and mine can’t? Why is it that we are in a position where we have to worry about financing our son’s therapy and other people aren’t?”

    There are days I have to grit my teeth and go by faith.

  13.   John Mark Hicks Says:

    I hear you, as well, Tina. Faithful endurance through lament is a difficult road of faith. Thanks for sharing.

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