It's fairly common to read about someone's journey from doubt to faith. It's less common to read a book about the journey going the opposite direction. And even rarer that it is penned by a pastor. But that is what Not Sure: A Pastor's Journey from Faith to Doubt is about.
John Suk has served in ministry in various capacities, including the editor of the official publication of the Christian Reformed Church. And in his book he invites his readers into the deeper regions of his soul, exposing what some of us would prefer to remain covered up. It is a journey from an undoubting and unwavering faith of a child, through wracking doubt, and on to a faith of a mature adult that still wrestles with uncertainty.
Suk uses personal, even relational language to describe doubt. He likens it to "a stranger to whom he must be a gracious host", a host who does not spoil the visit with anger or impatience. But in the end, as he puts it, "doubt usually overstays its welcome anyway, no matter how I treat it." Meanwhile, Suk continues to court a lover he cannot have—certainty.
It is not a feel good read, especially during Easter week, but I am reading it because the text I am preaching declares that even in the presence of a resurrected Savior, some doubted (Matt 28:17). At times, some of Suk's transparency is downright demoralizing, not that this appears to be his intent. Unless I am naive here, the book is not written as an apologia for doubt so much as a fellow traveler asking hard questions and pointing out that there are no easy answers. Here are a few examples of doubt drawn from Suk's rather long list—
– I doubt because I wonder how God can allow this to go on when he claims to have already triumphed over evil in Jesus' resurrection
– I wonder why, if God doesn't answer prayers to end genocides or famines he would answer a prayer for traveling mercies
– many Christians claim to have heard a still, small voice and seen the face of God, but I wonder—for I've never had the epiphany so many others claim to have had.
Suk cannot pinpoint the moment he started doubting. A good part of this book came out of a year he and his wife took to travel and seek renewal. Instead, it turned out to be a crisis of faith. Certain events and facts began to build an infrastructure for doubt to inhabit when it was ready. Unfortunately, most of the preaching he heard that year driving around the country did not help—
– spending a year on the road, I heard more sermons that went nowhere and focused on abstract ideas
– we encountered a lot more Power Point presentations that were a jumble of barely related points around a broad theme than we ran into compelling, tightly knit sermons about a single, memorable theme
Over time, the balance between faith and doubt shifted. As he puts it, "I began to mainly doubt, with some faith left over."
It will be interesting to see the response to his book, not that it is novel or new. Saints have doubted, as far back as Abraham and beyond. And our contemporary Christian culture seems to want to embrace doubt and wrap it in words like mystery. And to a certain extent, this can be healthy. Doubt and uncertainty are threads woven into every literate Christian's faith.
But doubt can, as Suk puts it, work like slow erosion, ripping away faith. In my life, I deal with occasional doubts nearly every day, but they draw me back to certainties my faith is supported and rests upon—that God is sovereign, having authority over everything; that He is none other than wise in everything He does; that He could not be more good than He is, and more powerful than He claims. The alternatives, as Suk points out, are illusion and despair.