Tag Archives: Doubt

The Saturday Demon

The Incredulity of Saint Thomas by Caravaggio

It’s simple really. All I have to do is put one word in front of another, types of words ordered in a particular way. As I often do when I am having difficulty writing, I begin gazing around my bookshelf and my eyes stop at Stephen Dobyns’s book, Best Words, Best Order. That’s it, I think, all I have to do is find the best words and put them in the best order.

I have the opportunity to tell the story of grace and redemption every single week. I cannot think of a greater privilege than this.

But today it does not feel like a privilege. The best words cannot be found and the best order cannot be mapped.

It is the Saturday Demon.

The Saturday Demon comes around on Saturday when I am trying to put the finishing touches on my sermon for Sunday. I have spent all week studying, reading, praying, researching, translating, and beginning to write, but Saturday is my finishing day.

“It doesn’t really matter” the demon whispers in my ear. “None of it really matters.”

For me, the real danger that the Saturday Demon poses is not that it creates doubt, it is that it highlight and fortifies the doubts which are already so present.

“You’re a fraud,” it tells me. “You lie to people and give them false hope.”

The Saturday Demon knows exactly how to attack. I begin to wonder if this is worth it. Perhaps it doesn’t matter, perhaps I am doing this all for nothing, perhaps none of this is real.

Confession time: I am a pastor, and I have great doubt.


I’m a doubting Thomas, as some might call me, although I loathe this term. Why does Thomas get such a bad rap? Peter denied that he knew anything about Jesus of Nazareth not once, not twice, but three times. Do we remember Peter only as a denier?  Do we call someone a “I Don’t Know Him Peter”? No.

But Thomas’s reputation is forever stained as being a doubter, and doubting is seen as something terrible. Doubt is the antithesis of faith, we tell our young people, doubting is weakness. Doubting is sin, we say, God wants us to have confidence.


The more I try to ignore the Saturday Demon, the louder is speaks. Rather than trying to ignore it, I decide to listen to it for a moment. Hear it out. After all, Jesus didn’t just try to ignore the devil when he was being tempted in the desert, he carried on a conversation.

“Just stop,” it tells me, “none of this matters anyway, you’re just wasting your time.”

“Are you finished?” I ask the Saturday Demon. “I’m going to get back to work now,” and I continue pounding away on the keyboard trying to find the best words and trying to find the best order. The Saturday Demon continues to assault me, but it is important that I do not give in to its attack, I cannot become defeated, and the best way to do this is to keep working, even when these doubts erupt on schedule like Old Faithful. After all, I have people who depend on me.

I’m a pastor. I’m a doubter. Maybe this is why God has called me to this kind of ministry at this point in my life, so that even when I have great doubts, I still have to show up, stand in front of the congregation, and tell them the good news of the story of grace and redemption. It is through telling of the same story over and over again that I can, in some way, continue to believe even with my doubts.

Perhaps the reason that we will always link doubt and Thomas together, perhaps the reason that we remember Thomas for nothing other than his doubts is that we see ourselves in Thomas. In seeing in this mirror, we can see in ourselves what we so greatly despise, and we attempt to ensure that we keep him and his doubts at arm’s length.

This disapproving way that we speak of doubt is incredibly unfortunate. Truly, if doubt has no place in the church, it is no wonder why so many young people leave the church. If doubt has no place in the journey of faith, it is no wonder why there are an increasing number of “nones” when asked about religion.

Perhaps it is not the absence of doubt which is to be prized, but the ability to have faith and doubt at the same time, and live with the tension.

Is This What it is Like?

Journey Through Time Scenic Byway 30

By Timothy Bishop on Flickr (cc)

I spent about two and a half hours yesterday over a sausage and pepperoni pizza and a steaming cup of black coffee. I was with another pastor. I, just finishing my first year as a pastor and he, coming into his last year as a pastor. I was able to express some of my pains and some of my uncertainties to this wise and seasoned pastor, and to my surprise, this wise and seasoned pastor also expressed some of his own uncertainties as well.

When I was finishing seminary, I was daunted by the fact that following seminary, I was supposed to be able to pastor a church. When I arrived here to my first charge, I immediately became overwhelmed with the enormity of the task at hand. I felt grossly unprepared for what I was entering into, and the challenges that I have faced and continue to face confirm this. It has been my hope that after I would make a some mistakes and stumble around a bit, I would have the ministry thing down so that I could be effective for the future.

It has become increasing evident, however, that ministry is a journey and not a goal.

This is, of course, where I am supposed to reflect on why the journey is so wonderful, and greatly overshadows the destination. Too bad I’m not very good at doing what I’m supposed to do.

I don’t particularly like journeys, I like destinations. I don’t like taking road trips, I like being other places; I don’t like learning new things, I like knowing new things; I don’t like preparing for things, I like doing things. When I was a child, I remember going to the last couple of pages of the Bible because I wanted to know how it ended. When I was in school I was notorious for skipping several chapters in a book so that I could just get to the ending. When I interview with churches they are interested in how accomplished I am, how effective I am, in what I am able to do. Churches are not as interested in my journey of being a pastor, they are interested in what I can do as a pastor.

This is one of the visible disconnects between how things are, and how things ought to be. We ought to be valued because we are children of God, instead we are valued insofar as we can create something of value. We ought to be able to give focus to the journey, to the process of becoming and how God is shaping us, instead many of us (myself included) spend most of our time planning for our future several years down the road. I ought to be interested in development and the process, instead I simply want to do.

And then seasoned pastors say things to me that begin with, “I can’t give you an answer, but…” or “It is difficult…” or “I also struggle with…”

I pulled off a piece of sausage off of my pizza as I thought about all of what we were discussing. I became frustrated as I came to the realization of what my future would actually look like.

“Is this what ministry is all about?” I asked.

Things are never going to get better, I thought to myself, and I felt an immense weight on my spirit.

The two of us sat quiet for a few moments and I looked at the oils at the surface of my coffee. I took a drink and I realized that coffee is a bit bitter — and that slight bitterness is one of the things that I appreciate so much about it. I do not add sugar or cream to coffee, I prefer it unsweetened. Perhaps there is something to learn from this. Perhaps ministry will remain bitter, but perhaps in that bitterness, there is something which can be appreciated and life-giving.

On Being Dried Up

stairs under a fall sky

From Jim VanMaastricht on Flickr (Used with Permission)

Hear my prayer, O LORD;
let my cry come to you.
do not hide your face from me
in the day of my distress.
Incline your ear to me;
answer me speedily in the day when I call.
For my days pass away like smoke,
and my bones burn like a furnace.
My heart is stricken and withered like grass… (Psalm 102:1-4a)

For the past month or so, I have felt dried up.  I have felt like grass that has been scorched by the hot summer sun and has not been given the nourishing water which can rejuvenate it back to life.

My writing has not only been impacted here on this blog, but my other writing as well: my sermons, my church newsletters, even my written correspondence has been impacted.  I sit in front of a computer with a blank page and a blinking cursor, and instead of creating, I sit.  I sit at my desk with a blank piece of paper before me, which would usually be received with gratitude for the empty space which I could fill.  However, now I sit at it with dread, because the emptiness of that space reflects back to me the emptiness that I experience.

Preparing sermons, which typically brings me joy and fulfillment is now only met with distress as Sunday approaches closer and closer and my sermon remains unwritten on Friday, and Saturday.  My church newsletter still sits on my computer, 4 weeks late, partially finished with paragraphs that are disjointed and do not flow, and do not even contain a coherent message.

Written language, which usually serves as a spillway for when my thoughts burst through the dam, now seems to drain the remaining water in the reservoir.

I appreciate the Psalms, particularly the psalms of lament, because when I am in a situation such as this, when I cannot find words with which to express myself, I have words that have been given to me.

Thanks be to God.  Even through these dry times.

Reflections on my faith and the Church

I have been reflecting on reasons why people leave the church, stay in the church, or return to the church.  This also began making me reflect on why I am still a part of the church, and why I am a pastor of a local church.  I have been connected to a church ever since I was baptized in infancy.  My relationship with the church has been rather tumultuous, and not without conflict.  In fact, I see two stages in my past.  The first is when I realized that I would continue to be a Christian, and the second is when I realized that the church is actually a good thing.

I grew up in a small town and I was raised in a small-mid-sized local church of a conservative bend.  Church never felt like a safe place to ask questions or to doubt.  This was difficult for someone like me, who is naturally inquisitive.  I wanted to know why we give so much importance to the Bible, why we went to church even though the Bible never says that we have to go to church, and additionally, why did we go to church in the morning and in the evening?  I wanted to know why only men could be pastors, elders, and deacons.  I wanted to know why there was this long list of things that I could not do.   I wanted to know why we had to do things so ordered and formal, when there were several passages in the Bible that talked about God hating our assemblies and rituals.  I wanted to know why “this way” was the right way to worship but not “that way”, I wanted to know why I had to dress up to go to church, because after all, doesn’t God see our hearts?  I wanted to know why I had to make profession of faith to partake in the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper even when everyone in the church should have known my commitment to God and my faith.  I wanted to know why the Epic of Gilgamesh read a lot like the story of Noah’s Ark.  I wanted to know what God was doing before God created the world.  I wanted to know why science says that the world is far older than my Sunday school teacher said. These were a few of the questions that I had.

Growing up, I often felt as though these questions invalidated my faith, you see, you could have faith, or you could have questions, but good Christians didn’t ask these type of questions.  Throughout college, I became increasingly disillusioned with Christianity and felt as though there wasn’t much of a place for me.  I felt as though I was bad for having these questions and doubts, and that this was irreconcilable with faith.

However, at our church, we had a seminary student who was doing his field practicum, and when he arrived, I began posing my questions to him.  He was willing to accept my questions and my doubts.  For those things that he was able to help with an answer, he offered an answer, for those things that he could not, he wrestled and struggle along with me, and provided me a space in which I could both believe and doubt.

I learned that women could be pastors, elders, and deacons as well as men.  I learned that the Bible is to be read as a religious book that shows about God, and helps us live in ways that God desires, rather than a science textbook.  I learned that the church is important as a place for fellowship, and to help us grow in our faith.  I learned that asking questions and doubting was okay, and in fact, it can help us in our journey of faith.

Although I did not realize it at the time, I understand this to be the reason that I am still a Christian.  Had this particular seminarian not been placed in my particular church, I am unsure what would have happened.  Perhaps I would still have been a Christian, perhaps I would have left the faith.  Regardless of what would have happened, I continue to identify this as the reason that I am still a Christian.

A second, related relationship I credit as to why I am still involved in (and in fact have committed my life to service of) the church.  During college, I was involved in our Campus Ministry with ministers from both the Christian Reformed Church in North America, my current denomination at the time, and the Reformed Church in America, what would become my denomination. College was a time in which I was not on the verge of giving up Christianity, but with the Church as an institution.  I saw it as a relic of the past that has done horrible things, and that had so many rules, guidelines, differences, and divisions, all of which stood in the way of relationship with God.

It was during my conversations with one of the ministers in particular, that I began to see a different side of the church.  I began to see the church as the body of Christ, as a body that sought to live out its faith in Christ in the best way that it was able.  I saw the church as a body that had many different limbs, but were all connected in Jesus.  I began to see the church as an imperfect body, a body that does some wrong things, a body that sins, but despite all of this, as a body which is still used by God in special ways.  I began to see the church as a body that is made up of imperfect people, but a body which I needed to stay connected to.

There are still many times when the church frustrates me, when I feel as though the church does the wrong things, when I wonder if this is what Jesus called us into.  However, I still believe in my heart that God called the church into being, that God works through the church, and that the church is still the world’s best hope for a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.