When In Doubt, Hunker Down

by susan on October 18, 2016

doubting-godWords for the Journey: 10.16.16

1 O Lord, God of my salvation,
when, at night, I cry out in your presence,
2 let my prayer come before you;
incline your ear to my cry.
3 For my soul is full of troubles,
and my life draws near to Sheol.
4 I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;
I am like those who have no help,
5 like those forsaken among the dead,
like the slain that lie in the grave,
like those whom you remember no more,
for they are cut off from your hand.
6 You have put me in the depths of the Pit,
in the regions dark and deep.
7 Your wrath lies heavy upon me,
and you overwhelm me with all your waves.
8 You have caused my companions to shun me;
you have made me a thing of horror to them.
I am shut in so that I cannot escape;
9 my eye grows dim through sorrow.
Every day I call on you, O Lord;
I spread out my hands to you.
10 Do you work wonders for the dead?
Do the shades rise up to praise you?
11 Is your steadfast love declared in the grave,
or your faithfulness in Abaddon?
12 Are your wonders known in the darkness,
or your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

– Psalm 88:1-12

I first shared my faith publicly to the tune of “Solid Rock”, a hymn whose chorus proclaims: On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand. All other ground is sinking sand.

Those were the words sung as I took several confident yet fearful steps toward the altar where my pastor stood to welcome me into the family of God.
I was there to share with my community that I was choosing to follow Jesus. I was inviting Jesus into my life,  my heart to be more specific.

As I grew & listened & learned, I began to notice that all of my role models of faith had one thing in common:
Unwavering faith.

No matter what happened, they kept a rock solid faith, never doubting that God was in control, at least not in front of me.

Instead, they recalled a handful of sayings in response to tragedy. Sayings like:
Everything happens for a reason.
All things work together for good.
God won’t give me more than I can handle.

Unwavering faith meant always knowing,
always confident, never second guessing…
even when solid ground became shifting sand.

That seems to be very different than the faith of the psalmist. While yes, there were moments of confidence and truth, there were also moments where the sand had shifted and so had his certainty.

We are told in Psalm 88 that this songwriter has “a soul full of troubles”. Historians give us some strong possibilities for what may have caused this sad song, but who can we imagine singing it today?

The person battling depression?
The Haitian experiencing yet another natural disaster?
The child who’s being abused?
The chronically unemployed?

Us? Our neighbor?

It may have been brought on by sickness or disease, mental illness, a personal or community catastrophe, or all of the above.

Whatever has happened, he feels completely alone & forgotten.
No one understands.
No one cares.
Not. Even. God.

He’s as good as dead. In fact, he talks as though he’s already dead: “my life draws near to Sheol. I am counted among those who go down to the Pit”. Sheol & the Pit were references to the realm of the dead, a place of separation where humans were cut off from God.

He feels completely cut off from God.
And, he blames God:

You have put me in the depths of the Pit…
Your wrath lies heavy upon me…
You overwhelm me with all your waves.

He blames God & he also begins to question his beliefs about God:

Do you work wonders for the dead?
Are your wonders known in the darkness,
Is your saving help in the land of forgetfulness?

This psalm ends with more questions than answers. Some would say the psalmist has lost his faith, or at the very least that he is a weak or uncommitted Christian. But, is faith really the absence of any doubt? Or is it something else? Something deeper?

Something like what we discover when we look to Jesus. As Peter Rollins reminded us (in the opening video we watched), even Jesus doubted. Who can forget the pain-filled words he cried while being executed on a cross: My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?!

Like the psalmist, Jesus felt the agony of feeling forgotten & the pain of entering the “land of forgetfullness”.

Doubt was part of Jesus’ life and it is a very real part of ours.
How can we not doubt God’s goodness when we see so much suffering?
How can we not doubt God’s presence when we agonize through mental illness?
How can we not doubt God’s love when we experience total rejection?

So, what do we do when doubts arise?

As hurricane Matthew swept down our coast last weekend, there was a phrase we all got a little tired of hearing. “Hunker down” said every meteorologist in town.

It was the advice informing us all to take shelter because we were uncertain about the future. It was the warning to find a safe space until the worst had passed, which for some meant relying on the hospitality of friends.

It’s the opposite of what we want to do when we face hardships or doubts.
When we doubt that all will be well,
when our lives seem to be on sinking sand,
when our beliefs are challenged to the core,
we want to withdraw, to reject or to run away or to pretend everything is fine.

Instead, what if instead we leaned in, were honest about where we are? what if we gathered to share our doubts & questions?

Perhaps that’s where real faith – our faith, not just the one that was handed down to us, would begin to form.

Those who question God, who doubt God, believe there is a God to doubt. It may be belief that is the size of a mustard seed, but according to Jesus, that is all that’s needed. “That belief is a quivering spark that can be fanned into a flame”, says Brian McLaren (Naked Spirituality).

haiti-worshipApparently, hunkering down is not just for during the storm. I was struck by this image of one Haitian community’s response to the storm that took lives and destroyed much of the rebuilding that had been done since their last natural disaster.

To the right is a picture of residents gathering to pray last Sunday at a church that was destroyed by hurricane Matthew in Jeremie, Haiti.

What do you see happening here?

I imagine they came not because they have everything figured out, but because they DO NOT. I imagine they came with all of their doubts, their anger, their grief, perhaps because they knew they needed God and they knew they needed one another.

The psalmist felt completely cut off from God, yet to God he speaks and his words would later form a hymn to be sung as people gathered in sacred spaces. The antidote for doubt is not certainty, but community.

Doubts will come. What will we do?
Will we turn away from community?
Or will we continue to gather, to pray, to struggle and to share?
Will we hunker down, trusting that God is somehow with us, putting things back together again?

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