Not Knowing, doubt

During my senior year of college I was required to write 5 and 10 year goals for my life.  It was assumed that developing a vision for life after college was a good thing.  A plan would help me to map out the next few years.  Graduation would not be a step into the unknown but rather a step into the known.

Lately I have started to question the value of planning and knowing.  How much control do we actually have over the future?

The other week I was at a Calling Congregation’s conference put on by the Fund for Theological Education.   Barbra Brown Taylor delivered the closing sermon. Her topic was “The Value of Not Knowing.”

When God called Abram in Genesis 12, Abram was just told to go, the destination was not given.  Can you imagine telling your spouse and family that you are moving?  You just don’t know where, but God will reveal it somewhere down the road.

Can you imagine being one of the first disciples and explain the call to your family?  “Sorry Mom and Dad, I need to quit the family business and follow this unknown rabbi.”  Other then the “fisher of people” promise, Jesus didn’t say a whole lot.  How were they going to support themselves?  What kind of career opportunities did following Jesus lead to?

Shortly after hearing Barbra’s sermon, I was at a gathering where Peter Rollins, an Irish Theologian, shared.  He spoke of the importance of doubt.   Not just a surface doubt, but a doubt that shakes the very core of an individual’s belief in God.  He spoke of a doubt that creates a space for atheism to emerge.

Consider Matthew 27:46, “My God my God, why have you forsaken me?”  Even Jesus experienced a doubt that lead to atheism.

For most of my adult life I have tied knowing and certainty to Christian maturity.  I am much less certain of this today.  To be honest, most of the time I don’t know where God is leading me and sometimes (the “sometimes” should be read as an understatement) I am not sure that God is present.

Can you imagine being part of a church where even the pastor has the space to doubt and not know?  Is it possible for the church to be a place where uncertainty and not knowing are understood as normative?



Filed under church, doubt, faith, FTE, Peter Rollins, religion

3 responses to “Not Knowing, doubt

  1. Not to be taking over the commenting on your blog, but you’ve been posting a number of gems lately I feel compelled to respond to somehow…

    This one speaks to a subject that’s weighing heavily in my own journey the last few years. One person who’s work really helped put some language and structure to my dreaming on this subject of “absolutes” and “confidence” vs. faith and much more was Richard Karney ( and more specifically his work that’s most directly collected into the his book The God Who May Be (a rather slow-reading/thick philosophical work I found, actually). I heard a series of interviews on CBC’s “Ideas” program with him where he articulated in a very accessible and engaging way his premise (roughly) that perhaps it’s more useful to think of the define as not “I AM”, but instead “I shall be whom I shall be”, or another way: The God Who May Be, the God of potential, the God of possibility. I have the book and the interviews as MP3s – I’m happy to share if you’re interested in his take. I’ve found this refocusing very illuminating and life-giving to my own faith walk.

    More specifically to your last question, yes I think it’s possible, though I think it necessitates (or at least leads to) a church that looks a bit less like your average NA Christian congregation. I find my church to be very much a place like that, and I think I have had more conversations around this very subject in the last year than most of the rest of my life combined. It seems there’s a surge of my peers in the congregation seeking to engage these questions as well…

    Would love to chat this through some more over a riding lunch break – when are you going to come enjoy this balmy KS fall weather with some track/trail time? 🙂

  2. Rick Lee

    Where there’s no room for doubt there’s no room for faith. I think growing toward maturity means becoming less certain about our knowledge of God and more confident of God’s grip on us. If wr don’t exercise our faith it won’t get strong; our practice of submitting, serving and following God’s lead will remain infantile.

  3. doormiami

    I’m fascinated with the paradox: on one hand- of churches with pastors who cast a vision and lead the people to accomplish the goal set before them. On the other hand- the idea of pastoring a group of a people to destinations unknown.

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