Faith vs. Doubt vs. Wonder


Faith vs Doubt in MinistrySo last spring I led a breakout session titled “Faith vs. Doubt vs. Wonder” at Faith Forward, a terrific new children & youth ministry conference in Nashville, TN. There are great, great minds from ministry and all things spiritual involved and I’m excited to be a part of it.

The outline for my talk got upended the week before the event and nearly every conversation, teaching, and writing opportunity that I’ve had since has been subject to me thinking out loud about the following realization:

The true richness of our faith lies not with what we know about God, but rather with what we can wonder about God.

Or from an English nerd sleight-of-hand, the richness of my faith lies where the verb of my ability to wonder laps over the the noun of the wonder of God. My “desire or curiosity to know” is enfolded in “a feeling of surprise mingled with admiration, caused by something beautiful, unexpected, unfamiliar, or inexplicable.” If the former isn’t faith and the latter isn’t God, I quit.

I’ve been working so long to get kids (and adults, where I can) to embrace their doubt as a welcome and healthy part of their faith, but I think I’ve been using the wrong word. Doubt, by definition, is caught up with uncertainty and fear. There just isn’t any uncertainty or fear in love. There is great wonder in love, because love doesn’t make any sense – we don’t  deserve it, it’s always putting the other before itself, it’s willing to be last and even to die. Love is a great marvel. We should only ever be amazed by God, never moving on in life, unchanged, as though we’ve figured God out.

Our capacity to wonder is fresh fuel for my own spiritual journey. The trigger for me came last spring; in my usual methodology of great discovery, I was looking for something else. I was last-minute Google-fishing for video support for a theme and stumbled upon a TED talk by neuroscientist Stuart Firestein. He explored the idea that ignorance in science is a larger subject than knowledge, and that the primary purpose of gaining knowledge in science is to simply create a higher quality of ignorance. What we have learned has enabled us to ask better questions, in other words.

Faith has never looked more like science. Our aim should never be to know God fully; that’s not on the table. Our aim should be to know God more deeply, using any ground we gain in understand the divine to wonder better about God. The real excitement for me in this awakening is the overwhelming realization that what we don’t know about God is actually the deep end of the pool.

Prayers appreciated as I continue to re-frame my session and goals for ministry around this. I hope you’ll join us next spring in Chicago! Check out the April dates and video from last year’s event here.



Photo courtesy of Jennifer Flora

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