Questioning the faith you have grown up with can be a scary time. For some people it is a relief, but for many it feels like undermining their reason to live.
Some people bury the questions and doubts, and hope they’ll go away. But too often, the doubts remain, taking away our peace and making us feel cut off from family or friends.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. Doubt can be the gateway to better understandings. Read on to see how this can be.
We don’t have to feel disloyal
For most christians, their faith is not just an intellectual truth that they believe, but a relationship with a living person. So questioning their faith, whether it is being unsure about a doctrine, or doubting the existence of God, seems like betrayal of that relationship.
It’s no wonder doubt can be a heavy burden.
We may feel that God is going to be angry at our lack of faith. And this fear can be deepened by well-meaning christian friends and family, and especially by pastors, pointing out how we are letting Jesus down.
Sometimes our questioning can be misrepresented as stemming from a sinful attitude. People may even say we can’t have been a christian in the first place.
We can feel defeated and condemned before we start.
Jesus says otherwise?
Looking at how Jesus dealt with people can comfort us here.
He was gentle with those who had broken the taboos of the day, even those based on the Torah. I’m thinking of his tender treatment of two women considered to be living sinful, sexual lives (Luke 7 and John 8), of outcast lepers (Luke 17), of a timorous woman seeking healing (Mark 5), tax collectors (Matthew 9), and more. And I’m thinking of his willingness to help those whose faith was full of doubt (Mark 9).
Jesus biggest criticisms were of the religious, who put burdens on ordinary people that were too heavy for them to bear (Luke 11).
If we too quickly criticise those who doubt, we may be putting burdens on them that they are unable to bear.
It is possible for doubts to arise from a wrong attitude, but we don’t need to allow that possibility to define us. We can move forward positively.
Questioning can be positive
Growth means change. If we want to grow in grace, we will likely have to let go of an unhelpful habit. If we want to understand Jesus better, we will need to let go of wrong ideas.
Only those who are perfect never need to change.
So asking questions and changing our views are necessary parts of growing as disciples of Jesus. The trick, of course, is knowing what things need to change and what things need to remain.
There are ways we can make positive change.
Questioning, doubt and faith deconstruction are positive processes if our prime concern is knowing the truth. The truth will either confirm us in our existing belief or it will show us new understandings.
There are three situations I can think of when questioing is the right thing to do.
1. Questioning teachings
Christian understanding has never been static. It has changed over the years, for good or for ill. We would never have had renewal movements like St Francis, the Reformation, the Anabaptists, the charismatic renewal, etc, without people questioning the teachings of the day.
The Holy Spirit seems to be often trying to renew the church. So who knows whether something more needs to change today?
Some critics say that we shouldn’t question God. But deconstruction isn’t questioning the God that we know, it is questioning if the God we thought we knew is really true. Did he really say or do that? Is my present understanding wrong?
We shouldn’t be afraid of this. CS Lewis once said that if truth and God seem to be going in different directions, we should follow truth – for we would find that was where God was all along.
2. Rejecting bad behaviour
Often deconstruction is questioning whether God’s people and his church are really living and speaking the truth. Many people have been hurt or repelled by dishonesty, hypocrisy, racism, homophobia, lack of love or abusive relationships in the church. This seems to be the main motivation for reconstruction in the US.
We should rightly refuse to accept these things as being of God and being acceptable in his church. And we should empathise and support those bearing the scars or suffering from abuse. If this is you, there are places you can receive support.
Those who challenge these behaviours should be seen as heroes, and not accused of bad behaviour themselves.
3. Something doesn’t ring true
Sometimes deconstruction becomes necessary if our life experience doesn’t conform to what we are told is “normal”. Perhaps we don’t speak in tongues or experience blessing or feel God is close, when others do – in which case it may be wise to question our understanding of those experiences, or whether we are missing something.
For many, unanswered prayer is a problem that leads to a review of their faith. Jesus seemed to promise answers to prayer that we don’t always seem to receive. Have we understood him wrongly? Or have we misunderstood our experience? Either way, questioning can lead us forward into better understandings.
People who don’t experience God in a tangible way can feel very lonely in a church where this experience is seen as the norm.
So let’s be positive
Knowing the truth about God, the church or our own llives are all right aspirations, and good reasons to examine our faith afresh. If that leads to faith deconstruction, then it must have been necessary.
Walking the path
There may not be a right or wrong way to deconstruct our faith, but some ways seem to be helpful
If we want to know God and truth better, it helps to ask him to reveal himself and to lead us to truth.
I can remember when I struggled with the Old Testament for years, unhappy about some things I saw there, but unsure how to deal with them honestly. After I started praying that God would show me how to interpret it, he led me to books and writers and information that made sense of it for the first time.
Even if we have no confidence left that God is there to hear our prayers, it makes sense to ask him. Many a doubter has prayed “God, if you’re there ….”
Truth doesn’t often just fall into our laps. Generally we have to search for it. Jesus encouraged us to seek, with the promise that we would find (Matthew 6).
- Be honest. Don’t pretend things you don’t feel or believe. Examine your motives and your experiences. And express your doubts to God, he can cope with that.
- Be curious. Investigate the things that don’t seem to add up, and see if there are other ways to look at them. Be open to new ideas. I can think of many times when I have questioned a teaching or an apparent anomaly, and found new understandings that have helped me grow. And I know others whose doubts led them to internet discussions and answers.
- Read. Find people who have experise and experience and check out how they approach the issues that concern you. It is likely you’re not the first to face this issue that is troubling you. There are many people on this journey of faith renewal and discipleship. We can learn from them.
Don’t go it alone
We need other people to help us answer difficult questions and doubts. And we also need friends for support. We need friends who are not intimidated by our questioning, and can give honest answer (including saying they don’t know).
If you are part of a christian community, seek the support of those who will try to understand you and deal gently with you. If your christian community is unsupportive, consider finding another one, either temporarily or permanently.
Of course if your church is responsible for abuse or the grief you are feeling, you need to find a safe place to re-evaluate everything. There are people who can counsel about religious trauma.
Go easy on yourself
There’s a time to work on reconstruction, but also a time to take a break and rest. We need to listen to our bodies and not push oursleves too much. God’s not going away, he has plenty of time and patience.
Stay close to Jesus
It is too easy to have our beliefs and expectations given to us by the church or our upbringing. And it doesn’t take too long to see anomalies, places where present day christianity (whatever version) seems to avoid some teachings of Jesus or explain them away.
Jesus is a safe place to go for faith deconstruction. After all, he deconstructed some of the religion of his day. He broke some of his society’s religious and social norms and he was scathing in his criticism of some of the religious leaders of his day. If you’ve found real problems in today’s religion, it’s a fair bet he would too.
Jesus is also the best guide for our faith reconsruction. Read the gospels, see what he said and how it can be applied to today. That’s a fair place to start.
Let the adventure begin!
Faith deconstruction and reconstruction can be an adventure with God. If you need to do it, ask his help, then set out on the edventure. The truth will set you free!
These pages may be steps on the way
- What About the Real Problems that are Driving People to Deconstruct? Tim Suttle, Dec 2021.
- Reconstructing Faith in a Deconstructing Culture. Lifeway Research, Mar 2021.
- Dealing with Deconstruction: 5 Tips for Reconstructing Your Faith. Joseph Honescko, Jul 2021.
- How Do You Reconstruct Your Faith After Deconstruction? Joy Vetterlein, Aug 2020.
- Reconstructing faith – a deconvert returns to Christianity. Ruth Jackson, Jan 2021.