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Confessions of a Skeptic

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I don’t think I was born this way—and I’m really not sure when I began down this road—but recently I’ve discovered that I’m an emerging skeptic. A skeptic is one who instinctually and habitually doubts or questions. That’s me! And I find that being a skeptic is paradoxically both energizing and rather discouraging.

This skepticism may have started when I was a young married man or a father, a pastor, a PhD student or in my current role as a college professor. But those experiences are inadequate excuses. I think this skepticism is fed internally. Sad to say, it’s in me—it’s become part of my nature—and pointing my finger to external sources is neither honest nor accurate.

However, I think I discovered its root; my theology of “trust” has been skewed for years. Perhaps it started out only a degree or two off, but over time the trajectory of my thinking has been veering further and further off point. I was recently confronted with this possibility by Brennan Manning in his book Ruthless Trust, in which he powerfully makes a distinction between trust and clarity.

My slight theological diversion began on my wedding day, when my wife and I included Proverbs 3:5–6 in our wedding bulletin: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.” This passage carried great meaning for us as a couple.

I assumed that God’s response to our trust would lead to greater clarity in those situations in which we said we trusted Him. After all, what else could be concluded from “he will make your paths straight” than to believe that God will help us to see the landscape before us more clearly? That seemed logical and virtually ironclad. And therein lay the subtle degree or two of my skewed thinking.

This all came to a head for me recently when I was reading Isaiah 50:10: “Let him who walks in the dark, who has no light, trust in the name of the Lord and rely on his God.” Suddenly it became abundantly clear—I had been operating on the premise that trust and clarity were synonymous when, in fact, they are mutually exclusive. Trust presupposes a lack of clarity. Conversely, when one has clarity, there is no need for trust.

Sadly, I see nothing stated or implied in Proverbs 3:5–6 to connect trust with clarity. The trust that Solomon had then and that Jesus expressed in John 14:1 (“‘Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God; trust also in me’”) neither guarantees nor suggests clarity. Instead, biblical trust carries the idea of leaning on and resting in a faithful, loving, purposeful God when we don’t have a clue. Such trust involves our entire being, our intellect, emotions and will.

With that in mind I have begun to wonder whether my approach to the Lord in prayer over the years, while not “wrong,” was misguided. How many times have I prayed, and heard other people pray, for “clarity in this situation”? Yet “clarity” for God’s people as a result of our trusting in Him is not promised in Scripture. In the words of one computer-aided software package, “No matches were found for ‘clarity.’”

Trust involves holistic leaning, and while not leading to clarity, it does foster security, rest and, ironically, confidence. The overwhelming evidence found in Scripture and throughout history is that when this trust is appropriately directed toward God, His people experience a deep, abiding sense of security (despite a lack of clarity)—a quality counterintuitive to this skeptic’s habitual doubting and questioning.

Imagine a sight-impaired individual. In that condition, a person has no clarity. She cannot discern her path; what is up close or far away is not clear. As a result, she must learn to trust in another person, a seeing-eye dog or a walking stick to guide her, literally step by step. Clarity never comes—the only true issue is the trustworthiness of the one who is guiding, the one who is making the path straight. A sight-impaired individual who is skeptical about the trustworthiness of her seeing-eye dog is in a world of hurt, perhaps literally!

There is much in my life for which I clamor for clarity. I want to know how our children will turn out, what our health will look like, what my vocation will become; the list goes on. I don’t get much clarity, and that lack feeds my skepticism. On the other hand, I am called to trust the Lord, leaning on and resting in Him step by step. Despite my intense longing for clarity, I may only rarely—or perhaps never—experience it. Consequently, I am discovering the call to “blindly trust” God. And that is when this issue becomes profoundly troubling, because trust also assumes a personal lack of control. And therein lies the clarity, even for a skeptic!

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