The Desert of Doubt

by The Merry Monk
“The song I was writing is left undone. I don’t know why I spend my time
writing songs I can’t believe, with words that tear and strain to rhyme.
And so you see I have come to doubt all that I once held as true.
I stand alone without beliefs. The only truth I know is you.
And as I watch the drops of rain weave their weary paths and die,
I know that I am like the rain. There but for the grace of you go I.”
– Paul Simon
I gave up solid food for 40 days. I’m writing to you from the low desert of Lent. I am Israel. I am Moses. I am Jesus. I am the people of God who have always gone through the water and into the wilderness. We wander and we are tempted. Sometimes we wander for 40 days. Sometimes we wander for 40 years. This is our way.
We walk with the whispered words of Satan in our ears, “If you are the son of God…prove it.”
When Jesus was tempted to prove it, He refused. He didn’t have to prove anything. He knew who He was. I’m not that fortunate. I have come to doubt.
Much of the time it doesn’t end well for people who are compelled to go into the wilderness on a vision quest. But if they don’t wander around until they die in the desert, they come back with some revelation, some message that eventually gets them killed. People don’t like you when you’re different. People want you to go with the flow. You know, go along to get along.
If you can help it, don’t go. If you can resist the urge, stay safe at home and don’t go treading off to find holy ground. Things will turn out much better for you if you simply buy into the system. You may be unenlightened, but hey, you’ll have cable, running water and fried chicken.
Of course, if you’re one of those restless souls who’s not sure who you are or why you’re here; if you have some deep desire to test yourself against the harshness of nature; if you know there’s more to life than what you’re experiencing in your school, cubical or church, and that the answers you need may be found in the wilderness; if that’s you, my warning won’t make a bit of difference. People who can stay probably don’t have that peculiar calling. But if you’re called, you’re gonna have to go.
To me, Lent is about going into the desert to taste God. It’s about setting aside my food and drink so that God may become my food and drink. Ideas about God or philosophy aren’t enough for me. I want to experience the Divine. However, I’ve been experiencing the opposite. I’m scared that I’m losing my faith.
I haven’t been sleeping well. It was 1 a.m. I was in a hot bath trying to relax when I was overcome by a wave of darkness. I thought, “He wouldn’t have to look hard to find an excuse to send me to hell.” It stirred a bizarre mix of dark emotions within me and I began to doubt in the existence of God and at the same time, I was scared of His punishment. I was literally naked, exposed…and afraid. So I did what any potentially insane believer would do upon finding himself engulfed inside a cosmic imaginary friend, I asked God if He’s really there.
No answer.
Then I thought about what believing in the unconditional love of a sovereign God has done to my life. It has given me peace and hope in the face of my many flaws and mistakes that tempt me to despair. My belief has kept me faithful to my wife for over 16 years, giving our love room to deepen, grow and giving me great pleasure. It has given me a job with a sense of meaning and purpose. My faith is the center of rich and long-lasting friendships. It has helped me to deal with addictions that have threatened my physical and mental health. I have even reached out to those who hate me and I’ve given time and money to alleviate the suffering of others… all in the name of God.
Granted, being a Christian has exposed me to—and identified me with—the whack-jobs in my faith family, but so what? There are atheist whack-jobs too. They’re in whatever group you identify with, and if you can’t find one in your group… you’re his brother. Anyway, other than that, and the strained relationships with loved ones who have a visceral disdain for Christians, it’s been a good deal.
So, given all the above, if God’s not really there, I have a pretty cool imaginary friend. No harm, no foul. I die and pass into nothingness having lived a life full of good things that I’ve enjoyed to the full. However, if He is there, my faith gets me that same great life and eternity to boot.
Laying there in that tub of water in the desert of doubt, I was reminded of something I grew up hearing my dad say, “Son, assume the quality and it’s yours.” He usually told me this to encourage me to get good grades or quit smoking, but it applies to faith too.
So I prayed this prayer…
”Father, if You are not an elaborate figment of our collective imagination, please grant that I may delight in Your will and walk in Your ways. But, if You are not really there, or You are a God Who doesn’t really care, may my religion be of such a quality that my enjoyment of this life is maximized thereby.”
Don’t get me wrong, I know life throws us curve balls. I’ve swung at a few. There may come a time when, like Job, my life will fall apart. Will I still trust Him if He slays me? I’m banking on the fact that my faith will give me hope and meaning then too. You know, when we’re in the dark, we have to trust what we’ve learned in the light.
I’m fully aware that people throughout the centuries have suffered and died for this faith that gives me such peace and joy. I know that even today there are people being killed for their belief in Jesus. I’ll do what I can to support those brothers and sisters and hope that if I’m ever asked to put my butt on the line for my faith, I’ll be up to it. How could I fail to defend a faith that has given me so much? I bet I could find a way.
But in the mean time, I am Israel. I am Moses. I am Jesus. I am the people of God who have always gone through the water and into the wilderness.
“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him. ‘You do not want to leave too, do you?’ Jesus asked the Twelve. Simon Peter answered him, ‘Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.’” John 6:66-68

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