Stories of Doubt is a Doubters Anonymous series featuring the reflections of members of the community. Stories are shared in a spirit of understanding and healing, and reflect the personal beliefs and experiences of the person sharing, not necessarily the group as a whole. We are always accepting new stories and would love to hear yours at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I’ve mostly said my doubt began with the slow but steady fading of God’s presence in my life, on which I had long relied, about seven years ago now. But I suppose it could have begun at 18 when I started to question why the evangelical tradition hadn’t taught me more about caring for the poor. Or the year before, when I realized I didn’t actually support capital punishment. Or with the frustration of not being accepted by the Christian crowd at my new high school. Or the first time I found myself defending LGBT rights in debates with friends and family.
If had to trace it back as absolutely far as I could, I would say it began at 12, in Juarez, Mexico, when I uncharacteristically questioned a missionary about what would happen to people who never heard of Jesus. He told me, and I never forgot, that no man has an excuse for not believing, because the Bible says the rocks will cry out. He said, without saying it, that they would go to hell.
It started as concern for others, but 10 years later it led to concern for myself, late at night in the darkness sobbing into my hands. During the day I felt just safe enough to face my own questions, about why God’s presence would abandon me, or what unconscious sin I hadn’t repented, or whether any of it was true in the first place. Why would Jesus need to die for God to love us? Why would a loving God send us to hell? Was hell even real in the first place? Was the afterlife? Was God? Of course I knew the proper apologetics for this, but just like that day in Mexico, the classic answers didn’t satisfy, no matter how hard I tried or prayed or begged for them to.
During the day, it was all very intellectual, but after the sun went down it was raw emotion. Some nights, after I would crawl into bed and close my eyes, it would all come rushing back, the gaping chasm of the possibility of God’s absence, the intensity and loneliness of my doubt, the intense fear born of a theology that taught me that right belief led to salvation, led to heaven, led to love, and the price I would have to pay for the fact that I just couldn’t hack it when it came to faith. Those nights, more than anything, I thought of hell. I thought of it because I was taught to think of it. But the thought of it wasn’t enough to make me believe what I could not.
The Bible began making less and less sense. I could no longer form even the insincerest of prayers in my head. At church, I felt like a fraud. More communions than not I left in tears, because when the pastor asked that only Christians partake, I never felt with certainty that I was one. Eventually, I stopped torturing myself, first with reading, then with prayer, then with church.
Slowly, in the empty space at the end of all that, I found something I never expected to: God.
I didn’t call it God then. I called it beauty or mystery or peace. I called it relief and sanity and self-discovery. And I call it God now not because I know it to be so, but because it makes sense in the deepest part of me, and I listen to that part now.
Some days, I think what I should really be is an agnostic. But what I am, through upbringing, or culture, or personality is a Christian, with some very mystical tendencies and almost no orthodox beliefs. These days, I don’t believe any more than I did at the height of my doubt, in fact I may believe less. But I attend church, and I take communion, and I participate in Christian traditions, because I find meaning in them. I experience prayer, not conversationally like I used to, but through nature and exercise and writing and deep breaths. I do blackout poetry and art journaling in the pages of an old Bible and one of these days I may pick one up just to read it again. None of my forms of religious expression look like they used to or how I was taught they should or how others’ do, but they look like me. They keep me sane and true and at peace. And somehow, despite myself, I keep finding grace and mystery and love in them. I call that God.
Alissa BC is the creator and facilitator of Doubters Anonymous. She spends most of her time raising two small boys, contemplating the mysteries of the universe, and looking for her keys. You can read more of her story at alissabc.com.