When Love Wins came out in 2011, I read it. I cried. I thought it was beautiful.
A lot of other people read it (or just watched the trailer for it). They cried too, but not for the same reasons. They thought Rob Bell had denied central tenets of Christianity and were saddened to see him leave the fold.
I researched Universalism and slowly became convinced of it. This was not Rob Bell’s goal.
Then I found another post arguing against Penal Substitution. I thought it was beautiful. I thought it made a compelling and beautiful picture of God, centering on God’s cruciform and self-sacrificial love. Though everything else was shaking, this cross-centered love, love alone, for all, with no caveats, exclusions, or liabilities, became the core of my faith.
During the Universalism debate, everyone was worried because my doctrine was wrong, and dangerously so.
During the Penal Substitution debate, everyone was worried about me because they thought it meant I wasn’t a Christian – which, for me, wouldn’t have mattered because I considered myself a hopeful Christian Universalist, which is to say, God is saving everybody.
In one debate, I argued that God was good and loving to everyone, even to the enemies of God, and the cross proved this.
In response, they reminded me of passages where God commanded genocide. This did not convince me that God was angry and violent. Because God had become for me, at the core, this enemy-loving God, and because my Philosophy of Religion class had given me lots of room to doubt, this made me wonder if God was there at all.
I was an atheist for a good fifteen minutes.
Then I left the doctrine of Biblical inerrancy behind, because either God could be good, or the Bible could have no mistakes and be scientifically and historically and everythingally accurate, and inerrancy wasn’t worth anything remotely close to what it cost.
That was the first time I used disbelief in God to protect me from believing something awful about God. Sadly, it would not be the last.
I became something I am not entirely pleased about. Doubt became my go-to response.
Did the Bible say something that made God look mean? Did Jesus say the Bible was to be obeyed?
Doubt: Does God even exist at all?
Was there some kind of evidence that God was a psychopath?
Doubt: Does God even exist at all?
Doubt became my nuclear option. If I couldn’t win a point – gay marriage, inerrancy, parental authority over adults (yes, really, I know at least one person who believes that last one) – I would dive for doubt.
I wanted God good, or not at all.
I wanted God love, or not at all.
I still do.
Since then, I’ve developed robust arguments against inerrancy, for God’s blessing on same-sex marriage, against God being violent, for universalism, and for everything I’ve found beautiful about the Christian faith.
And one day, when I feel safe in all my other defenses against belief that God is mean, or wicked, or genocidal, or homophobic, or any number of other things, maybe I’ll lay down my doubt.
Maybe – maybe – my kids won’t need it. Maybe they’ll feel safe in what I’ll teach them about the reckless self-sacrificing love of God. I hope and pray they will.
But I don’t feel safe yet. If I could be convinced of God’s definite existence, maybe I could be convinced of inerrancy, and if I could be convinced of inerrancy, then, for me, God as good and loving and kind to all is toast, and I will not believe that. If God be wicked, though obedience be expedient, it is my moral duty to refuse obedience, even if there isn’t a God for me to have that moral duty to.
So I hold on to my doubt. I hold it as tightly as I hold my faith that, if God is there, then God is love.
Because I want God good, or not at all.
David M Schell
I am a doubter and a believer. I have a Master's in Divinity from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, but because faith grows and changes, I don't necessarily stand by everything I've ever written, so if you see something troubling further back, please ask! Read More.
21 thoughts on “Why Doubt is my Nuclear Option”
I love this. This is very much where I am right now. “I want God good, or not at all.” I’ve also used the “retreat to non-belief” tactic before when things got hard, but i am getting better at facing things head on.
It’s great to make your acquaintance! I found you via Micha bales blog. I found him via red letter Christian blog just this morning! I see it as an intervention in my life from a loving god that 2 new voices enter my life as I have been praying for ppl to have convos w/ concerning faith & doubt. A loving god. Yes I got to have the privilege, while in the first stages of recovery from alcoholism to be introduced to the concept that I could choose any god I wanted but that if I choose a loving god, or imagined one, my chances for recovery would significantly improve. 10+years sobriety/some serenity have been my road test to experience the truth: for me, a miracle! B/c the progressive disease of alcoholism means that the normal state of the addict is to seek to be totally wrecked everyday. Even stopping drinking won’t do any lasting good w/out a spiritual program, as i can attest to having the dry drunk: behavior & attitude of an actively drinking alike. I say all this to make a point that addicts that are addicted to religion follow a pattern similar to substance abusers. Hitting bottom is when the addiction stops working. Doubt & devastating demoralization are key instigators of change I think!
David M. Schell read “The Bible Tells Me So…” by Peter Enns
I was having some of the same questions & doubts, this book, an easy read, put so much in to perspective.
I read it.
I loved it.
I blogged it.
I have it on my list of “Books David Recommends” on the left.
I really love that book.
Awesome…..it made my head stop “exploding” every time I was faced with “the Bible is infallible” moments! It should be required reading for all Christians that care to hold conversations logical with others.
Yes. People should be required to read it when they become Christians and before they become inerrantists.
I haven’t read Love Wins, but I also am a Universalist and have been on a journey very similar to yours. Great post!
You may not find it as beautiful as I did if you’re already a universalist. On the other hand, I imagine I still would. I’ll have to re-read it. A friend borrowed my copy a couple years ago and is finally sending it back to me. I’ll have it by Sunday. Yay!
As for Universalism, I see myself more in line with the Orthodox thinking on Universalism, such as I understand it: Everyone is in, but not everyone likes being in. And this may well be what Rob Bell described.
What is love?
If you cannot answer this, how do you know you want love?
“What is love?” An excellent question. I don’t have a clear, concise, or easy answer thought out, but it’s something I think I would recognize.
Perhaps love does objective good for a neighbor, but then, perhaps you may say preventing sin is objectively loving, and same-sex marriage is sin, so to allow gay marriage is unloving. But for this kind of act to be sin, there must also be a deity who defines it as sin, for, without it, how would we know? You see, then, why I keep doubt handy.
Not precisely like that, but yes, that’s where I was going.
Don’t look at moral law as a definition, as if it were some arbitrary whim, like Tuesdays having a Pot Luck and Fridays being the Ice Cream Social. Look at moral laws as a logical consequence, and they are as firm and fast as the God who is called, in scripture, a rock.
Does this add clarity?
I look at moral laws as such, yes, which is why I have no problem with same-sex marriage. It grosses me out, yes, which is why I’m married to a woman, but I don’t see any consequences for those for whom the idea of being married to a woman grosses out, so I say, let ’em have same-sex marriage, and God bless ’em.
I don’t believe we’re on the same page. Moral laws are a logical consequence of God and, like God, they do not at all or ever change.
There’s more to say, but that’s the point at the moment.
I think you’re right: we’re not on the same page. I read your comment where you said to look at moral laws as logical consequences and responded to that part. I might even agree that they do not change, though I may differ on whether scripture and/or tradition are hard-and-fast arbiters of moral law.
OK, no worries.
At the moment, I’m not so much concerned with explaining the connection between moral law and scripture or tradition but the relation between the moral law and God.
I would accept the connection between the moral law and God, but would separate it at least by a layer or two from scripture and tradition.
You know what? I have nothing to disagree with when you write like that. At least, I don’t necessarily disagree. Scripture and tradition are expressions of the moral law, but they are not the moral law itself.
Now, if you mean that the Bible and the historical teaching of the Church are hedges that do not unite us perfectly to the moral will of God, I would only agree if you mean “without the grace of God.” These things, even as immaculate replicas, cannot be fully understood by a fallible human mind without the grace of God.
(That is, we do not work ourselves up to knowledge of God.)
For me, I think I was around 19, driving home from work processing credit card payments for Citibank. We’d occasionally receive Chick tracts (www.chick.com, not what you’d think) in the payment envelopes. They are awful hardcore evangelist cartoons and I read a particularly nasty one that day at work. I was pondering one of my dearest friends whom I’ve known since I was a baby. I knew he’d never be a believer, and it hit me that if the whole John 3:16 and related claptrap were true, he would spend an eternity in Hell, and for what, the sin of being born and having an amazing mind? I teared up a bit and had my first epiphany of many. If I love him no matter what and would save him were he ever in need, shouldn’t God? Was my capacity to care greater than that of God? That just didn’t compute. Since then I’ve unlearned a great deal and in doing so, have less answers, less fear and more peace. I’ve owned the domains nohell and nodevil, .com, net and org since the year 2000, but have no real use for them. Realizing the lies in our heads that don’t really exist in reality opens up opportunities for understanding the true nature of things, but doesn’t in and of itself explain anything. It actually took me quite a few years to fully unlearn those two concepts as they are given to us by those we trust and usually with well-meaning intent. They become assumptions early on, before the ability to reason freely, that are never questioned, like the sun rising every morning. It took me much longer to completely stop believing in magic and accept that no matter how fantastic, there is always an explanation. I just haven’t found it, yet, and in many cases, may never. I can live with that. Not like I have a choice.
I grew up fundamentalist, remember? 😉 I’m quite aware of Chick tracts. I have an anti-gay chick tract in my car right now, actually. I rescued it from a rest stop in Kansas where it might’ve given some poor soul another reason to hate God.
Duh, I should have guessed. I am thankful that I was not raised as you. I had far less to unlearn. I got some other demons from a babysitter when I was a preteen, but since worked those out. We weren’t all that religious of a family though my mother (parents divorced and remarried quite a while ago) has since been reabsorbed into the fold but my Dad has never been the religious type. His Mom was the cool grandma and my Mom’s mom thought her grand kids were going to hell in a hand basket, dying a bitter woman with dementia. I never really thought about it much until I started reading those terrible comics. I’ve spent a lot of time over the past few decades trying to understand the psychology and sociology of religion and how it hooks us.
If you like sociology of religion, you’ll love John Hawthorne.