What Good Is a Doubting Pastor?

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26 Responses

  1. prodinov says:

    Thx. Great comments as usual. Just finished one of your recommended books by Kate Bowler, Everything Happens For A Reasons. A double thx for the referral, an excellent read. Sometimes I wonder if some of your broken pieces got mixed with mine. I sort them out, and then engage with your weekly thoughts thinking that the piece I choose sure matches what you are saying. Coincidence? Or do we all share like minded journeys? The reassuring part is we know where the road leads. As crooked as it might be sometimes. Onward ho….

  2. Michael says:


    Thank you for the kind words.
    I think we all do share similar journeys…at least certain parts of them.
    I love Kate Bowler’s work…she has been a refreshment to my soul…

  3. Rick says:

    Real and true; thank you!

  4. Michael says:

    Thank you, Rick!

  5. Rick says:

    I think a doubting preacher is the best kind; a real conversation rather than a litany of misappropriated Scripture. I was speaking with my wife recently regarding this last year which included a cancer diagnosis, surgery, chemotherapy and the death of a parent. At no time have we felt abandoned or condemned; we have experienced wrestling with irony rather than anger, for which we are grateful recipients of grace that is unexplainable except that it is experienced. Presence, and sharing of grief and the struggle of doubt, is so much more helpful than an explanation of why. As a non-smoking former cardiopulmonary technologist who spent much of his career warning smokers about the risk of cancer, I have laughed at those ironies. I don’t know why, and frankly, don’t care why–perhaps that is a grace in itself. But, we are thankful.

    The chemo nurses told my wife at my last infusion that I was the first person in their experience with the type of chemo drugs I was taking who did not require blood transfusions or hospitalization for infection during the months of chemo. We are so grateful for that, thank God for that and believe that is an answer to prayer–but the chemo cycles themselves were still hard, for lack of a better word. I saw God’s grace extended in the common grace of all the medical professionals that extended not just care, but conversation, to us in this time. In the many expressions of care and prayer, even from strangers who somehow knew of our circumstances.

    We don’t know what the future holds, but are grateful to not be stuck in cycles of anger regarding our circumstances, again a grace. Presence, through prayer and conversation, sometimes regarding doubts and questions has been most helpful. When people ask what they can do for my wife and me, we just tell them to keep us on the same side of the wall with them. Presence–doubts are allowed! and welcomed because they give me permission to feel and express the full range of human emotions we experience, rather than living in denial.

    Presence, not words, presence, being along-side, I think, is the greatest of pastoral gifts, one that can be practiced by all…

  6. Michael says:

    Rick…that was worth showing up for today.
    Thank you…and we’ll keep you on this side of the wall…

  7. bob1 says:

    Great thoughts, Rick. Appreciate you sharing your experience.

    “We want to have faith in spiritual mechanisms…”if I do this, then God will do this”.”

    Yes. God the Eternal Vending Machine.

  8. Duane Arnold says:


    Nicely said… being present is the heart of all pastoral ministry…

  9. Outside T. Fold says:

    What does it say about ourselves that we seek explanation? That we seek to provide an explanation?

    I recognize the gift of being there, of bearing witness, of telling a person, I believe you. This thing you’re experiencing is real. This action transcends whatever it is that “an explanation” provides.

    Mechanistic indeed (good call, that). Reducing an incomprehensible event to some kind of statement that, say, a divine being is sending a weather cataclysm because of judgement about Some Group Of People That Make Me Personally Uncomfortable. That reduces god to gears.

    (Nevertheless, I love me some curiosity. I think that curiosity about What Is is A Very Good Thing, and count the scientists who see the world as it is and view the mundane everyday with fresh inquisitiveness. There are some in this group of The Curiosity Discipline who, after lots of investigation, have alternative explanations of, for instance, those cataclysmic weather events. It is not judgement exactly, but the result of human behavior, one form of which — as a person having grown up in a car culture — a behavior that makes me Very Comfortable.)

    I will be thinking some today about the dividing line between The Gift of Teaching and The Sin of Pride. Thank you, Michael.

  10. Michael says:

    Thank you, Duane…

  11. Michael says:

    Thanks, OTF…

  12. Josh says:

    This is good, and I affirm what Duane says about being present. People say “Well, I don’t know what to say”. In many cases, there is nothing that can be said, just a presence that is needed. Show up and care.

    Sort of unrelated to the actual article, but to the title: I wonder if there is a time where the wise pastoral thing to do would be to internalize doubt and not share it with others. I wonder if poeple sometimes need to hear “God is good”, rather than “God might be good.”

  13. Michael says:


    “I wonder if there is a time where the wise pastoral thing to do would be to internalize doubt and not share it with others.”


    I always affirm the goodness of God…but it is usually best to keep your doubts about the efficacy of prayer for another time…

  14. Josh says:

    Michael – by the way, I had a very real, unmistakable, specific prayer answered Sunday. No way it was coincidence…even the way I was informed of the answer was totally supernatural.

    I’ve had very few of those experiences in my life.

  15. Michael says:


    I believe you and thank God for it.
    I pray…but to little avail.

  16. Josh says:

    I know – and my actual prayer that was answered would be meaningless to you. But the funny thing is, that Sunday when I found out about this, my first thought was: I wish Michael could feel this.

    That one answer reaffirmed everything for me.

  17. Michael says:

    We all need those times…frequently…

  18. Em says:

    Why doesn’t reading the book of Job quiet one’s conern about being unsettled by suffering … ? Haven’t we always been thrown off by suffering?

  19. Josh says:

    em – because suffering is no fun. That’s why it is called suffering. God has use for it and it will work out in the end, but while the suffering was happening, Job was not happy. He wondered if God had turned his back on him. Same with me a lot of times. I have to be pretty far removed from the discomfort before I can see that God was at work.

  20. Rick says:

    Em, interesting point. 10 years ago or so I had the opportunity to teach on Job 38-42 (not professional clergy, simply in church leadership at the time). I thought, and think, it interesting that God questions Job, rather than answering Job’s questions. And yet, when His questioning is done, Job is content, at peace, in a place of trust. Many think that God’s questioning of Job is confrontational, a rebuke of Job’s temerity to question God. I find, as I read those chapters, that God’s questions are invitational, rather than confrontational. An invitation into a greater sense of who God is, how He cares for His creation (and, by extension, Job).

    As far as we know, Job dies without having his questions answered…I am finding my theology is becoming much simpler with age.

  21. Em says:

    Josh, yep… that was what i meant ?

    Rick, well stated… IMHO

  22. Paige says:

    Well said Michael. thank you …..

    Lovely comment Rick at 4:06pm. Thank you. yes, a greater sense of who God is.

    I remember, when in the darkest season of my life, a pastor saying, “life is hard. God is good, never confuse the two”. When my life was in a blender, that was pretty much all I could cling to…

  23. Jtk says:

    “He proved His “goodness” by leaving heaven when He knew His end was a cross.

    In doing so, He made certain that one day all our heart cries will be heard and satisfied.”


    While on vacation, my wife and I reflected on the last 15 years, ministry, marriage, many deaths of parents, grandparents and relatives, as well as people who’ve hurt us deeply.

    And stolen money. Big car troubles.

    And while I know we prayed and cried and cussed (at least I did) and sought godly counsel, we said, in hindsight, “we just got through it.” We endured.

    I wish I had something more pithy.
    But in hindsight, either here on earth or in heaven, we WILL see and understand. And thank God for it.

    PS. Don’t give up on church, as in ALL churches.

    It NEVER seems to go well.
    Especially in end of life situations.

  24. Jtk says:

    Lemme say more:
    The end of a matter is better than the beginning of a matter.

    It’s better to go to a funeral than a party (loose translation of Ecclesiastes).

    At the end of life, YOU NEED people in the church. Your spouse does. Your kids do.

    As well as other times.

    It never goes as well when people separate themselves from God’s people in these circumstances. I’ve seen it so many times.

    And I think I heard Timothy Keller at a Veritas thing say that you gain NOTHING by not having God in these difficult circumstances.

    So tell Job’s wife to shut up.

    And find some godly help, someone to listen.

  25. Jerod says:


    Sometimes Christians just have to put one foot in front of the other

  26. Judy says:

    The church doesn’t teach anymore on suffering and so when Christians suffer they are surprised. They think this shouldn’t happen to a Christian and when they turn to others in their pain, they generally get platitudes like the ones in this article because people don’t understand suffering.

    I think it’s fine to have doubt along with faith, (who doesn’t have a little doubt?) but it pains me to know that Christians do not understand that the Christian life is not the Good Life and was never meant to be. We’ve mixed it up. We expect the one to be the other and it’s not.

    We “complete” Christ’s suffering in this life as we go through times of suffering and if you’ve ever been through deep, traumatic suffering, you know that the only real comfort is knowing that Christ also suffered and in worse ways than we do, and He is with us, understands us, and comforts us.

    When I went through two fairly recent periods of severe emotional and spiritual grief and pain, I was comforted in knowing that Christ was with me. It was all I got at the time to comfort me. God seemed a million miles away, but knowing that I was suffering as Christ also suffered brought me into fellowship with him in a new way. That did not solve the problem, but it did help me get through it.

    Not everything has an answer. Somethings just “are”.

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