Every so often I begin to dwell on how goofy the whole God thing is. I think every Christian deals with doubt.
I remember one time in specific, I was laying in a tent with a buddy of mine on the beach of Lake Powell. We spent the day kayaking around the beautiful lake, taking in the high canyon walls that held the cyan colored water in. But as I laid on my back trying to ignore my friend's snores and the light from the stars peering through the break in the tent, I just began to think.
It’s easy to push off doubt when you're busy under the sun, but when you're alone, with only your thoughts and the still black sky, that’s when it becomes real. I was laying there just thinking about how absurd my belief really is. God. Jesus. Who really believes in this stuff anyways?
I eventually went to sleep after pulling my headphones out of my bag so I could listen to my white noise playlist to distract me from the snoring. I woke up the next morning, made coffee over the fire and opened my bible like normal. I never really confess my doubt, maybe it's because I doubt my own doubt, maybe it's pride, maybe it’s a bit of both. Maybe it was because I was leading small groups and teaching other people about God’s grace. I don’t know.
Just before I could let my mind slip into thinking about the doubts I still kept in the back of my mind, the rest of the gang was up and awake. Sometimes I wonder if I’m the only one that ponders alone at night. I know I’m probably not. But sometimes I just wonder how many people are like me.
I don’t think my thinking is new at all, nor do I feel like I’m alone in these thoughts.
After kayaking again we drove to one of my favorite places in the country, Horseshoe Bend. If you haven’t been before, you need to. It sits just south of Lake Powell in Page, Arizona. The water that flows through the bend is the same water that first flows through the Grand Canyon. We planned to get there just at sunset.
I sat overlooking the canyon that turned 180-degrees around the bend. The walls drop off straight down like someone took a knife to the rock and cut down to the river. My friends wanted to go up a little hill to get to a higher vantage point, but I just wanted to look at it from where I was. I sat down legs crossed and slowly slid closer to the edge. The night was pleasant and not crowded. The only other person in my vicinity was an older looking man who came and sat next to me.
I’m not one to start a conversation with a stranger. I envy that do. The people that are friends with everyone.
He started the conversation.
“It’s amazing isn’t it?”
“It really is something.” I replied, “Where are you from?”
He went on to tell me that he had “been from” a lot of places, a farmer in South Dakota, a salesmen on the west coast. He was a people person, I could tell that. I didn’t think my face showed that my thoughts of doubt came back once alone again, but I guess they did.
“What’s on your mind” he said.
“A lot, and a little at the same time, do you believe in God?”
I was hoping he would say yes, you never really question the truth until you have to explain it to a skeptic.
“I do. I’ve been doing this Christian thing for most of my life now.”
“You ever doubt?”
“I think anyone that says they don’t is a liar.”
“So what do you do with it?”
“There is a time when every person who encounters Jesus, who really believes, decides that they will send their life following Him. Some are quick radical changes like Paul, some take time and time again, like Peter. Thing is though, they believed. Do you believe?”
“Ya, I think I do.”
“Well if you believe then you're safe. See there’s a big difference between unbelief and doubt. It's like a marriage. You married?
“Got a girlfriend?”
“Not at the moment,” (and still don’t) I replied.
“Well I’m on my 32nd year of it. It's great you should try it.” He said as he looked down at the wedding ring he was fidgeting with.
"I love my wife. I really do. But there have been times in my marriage that loving her was hard. There were years where I doubted signing up to a life with her. But in those moments of frustration and confusion and wondering if it's worth it, I never stopped loving her. The romantic fire may have been extinguished, but I said I do. And we fought through the doubt and hardship. And we are stronger today because of it. And I’m sure I’m not alone in that, if you were to ask other married men, they’d say similar things.”
He looked back up at me.
“It’s the same with Jesus.”
I didn’t say anything. But it made sense. It didn’t take away a single doubt, but it did give me hope and a smile.
The sun eventually went down in a spectacular fashion. The low hanging clouds caught every ray that hit them. My friends got back and we left.
I didn’t get a chance to say thank you to that man. Who would have thought that a small conversation on the edge of a cliff would still ring around in my head a year later still giving me hope in my days of doubt.
"Have mercy on those who doubt." (Jude 1:22)
*Photo taken on the night of this conversation at Horsebend (March 2016)