I stood at the podium of a local organization this past week ready to speak about the miracles I’d seen while working as a pediatric chaplain.
But the truth was that I really didn’t feel qualified to say anything at all.
My daughter lay in a nearby hospital, and I was in great need of a miracle myself. She was admitted on the previous evening with a preexisting health condition that is sometimes fatal.
With my wife by her side, the danger passed, and I made the speaking engagement at my family’s urging.
Still, a few friends advised me to cancel, and for reasons they didn’t know, canceling was a tempting idea.
It was tempting, because I was out of gas. It was one of those times when I was feeling as tested by God as I could possibly be. I wanted to yell, “Hey God! Enough with the tests already. Put the thunderbolts down and step away from the chaplain.”
I carried into the speech a nagging feeling that all my spiritual wisdom was worthless. With a hospitalized daughter, it was appealing to tell people that God hadn’t been much help that weekend.
In the military we call this sell-out attitude, throwing someone under the bus. And that day, I was looking for a Greyhound.
I suppose Jesus knew something of enticing thoughts, because there’s an oft-quoted Bible verse describing Jesus as being “tempted in all points, yet without sin.”
Most of the time, people quote the verse when they are dealing with a temptation of the flesh: lust, money or stealing. However, I rarely hear this verse referring to the temptation to doubt God.
In his book, “A Grief Observed,” C.S. Lewis describes his struggle with this common nemesis of doubt as he observes the very painful death of his wife from bone cancer.
Interestingly enough, Lewis doesn’t struggle with the temptation to doubt the existence of God. Instead he describes his temptation to declare that God exists, but he’s “not worth knowing.”
He wonders, “So this is what God is really like, the Cosmic Sadist. The spiteful imbecile?”
The next morning after Lewis got a second wind of God’s spirit, he wrote, “God always knew that my temple was a house of cards. His only way of making me realize that fact was to knock it down.”
From the podium, I too had a second wind. As I spoke, I found a gentle cadence in my voice and a peaceful resonance in recounting stories where I’d seen God do some miraculous things in the lives of people.
When I finished, several people told me they felt like I’d come just for them. I’ve heard people say that before, but that day it affirmed my calling and my place. It was a cathartic moment as I’d shed my reticence to speak by bringing the same caring tone to my audience that I myself needed.
While my temptation to doubt wasn’t as strong as the doubt C.S. Lewis experienced, one must know that faith cannot exist apart from doubt because if you don’t doubt, you become certain.
And certainty may even be a greater temptation than doubt, because when you’re certain, you merely create a god in your own image.
Burkes is an Air National Guard chaplain and former civilian hospital chaplain. Write
firstname.lastname@example.org or visit thechaplain.net. You can also follow him on Twitter, username is
“chaplain,” or on Facebook at facebook.com/norrisburkes.