The Consolation of Doubt

Can I tell you a story? It involves a bit of jumping around in time and place, but I think it’s worth telling.

Last month I read a book by Frederick Buechner called The Remarkable Ordinary. It wasn’t the first of his books I’ve read–a few years back I read his book Telling the Truth, and I was really drawn to his idea of how stories connect us intimately with the gospel. Buechner has always been an author whose works I’d love to read more of, and I added The Remarkable Ordinary to my list after Hutchmoot this past fall. My favorite session of the weekend was about his works. It was titled “The Consolation of Doubt,” and it was led by Russell Moore and Andrew Peterson.

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The main point of their discussion, if I can summarize it simply, is that faithful doubting can drive us to reflective living. Our doubts about who God is and how He is moving behind the scenes in our lives don’t have to drive us away from God.

To illustrate their point, both Andrew and Russell pulled from Buechner’s writings on the intersection of story and life–this idea that life’s little coincidences and goose-bump moments are moments when God lifts the curtain on our lives and shows us the plot, the story he is writing. It’s when He says to us, as Russell Moore put it, “You’re in the right place, you’ve never been forgotten.”

Buechner’s book The Remarkable Ordinary is all about these moments. In this collection of essays, Buechner writes about how art and faith help us to understand what it means to look around us and listen to our lives. He writes:

I think that what true art, and true religion, does at its best is to put each one of us with that holy part of ourselves, with that source from which art and love comes, and from which all good, wise things come, so that we–by virtue of this painting, this poem, this ballet, this piece of music, this scripture–become finally, truly, human at last.

If you’re looking for ways to make your everyday moments feel holy, this book is a great place to start, especially if you’re artistic-minded at all. Buechner talks about how life itself has a pattern and a rhythm that we can open our eyes to and understand. It’s in these small rhythms of grace that we can see God working in our lives.

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The Buechner session at Hutchmoot and reading this book got me thinking about those small coincidental moments in my own life where I’ve realized without a doubt that God is working behind the scenes. Ironically (or perhaps providentially), one of those moments has to do with a song by Andrew Peterson.

In the summer of 2010, Andrew Peterson released an album called Counting Stars, and on it was a track called “Isle of Skye” written about the Isle of Skye in Scotland. From the first moment I heard it, I was captivated. I had to know more about this place, and more than that, I had to visit. Around that time I was planning my trip to study abroad in Oxford, and I knew that part of my trip had to include an excursion to the Isle of Skye.

So in May of 2011, while studying in the UK, I booked a trip to Scotland. The soundtrack to my trip was, naturally, Andrew Peterson’s music, and the trip was one of the most spiritually refreshing weeks of my life. I didn’t have a cell phone or a computer–I just was there, in Scotland, on my own.

My one rather strange prayer the whole time I was in Scotland was that I would see a rainbow. This seems weird, I know, but I’ve always felt a special connection to rainbows. From a very early age I was taught that rainbows symbolized God’s promise to us, and I’ve loved the thought that in nature God provides a tangible reminder of his care for us. I’ve always loved watching for rainbows, so in 2011 I somehow (perhaps foolishly) felt that if I saw a rainbow while I was on the Isle of Skye, I’d know that God was there with me, and that He’d ordained this trip.

Well, the day I’d been waiting for came, and I finally got to visit the Isle of Skye. It was beautiful and rugged and absolutely breathtaking in every way. I didn’t even mind the pouring rain or the freezing winds. I was just in awe of how God could give us such a beautiful place in such a fallen world. It was the perfect day in every way except one– I didn’t see a rainbow.

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I knew that it was silly to be disappointed by that fact. I’d had a marvelous day exploring a place I’d only heard about in a song ten months ago. I was perfectly happy, but in the back of my mind I was thinking “If I’d just seen a rainbow, this day would have been perfect.” I put my headphones in, pressed play on my iPod, leaned my head against the cool bus window, and watched as the Scottish landscape flew by.

We were getting close to Inverness, where I was staying for the night, when the bus driver came over the intercom and said, “If you’ll look to your right, we’re passing by Loch Ness.” I knew this would be my last chance to see the Loch, so I craned my neck around to see it. There it was, dark waters shimmering in the sun.

Stretched over it in a long, low arc, was a rainbow.

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Everyone on the bus oohed and ahed, trying to snap a picture, and in that moment I knew in my heart that God put that rainbow in the sky to speak to my soul. I heard the gentlest whisper say “You’re in the right place; you’ve never been forgotten.”

What I love and hate about that story is that the rainbow came after I’d decided that it wouldn’t. I’ve always felt frustrated by God’s timing, and how more often than not it seems like His provision comes at the last possible minute instead of when I’d like for it to show up. But in His grace, that last minute turn towards joy is always sweeter because it comes when I actually need it.

For the last few months, I’ve lived in a place where I’m waiting to see another rainbow, and I’m starting to feel like it will never happen. No matter how hard I look, the conditions don’t seem right–it’s too rainy, there’s not enough sun–there are doubts that cloud out any possible light, and it would be dishonest to deny them or pretend that they don’t exist.

But the hard truth that I’m learning these days is something Andrew Peterson mentioned at that Hutchmoot session–“God’s presence is to be esteemed more than His provision.” Ultimately, He will set his sign in the sky as a sign of his covenant, but until then, He’s with us all the way; through the flood, in all the doubting and all the fear, we’ve never been forgotten.

I wish I could end this post by saying, “Just this morning I saw a rainbow! The answer I’d been waiting for appeared!” That would be nice, but it wouldn’t be true. What I can say is this: if you’re waiting for God to break through your doubts, let them drive you to reflection. There’s a consolation to be found in faithful doubting–the consolation that God is at work even in our doubt, the consolation that the tension we feel isn’t going to be wasted by a God whose intentions towards us are good.

Keep Reading,

Sarah

4 comments

  1. Anne Parker · · Reply

    Extraordinary post today! Off to the bookstore..
    Thank you.
    Anne

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Sarah, this may be your most inspiring post to date!!! I love reading your blog!!! Keep up the good work and I can’t wait to read your book one day!!!
    Keep on writing!!!!
    Pam

    Like

  3. Oh I love this so so so much. I’ve been behind lately on all the socials — podcasts, blog posts, insta — all the things. But you know what? Maybe not. Maybe being “behind” on a post about timing was right on time after all.

    You are a treasure. So thankful for that Hutchmoot where we crossed paths!

    Just said a prayer for your rainbow. May it come, just when it should. And may God grant an extra measure of spirit-filled hopeful patience in the meantime.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. […] along with many more in the book, spoke to me right where I am. I shared recently about the consolation of doubt, and this book was just another thread I think God will use in the story He is writing. Putting all […]

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