Last weekend I had the pleasure of going to the Cheltenham Literature Festival. While one event I attended was a 45-minute dramatic reading accompanied by a double bass, folk singer, and 80s organ-synthesiser, the other was much more thought-provoking.

Turkish author and activist Elif Shafak was in conversation with writer and feminist Sam Baker about Elif’s latest book 10 Minutes and 38 Seconds in This Strange World. Sam started by asking typical questions about Elif’s writing process, how she creates her characters, and what deeper issues she might have been addressing through the novel.

It quickly emerged that Elif had been exiled from Turkey as a result of – what has been viewed by the government as – controversial writing, in particular, the way she explores political, religious and sexual issues. Despite this, she bravely said that she isn’t prepared to stop writing about those who feel isolated or outcast from society, even if she is exiled for it herself.

Based on her inspiring response, I wondered if Elif is a person of faith. But when Sam asked about her views on religion, she replied that she wasn’t religious because she had too many questions. From what Elif has witnessed of organised religion, she said that she fails to see how there is any room for doubts or those who feel a lack of certainty.


Had I not been about to rush off unwittingly to the folk-singing-organ-synthesiser reading then I would have stopped to apologise to Elif for the way that we, as the church, have in some way suggested that doubters’ are not welcome. Because even if Elif is right that this is the impression we give externally; we know that this is certainly not the case in reality. 

In fact, it is the total opposite of the message Jesus shared: On hearing this, Jesus said to them, It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners’” (Mark 2:17). God’s design for the church is that it is beautiful in its brokenness, its doubts, and its not-there-yet-ness’, because that’s precisely where God’s redeeming power is most magnified.

Our September gathering of the Evangelical Alliance council focused on how we reach and disciple young adults in their twenties and thirties, and I was privileged to lead a discussion group on the area of doubt. As we began to open up discussion, we soon realised just how far-reaching this topic is, as it affects every area of church life. 

For example, consider this: how do we present the Bible in a way that upholds the truth of God but does not eliminate space to grapple with questions, doubts and further examination? We didn’t have easy answers to that, but we did realise in our group that we need to trust that the Bible can stand up to scrutiny. The written word is living and God’s Spirit will reveal His truth to His people.

We also discussed the way that festering doubt without a healthy output can have a massive impact on people’s discipleship and mental wellbeing. I’ve recently been upset to see stories of renown Christian leaders feeling forced to publicly denounce their faith. I can’t help but think that if we cultivated greater honesty amongst believers, leaders especially, then we would have a better understanding that doubts are not opposed to faith. 

The enemy would love to silence our doubts so that we feel guilty or isolated, which means there is huge power in bringing them into the light. If anything, doubts can greatly enhance our intimacy with God when we are given the right space to work through them.

I work for a Christian organisation, I regularly preach at my church, and I’m married to a worship pastor, but there are days when I think, Is God actually there?” or Is this really worth it?”. That is entirely okay, because the key is in where we take those questions. Contrary to what I feared, I’ve discovered that my doubts provide greater opportunities for God to reveal Himself and comfort me with the truth of who He is. When I open myself up and say, God, remind me who you are”, then He will deliver every time.

What I’m learning, is that in a world which teaches us to question everything and not to believe everything we hear, the church doesn’t have to be an exception. There is power and freedom in asking questions and bringing our doubts into the open. Instead of surrounding doubts with shame or guilt, we want to be people who learn how to work through them, how to approach the Bible as the living word of God with something to say, and how to ask God to reveal Himself afresh. 

Photo by Chinmay Singh