Doubts and Faith
BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor, Oakwood Presbyterian Church
While I was learning to be a parent, I eventually acquired the skill of “half-listening.” When my children were toddlers, I would look forward to the moments when they would come running up to me and, breathlessly and with much animation, tell me stories about their day. There was always too much information and too little relevance to my life, but I was still fascinated with the fact that these cute little creatures could form words and sentences. So I would get down on my hands and knees, look them square in the eyes, and listen intently to every garbled syllable they produced. However, as they got older and the fascination wore off, I developed the habit of multitasking while conversing with them – keeping my attention on the newspaper, television, or chore before me, while being careful most of the time to utter an appropriate “uh-huh” or “really?” when there was a pause in the chatter (warning to young fathers – children are much more tolerant of this kind of behavior than wives).
It was in the midst of one of these half-tuned-in moments that my nine-year-old son once hit me with a question of monumental metaphysical importance: “Hey Dad, how do we know that we’re right and all the other religions are wrong?” That inquiry initiated a series of questions, the most recent of which is this: “If we believe in the Bible because of Jesus and we believe in Jesus because of the Bible, what if both of them are wrong?” Even with my seminary training, questions like these make my palms sweat and my throat go dry.
It’s not just that years of studies in the Bible, theology, apologetics, and philosophy are difficult to distill into a compelling answer for a third-grader. It’s also that we adult believers just don’t talk about our doubts. We’ll sometimes admit that we struggle with certain sins, doctrines, or aspects of spiritual discipline. But when is the last time you heard a fellow Christian say, “I’m having doubts about the Bible”, or “I’m not so sure anymore that Jesus is real?” We believe that if we admit to these kinds of lapses in our faith we would be exposed as spiritual pretenders and weaklings.
The hard truth is that we all have those kinds of doubts from time to time, and repressing them and keeping them private doesn’t help. We often struggle to continue walking by faith; we wish that, just for a little while, we could walk by sight. Why doesn’t God make His existence and power more obvious and indisputable? Why can’t Jesus make another post-resurrection appearance? Why aren’t the enemies of His kingdom judged? The Bible promises that all of those things will happen someday, but how can we be sure?
It helps to understand that there’s a reason for God’s “hiddenness.” Isaiah 59:2 says, “…your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden His face from you…” The privilege of seeing God face to face will only be granted when we’ve been perfected. Until then we must trust His Word.
It also helps to understand that everyone lives by faith, whether they will admit to it or not. We trust in our senses, we trust in our hearts, we trust in science, we trust in philosophers, etc. The question isn’t whether or not you will base your life on faith; the question is…Where is the most reasonable place to base your faith? What worldview best explains reality?
In Francis Schaeffer’s book, He is There and He Is Not Silent, Schaeffer describes the choices that lie before all humans. First of all, does the universe exist? Either it does or it doesn’t. Secondly, assuming that you decide that things really do exist, you have to make a decision about man – is he personal or non-personal? In other words, is he just the sum total of the chemicals that comprise his body, or is there something special about him - say, a personality, a soul? Related to that, how do we explain both man’s nobility and his cruelty? Finally, Schaeffer says, we need to determine how we know anything to be true. Is there an objective source for truth, and can we know truth?
Interestingly, in the history of mankind, very few individuals have believed that the physical universe doesn’t really exist. Very few individuals have believed that what exists came into being out of utter, absolute nothingness (no pre-existent beings or forces). Very few individuals have believed that man is nothing more than the sum of his chemical composition. Very few individuals have denied the existence of some form of objective morality. Therefore, historically, the vast majority of mankind has affirmed the reasonableness of the central elements of a Biblical worldview and philosophy.
Is the Bible’s account of the pre-existence of a personal God who created all things and created man in His own image the most reasonable explanation for the unity, diversity, and complexity of the universe that we observe and of our human nature? Is the Bible’s description of sin and its effect on humanity the best explanation for the evil and cruelty of man that we observe in ourselves and others? If so, then the Bible’s description of God’s remedy for sin through Jesus Christ is trustworthy. He is no fool who trusts in God’s Word. It is, by far, the most reasonable faith.
The Psalms of Scripture are given to us to help us express our doubts to God to give us reassurance. We should stop hiding our doubts from each other; instead, we should encourage one another in our faith. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” Faith is a gift from God, and it is a work in progress. None of us walks in this life with 100% pure, unadulterated faith in Christ. Some days for us maybe 80% faith and 20% doubt. Others may feel more like 50/50 or worse. But if the Spirit of God is at work in you, over the long haul you will see your faith increase, by His grace. Let us echo the prayer of the father of the demon-possessed boy, who said to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” As Paul promised in Philippians 1:6, “…He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ.”