June 6, 2020

Do you ever doubt your Christian beliefs?

ravi.jpg“Michael, do you ever doubt your Christian beliefs?”

Yes. I do. In fact, I’ve written an entire essay on the subject of my personal doubts: I Have My Doubts. It’s an IM favorite. While it’s more confessional than comprehensive, it does address the subject of doubt, the depth of doubt, and the path of my own faith in the face of doubts.

I really need to write a follow up that is more comprehensive, but that will have to wait for another day. There are particular areas of Christian belief, particularly eschatology, that challenge my commitment to Christian beliefs. I would also like to write about the role of community in holding on to faith through life’s journey.

One of the most important aspects in my personal resolution of doubt is to understand that many of the things that “corrode” my faith, also do the same “corrosive” work on any belief system.

Take, for example, the Freudian critique that religion is a psychological mechanism or “crutch” that the human race needs in order to deal with death and the unknown, uncontrollable aspects of existence. Freud’s critique is a powerful challenge and it contains much truth.

It also, unfortunately, applies equally to all other worldviews as well. It applies to materialism, existentialism, agnosticism, scientism, skepticism and so on. The psychological critique can explain my faith, and it can explain anyone else’s faith as well.

The Freudian critique also fails to explain the kind of gods that human believe in. Some are well-suited to explanation by the Freudian critique, but does the God revealed in Jesus match up with what we would expect in the psychological explanation?

That observation doesn’t resolve all the challenges to my faith, but it’s been helpful to me in remembering that all of us are working with a mixture of faith, reason, experience, subjectivism and imperfect perception.

This question also gives me the opportunity to say that I’ve received far more help from Ravi Zacharias in maintaining my faith than from any other traditional apologist- though Peter Kreeft has also been very helpful. Ravi approaches the entire apologetic question from a much different position. He listens to real questions. He does not shell out outlines of scripture and call it an answer. He takes seriously the existential realities that pervade our journey. He understands the interaction between the questioner and the question. I highly recommend any and all of Ravi’s books, but particcularly “Can Man Live Without God?” and his autobiography, “Walking From East to West.”

There is a vast amount of Ravi audio at the RZIM site. You want to listen to this man. He’s an amazing gift to the church and to all of us in ministry. LEARN from his manner as well as his method.

If you would like to read a wonderful and comprehensive essay on the subject of Doubt and Certainty, Alistair McGrath has written Doubt and the Vain Search for Certainty. Well worth your time and consideration.

READ: I Have My Doubts

Comments

  1. Been there. Done that. Will do it again. And again. And again.

    Thank you for your honesty. It’s comforting to know that I’m not the only who has more doubts than should be humanly possible, despite having a resilient faith.

  2. Given you value Ravi Zacharias, I wonder what you make of a resource like http://www.bethinking.org ? I’ve never heard Ravi but his UK/Europe guys Michael Ramsden and Amy Orr-Ewing are formidable.

  3. tburnham23 says

    You can find the podcast audio through iTunes by searching its directory for “RZIM”. Both the weekday program, “Just Thinking”, and the weekly program, “Let My People Think” are in iTunes.

    The program archives are here:

    JT
    http://www.rzim.org/radio/archives.php?p=JT
    LMPT
    http://www.rzim.org/radio/archives.php?p=LMPT

    Grace and blessings to you, Ted @ RZIM

  4. I can relate totally. Well I couldn’t until recently, like the last couple of years.

    I don’t question the reality of God. My mind is fine with it. I rarely even think to question it and when I do I can snuff the thoughts pretty quick. I also don’t have any question of the relevance of the Bible. After reading your essay, I’ll consider these confidences a gift!

    What I struggle with is theological issues. I grew up in a Baptist church in a “fairly religious” home. Some of my first memories of church were the verbal brow beating from some shouting-sweaty pastor while “Just As I Am” blared from some ominous sounding keyboard. I was fine with gospel and plan of salvation. I was ok glossing over the person and work of Jesus Christ only to focus primarily more important work of “winning souls for Christ”. Not long after my childhood baptism, I would lead several other people to “salvation” (I don’t use that word often these days) on that Roman Road. Things seemed to make sense to me.

    Then it happened!!!!

    My wife and I do this game where we take black tape and tape the spray nozzle on the kitchen sink open. When you come in and flip the sink on you get doused unexpectedly with a cold and shocking stream of water. It’s unsettling and just down right confusing for a split second while your mind puts together what just happened.

    Unfortunately God has revealed a whole new gospel to me. It makes much much more sense to me. Many of the contradictions and complications that the church of my childhood had implanted are being unraveled.

    The Good News is great news huh? Well not really because now my church and brothers and sisters don’t relate to me. Or should I say I don’t relate to them. Am I wrong? After all I’M the one with this newer revelation! Is it Satan? The preacher is a Dr. for goodness sake! When I disagree with him, it has to be ME that’s wrong right?

    Now I’m constantly second guessing the teachings of my childhood. It’s a curse to sit in a pew and listen to sermon after sermon feeling like the preacher is totally missing the point. When bringing up questions and exposing my doubts I’m viewed as either a lunatic – heretic. Isn’t church a place for learning and exchanging ideas?

    In short (it’s a little late for that now huh?) I feel like the water has unexpectedly blasted me right in the chest spiritually speaking and I too am in a constant battle to fuse what I know I know with what I’m unsure.

  5. Ravi rules! I was blessed to hear him speak at Hope College when I was attending there. I’ve enjoyed his ministry for years now. He’s more pihlosophically astute than most Christian apologists. I think his Indian background especially helps in dealing with “worldviewish” issues. He can speak from a perspective that can see both the Eastern and Western perpsectives. That really helps. Oh, and by the way, I regularly doubt, and about all kinds of stuff related to my beliefs. IOW’s, “I believe Lord, please help my unbelief!”

  6. Saint: besides the “my wife” part, you sound a lot like a friend of mine at my church. The two of us have joked on occasion about starting a “heretics anonymous” support group for others like us.

    In addition, I’ve been through a lot of that some thing, myself. I don’t really have the words to explain why, but more and more often feel like I’m simply not speaking the same language as everyone else at my church. I have been criticized because, in some people’s opinion, I quote people like Athanasius too much and Scripture too little. I have, in one conversation, been both accused of pride because I “think [I’m] smarter than Pastor xxxxxx” and criticized for listening to “the word of man” (I do believe it was probably best at the time not to point out the contradiction there…).

    Unfortunately, I believe this is part of the Southern Baptist tendancy to say, “We don’t interpret Scripture; we simply believe the Bible.” In the end, this seems to place private interpretations on the same level as Scripture, since they’re “not interpretations” but the “clear meaning of Scripture.” And, so, to doubt the “accepted” interpretation, to everyone else, looks like doubting Scripture itself.

    It’s frustrating. I don’t really feel at home at my church anymore. I’ve been looking around at other churches, and the closest I’ve felt to being at home so far has been in an Eastern Orthodox church, despite my issues with some of their theology. I just don’t think I’m ready to take that leap…

  7. Michael:

    It’s your obsession with doubt that always leaves me worried about you. Let me try to outline that concern.

    I have a wife, and my wife loves me. I have kids, and they love me. I have employees whom I have fired, and I and fairly sure they don’t love me. There’s one kid in particular I can remember firing because he lied about alleged military service (ROTC) to get get a weekend off, and when we checked with his CO, he wasn’t there — that kid jumped on the top of my Nissan until he caved the roof in. So there’s no love there.

    What’s the difference between my wife and that kid, I wonder? For example, should my wife doubt what kind of husband I am because I turned a liar out into the street rather than employ him? Should my kids wonder what kind of Dad I am because that deceived kid could not get over on me? Or, in fact, can my wife and kids draw comfort from the fact that I am the kind of man that doesn’t abide cowardice and lying?

    You might respond, “that’s fine, cent — I get your point. Your integrity is a point of confidence for those whom you love and a point of real fear and loathing for those who do not love you. Just like God, yes? The problem is that I can’t tell God what to do. For example, he might not protect my daughter who just got a driver’s license from an accident which cripples her. What good is God if he doesn’t give me that kind of assurance?”

    Michael, I worry about you because somehow, in your long journey so far, you think God owes you something. Does God owe you the safety of your daughter? Of course you will say “no” because that’s the orthodox answer and you’re not a fool — but then what is your doubt again? Listen: faith in God means we know what he owes us, and he owes us nothing — but that we owe him everything. Everything! Every scrap of joy we have received in this life, every breath! Yes: even every moment of human loss which has made us who we are — we owe it to him.

    Please Michael: reconsider how you see the kind of doubt over which you have given yourself absolution. God wants all of you, but none of your pride. That will seem bizzare to some of your readers coming from me, but you know exactly what I am saying. Stop canonizing your doubts for your own sake.

  8. I just wanted to say thank you for the essay on your doubts. Whenever I feel those doubts creeping into my thoughts I always feel like the worst heathen. Thanks for being open and letting me know I’m not alone!

  9. I keep running into terms today that I don’t understand. Here’s one:

    >Stop canonizing your doubts for your own sake.

    What does that mean? Are you saying, “Stop implying that doubts are a permanent part of human experience.”

  10. I believe that a faith that cannot withstand doubts is not worth having. I don’t believe it is a doubting that God loves us, a doubting about His plan of redemption and restoration, but a doubting in how the church carries it out, how I understand things.
    The Psalms are a collection of doubts and praise. And somehow those two aspects go hand in hand.
    I echo Irenicum’s quote of the Palestinian to Jesus: “I believe, help my unbelief.” That is my daily prayer.

  11. Thanks, first of all, for not letting (or making) this blow up into all-out blogwar (though, you know, I don’t mind the hits to the blog).

    Here’s what I mean: as I read your posts on this subject, it seems to me that you have placed in your doubts the same level of value that you place in your faith. When it’s put that way, do you see why people “like me” (the baptism-checkers, and the credo-testers) find some reason to plead with you on the subject?

  12. “To make assurance of personal salvation essential to faith, is contrary to Scripture and to the experience of God’s people. The Bible speaks of a weak faith. It abounds with consolations intended for the doubting and the desponding. God accepts those who can only say, “Lord, I believe; help thou mine unbelief.” Those who make assurance the essence of faith, generally reduce faith to a mere intellectual assent. They are often censorious, refusing to recognize as brethren those who do not agree with them…” -Charles Hodge

    I’m out of the blogwar business. Your stats have convinced me that all TR blogs should be tithing to me.

    I would ask you to consider if your are not articularing the kind of spiritual experience that asks us to keep silent about the human heart, the inner voice, the existential journey- in other words, the very things so many of the Psalms teach us are the very essence of honest prayer. Even the Apostles, in the presence of the risen one, doubted. Honest admission isn’t “canonization,” and my faith is not a “Rock.” Christ is. Am I to believe that John the Baptist could doubt, but I can’t? That David and Moses and Elijah could doubt aspects of their experience, but I can’t?

    Os Guinness has written brilliantly on Doubt. I think he would find my essay appropriate.

    But I also know that the “Macarthur School” does not encourage the articulation of doubts and questions. I think that is a characteristic of fundamentalist scholasticism. If you have the sure and certain answers, you can’t be caught doubting God’s existence over silly things. It just won’t do.

    Well…it does.

  13. Hang on a second: I think you have made an error here in understanding which is important enough to toss another response over the fence.

    Everyone has times in life where they cry out: “Oh God! Where are you?!” Everyone. But if you are going to use the Psalmists as the examples, you have to admit something: their view of doubt is, “God, when I cannot see you, I cling to your promises!” That is: my doubt points me at God’s indubitable faithfulness.

    That’s not actually the way you portray doubt, Michael. You portray doubt as something which is as valuable to you as faith is — that it somehow makes you authentic and more honest. But the psalmists resolve doubt; Jesus tells John the Baptist to resolve his doubt. When Paul pleads for a release from the thorn in the flesh, God tells him resolve your doubts because my grace is sufficient.

    And it is important, since you cite Hodge, to read the next paragraph of his writing on this subject:

    At the same time, Scripture and experience teach that assurance is not only attainable, but a privilege and a duty. There may indeed be assurance, where there is no true faith at all; but where there is true faith, the want of assurance is to be referred either to the weakness of faith, or to erroneous views of the plan of salvation. Many sincere believers are too introspective. They look too exclusively within, so that their hope is graduated by the degree of evidence of regeneration which they find in their own experience. This, except in rare cases, can never lead to the assurance of hope. We may examine our hearts with all the microscopic care prescribed by President Edwards in his work on “The Religious Affections,” and never be satisfied that we have eliminated every ground of misgiving and doubt. The grounds of assurance are not so much within, as without us. They are, according to Scripture, (1.) The universal and unconditional promise of God that those who come to Him in Christ, He will in no wise cast out; that whosoever will, may take of the water of life without money and without price. We are bound to be assured that God is faithful and will certainly save those who believes (2.) The infinite, immutable, and gratuitous love of God. In the first ten verses of the fifth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, and in the eighth chapter of that epistle from the thirty-first verse to the end, the Apostle dwells on these characteristics of the love of God, as affording an immovable foundation of the believer’s hope.
    http://www.ccel.org/ccel/hodge/theology3.iii.ii.viii.html

    And it comes back to the matter of how we act in the light of the confession that God owes us nothing.

    Grace and Peace to you, Michael. Grace and Peace.

  14. >On that point, I return to a promise that belief itself, in this barren world of ours, is a miracle of God’s own creation. The seed of faith is planted by the very God that we reject in our disbelief. This is part of His gracious dealings with those He has made for Himself, and is surely among the greatest mysteries. Yet, for those who believe–and still doubt–it contains a hope. And I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6) If faith is the work of God in the life of those who believe, it exists and triumphs, in spite of the doubts that continue throughout our human journey.

    >Because of this, we can be honest about our doubts and be grateful and unashamed of our faith. Perhaps among Christians who are unafraid to say that they sometimes tremble in uncertainty, there will grow a more beautiful and authentic faith. Let the wheat and tares grow together, Jesus said, until the day of judgment. So our belief and our worst fears grow together, until the time when God Himself harvests the faith that He has planted.

    I truly cannot imagine what more one can say.