Faith and Doubt
What is Faith?
“There is no way the Bible can be accurate!” Do you really expect me to believe that Jesus came back to life after he died? Give me a break!” Comments such as these can cause one to doubt his faith. Doubt can lead someone to think he has become an unbeliever because he has lost his faith. There is nothing wrong with “honest” doubt. There are some things that doubt is not.
1) Doubt is not skepticism. While there is nothing wrong with honest doubt, there is much wrong with “dishonest doubt,” which is nothing more than skepticism. Skepticism is simply the willful decision to doubt everything deliberately, virtually rejecting what is highly probable.
2) Doubt is not unbelief. Unbelief is the decision not to have faith, which is a far cry from what doubt is. Doubt may amount to nothing more than difficulty in understanding something. There is no reason to feel guilty about honest doubt. Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. However, faith and unbelief are mutually exclusive.
Everyone has some sort of faith. Even a die-hard atheist has faith that there is no God. They may not think of it as faith, but the fact that no one has “proved” the non-existence of God means that they accept their belief in no God by faith.
The Atheist would challenge our faith by saying ours is not a reasonable faith because there is nothing to substantiate it. We will look at evidence that demonstrates that not only is our faith reasonable, it is the most likely probability.
I do want to make a point before continuing. People rarely come to faith with resolved doubts. Francis Bacon said, “If you start with total certainty, you will end up with doubt, but if you start with doubt, you will end up with certainty.” Faith is not going to be faith solely because of the evidence we will be looking at. Notice the following passage:
“Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb 11:1).”
Our faith is not based on the ability to prove or disprove. If we could prove 100% that our belief is true, then our faith would no longer be faith. So when we engage in a defense of our faith, we are showing “evidence” that our faith is “reasonable.” However, the bottom line is that we accept our Lord by faith.
Our faith comes from hearing, not necessarily from proving (Rom 10:17). While proving can remove obstacles to faith and strengthen it, faith is ultimately a decision. The Greek word for faith carries the idea of trust and obedience. James discusses this in James 2:19. Real faith is not merely mental assent, or even acceptance of some facts. It is an active trust in our Lord.
Next, we will look at how to handle doubt, and then look at evidence for the reasonableness of our faith.
Dealing with Doubt
“I’m not sure that I’m really a Christian.” “I don’t think God is close to me.” “How could God love someone like me?” “Does God really care?” Doubts similar to these have probably surface in your life from time to time. Praise God! If you are still here and worshipping God, then Satan has not snatched you away!
Wrestling with doubt will not lead you away from God, but giving in or ignoring it will. Remember that our faith is strengthened by testing, but is not the result of it. Faith is the "assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things unseen, (Heb 11:1)," not the conviction of things proven. Otherwise, faith would no longer be faith. “We walk by faith, not by sight (2 Cor 5:7).” Yet, there will still be doubts to struggle with. So here are some suggestions for dealing with doubt.
1. Rely on the promises of God and not on your own feelings. God told Joshua to “Be strong and courageous! Do no tremble or be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go (Josh 1:9).” “Cease striving and know that I am God (Ps 46:10).” When you experience doubts, remember that God has promised forgiveness of sins (1 Jn 1:9), to stand by us in our life (Jn 10:28; Mt 28:20), and an inheritance (1 Jn 2:25). As a matter in fact, God has given us a pledge, or “collateral” for it (Eph 1:13-14) and even put himself under oath (Heb 6:17)!
Another word about emotions. You may have felt very close to God when you became a Christian, but may not feel God is not close any more. Psalms 42. deals with the same problem. Notice how the Psalmist acknowledges God is still there even though he doesn’t feel like it. So do not trust in your emotions, they have a tendency to be very fickle. Trust in the promises of God (Heb 11:1 – 12:2)!
2. Realize that popular reaction has no bearing on right or wrong. Most who reject Christianity have not thought about it deeply or investigated it. Many people base their rejection on misunderstanding. Their rejection does not nullify the truth of the Gospel. Truth is truth whether people accept it or not. It is good to remember the Parable of the Soils in Mark 4. The seed did not always grow, but the problem was the soil, not the seed. Likewise, if God’s truth is not popular today, it is not because truth has ceased to be truth, but merely that people are not accepting it.
3. Don’t be preoccupied with your doubts. Preoccupation with doubt places your focus on yourself rather than God. It is like an attention seeking child, demanding more and more attention as it grows. If you feed your doubt, it can become skepticism and unbelief. So don’t get preoccupied with it.
4. Learn to nourish and feed your faith, rather than your doubt. Read and meditate on God (Ps 119:148), keep a spiritual diary and a prayer journal. Read devotional classics and other material that will help stimulate your thinking. Your faith will become rock solid if you feed and nourish it with God’s word.
The Existence of God
“The Heavens declare the glory of God, and their expanse shows his handy-work (Psalm 19:1).” “...because that which is known about God is evident within them; for God made it evident to them . . . being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse (Rom 1:20-21).”
These scriptures point out the evidence for a creator. Why does something exist instead of nothing? The axiom that every effect has a cause leads you back to an original cause, which we believe is the God of the Bible.
But it is not merely the existence of matter that declares the glory of God. The intricate, orderly, beautiful design of our world points to evidence of a designer. It would be absurd to assume that this computer I am sitting in front of came into existence randomly, or by a “big bang.” That would be like saying this computer came together in perfect working order as the result of truck getting into a bad wreck that was carrying electronic parts.
To give you an idea of the delicate, intricacies of order in our world, consider these two examples from our own human bodies.
1. The circulatory system of the human body is longer than the U.S. railroad system (60,000 to 100,000 miles). Yet the heart pumps the exact amount of blood needed which is five quarts a minute. If there is a breach, the blood clots to stop the leak. Pretty ingenious.
2. A single human DNA is a micro cell with all the “blueprint” for a particular person encoded on it. It contains information on every single part of your body, including hair color, facial features, etc. All 13 billion cells in your body has the same DNA, and your DNA is like no one else’s which is what makes you unique from others. If the sequence in your DNA were to be written down, it would fill every page of every volume of 40 sets of Encyclopedia Britannica!
There are many other examples, such as the amount of oxygen in our atmosphere, the rotation of the earth, the distance of the earth from the sun, etc., but you get the idea. There is evidence of an intelligent designer in our universe. The odds of the world happening by chance are preposterous. Take this mathmatical lesson in odds: In a jar are 99 black marbles and 1 white one. The odds of getting the white marble out randomly are: 1st try – 1 out of 100; 2nd try – 1 out of 10,000; 3rd try – 1 out of 1,000,000!
When you consider the sheer number of variables involved in making our world work, it becomes obvious that our world did not come into being by chance. To say that the world happened by chance is as ridiculous as saying that Webster’s Unabridged Dictionary is a result of an explosion at a print factory! As the passage above has said, God has made himself evident through his creation.
The Reliability of the Bible
Is the Bible the word of God? Is it reliable and free of errors? These are questions that may enter the mind of Christians as they are challenged by skeptics with the credibility of the Bible. Where does the burden of proof lie? Skeptics act as if the Bible is guilty until proven innocent. Claims made by skeptics are typically unwarranted, have little or no evidence, and are filled with presupposition despite claims of neutrality.
Skeptics often attack the accuracy of the Bible. They claim that the Bible is filled with thousands of errors due to centuries of hand copying. Therefore, the question of Biblical inspiration is moot because we can’t even know what the original manuscripts of the Bible actually said (so they say).
While it is true that the Bible is an old, hand copied document, the claims of the skeptics are grossly exaggerated. Skeptics typically do not take into account that manuscripts are part of a “family tree.” Several copies would be made from a manuscript, and years later, one of the copies may be used to make more, and so on. This forms a “family tree” of manuscripts. Scholars call these “text types.” The following is a visual illustration of a manuscript family tree.
Claims of countless errors in the Bible do not take this into account. Take the following example: The book of Galatians is printed on a printing press. A spelling error is made. The first printing was in 1977. The error is discovered and corrected in the 2nd printing in 1984. Even if you didn’t know which printing a book belonged to, you can trace which printing it came from by any errors it contains (if there are any) because they would be duplicated in that printing.
Now, lets say you printed 15,000 copies of Galatians, and spelled it “Galotians.” Would it be fair to say that you have ONE error, or 15,000 errors? There is only one error, but it is duplicated 15,000 times in that “generation” of the family tree. So there are actually fewer errors that what skeptics claim.
While there are various types of errors, the nature of the errors do not obscure the meaning. What if a sentence said, “Jesus Christ is the Sun of God.” Even though there is an error in this sentence, it does not obscure the meaning of the text. You can compare it to manuscripts further up the family tree, or from another branch in the family tree and clearly see that it should say “Son.”
Furthermore, we know what and were the errors are. We are not in total darkness. There are over 15,000 manuscripts in existence of all or portions of the Bible. With such a huge number of manuscripts to compare, the Bible is by far the most accurate ancient document in existence.
Why Does God Allow Evil?
Why did she have to get cancer? Why did he have die in that horrible wreck? Of all people, why did that stray bullet hit my baby?
Wrestling with the presence of evil and suffering is perhaps the greatest and only "serious" challenge that can topple a believer’s faith.
There are really two sides to this challenge, the rational and the emotional. The rational is easier to deal with than the emotional because it deals with reason in light of scripture. However, coming to a satisfactory and logical conclusion may do little to help with the emotional side of the challenge. This is a difficult issue, so I cannot deal with it effectively in an article. The emotional side needs more than paper and ink. It needs a human touch.
However, I can offer some minute help by way of the rational side of the issue here. How can you reconcile the existence of such great evil in the world with the existence of our God who is all-good, loving, powerful, and knowing? As we approach September 11, this question may become even more acute.
One common explanation is that God gave humans free will which came with an unavoidable price tag. That price tag is evil. This is perhaps the most common explanation for the problem of evil and suffering, but I believe it is inadequate.
This assumes that God could not avoid the entrance of evil and suffering into the world when he gave humans free will. Is this true? Was he really between a rock and a hard place on this? If it is true that God could not avoid evil, then it appears God was not completely in control, and that is a scary thought.
I do not believe that evil and suffering was an unavoidable consequence of free will. You can avoid evil by limiting choices and circumstances that lead to evil. As parents, we do this with our small children. We don’t place sharp knives, poisonous chemicals, and other dangers than can kill them close to the floor and then tell them to stay out of it. Instead, we put them out of reach.
Did God put the tree of knowledge of good and evil out of reach? No, the text tells us it was in the "middle of the garden (Gen 3:3)." Was evil unavoidable? God could have chosen not to put the tree in the garden. He could have kept the serpent out of the garden, but he didn’t. God intentionally allowed all of this to happen. It was not out of his control. The same is true in the case of Job. God allowed Satan to afflict Job (Job 1:12). There is no question that God could have chosen to prevent the calamity that came on Job and his family. It is also clear that what happened to Job was not because Job was evil or wicked. Job didn’t choose the way of wickedness then pay the price for it. The text describes his as "blameless, upright, fearing God and turning away from evil (Job 1:1)."
So why did God allow evil in the world? The Bible gives a partial answer to this question.
Can God Work Through Evil?
So why does God intentionally allow evil as in the case of Job? This is not a question that the Bible answers fully. However, the Bible does give us some insights into the question. God says he himself is . . .
"The One forming light and creating darkness, Causing well-being and creating calamity; I am the Lord who does all these (Isa 45:7)."
So we should avoid the temptation to defend God by not laying any responsibility at his feet for calamity. Job’s friends vehemently defended God, not wishing to lay any of the evil that befell Job at God’s feet. However, from our vantage point as readers, we can see that God intentionally allowed Satan to afflict Job. In the end, they had spoken wrongly of God.
Even brutal, wicked Assyria’s attacks on Israel demonstrate that God is behind calamity. God refers to Assyria as, "the rod of my anger and the staff in whose hands is My indignation (Isa 10:5)." These texts clearly indicate that God is responsible for both well-being and calamity.
This seems to contradict passages such as Psalm 34:8 which says, "O taste and see that the Lord is good." If he is good, why does he create calamity? Unlike eastern religions that deny the existence of evil and suffering by claiming them to be illusions, the Bible teaches that God uses calamity and suffering.
"… the Lord your God has led you … testing you, to know what was in your heart, …He humbled you and let you be hungry, and fed you with manna … that he might make you understand that man does not live by bread alone, but by everything that proceeds out of the mouth of the Lord … the Lord your God was disciplining you just as a man disciplines his son. (Dt 8:2-5)."
All of the discomfort in the wilderness was not without some purpose. God always has a purpose in suffering. We see this in Paul as well.
"... to keep me from exalting myself, there was given me a thorn in the flesh, a messenger of Satan to torment me-- Concerning this I implored the Lord three times that it might leave me. And He has said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for power is perfected in weakness. (2 Cor 12:7-9)."
Most believers understand that God uses difficulties for our good. God disciplines his children as a father, and we all understand that discipline is about training, not punishment. Good and bad children alike receive discipline from good fathers, and eventually learn self-discipline.
However, the difficulty many have is not that we suffer evil and calamity. Often, the difficulty comes when it is excessive. Just as it is senseless (and illegal) to punish a child excessively, it sometimes seems senseless when the Lord‘s discipline is excessive. What are we to do when the difficulties we face don’t make sense?
Our Response to Evil & Suffering
Okay, I can deal with the fact that we suffer the consequences for our mistakes. I can also deal with the fact that the Lord disciplines us for our good. But this – this is too much!
Does this sound familiar? What in the world did those kids in Jonesboro, or at Columbine do to deserve that? What did all those people who went to work September 11 last year in Manhattan do to warrant what happened to them? What about those faithful Christians in other parts of the world who are being tortured, whose families are ripped apart, who suffer daily because of their faith in God. Indeed, the same could even be said for Job. In Job 1, we can see that it was Job’s uprightness that led to the events that shattered his life.
It is easy to talk about this question on an intellectual level. We can find answers that seem to fit. However, it is not unusual for those answers to not quite be enough when an extreme tragedy disrupts your life. How do you respond? The following story illustrates an answer to this question.
Several years ago, a faithful and upright young couple lost their only child in a senseless accident. In anguish they asked why? How could God allow such a thing to happen? Why didn’t he stop it? They asked the preacher. He said it was God’s will. They then asked an elder. He said that it was a bad tragedy. They talked to their Bible class teacher. He said that God needed their son, so he took him. They asked a theologian from a nearby theological school. He explained to them at some length that God can use every event in a person’s life for good. He even cited numerous scriptures. None of these answers seemed adequate. Surely someone had an answer. In a last ditch effort, they asked an aging widow in the congregation why this happened. She simply took those two young people into her arms, and they all cried together.
"Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep (Rom 12:15)."
Job’s friends came to sit with him and comfort him. It wasn’t until they opened their mouth in chapter four that things began to go downhill. Sometimes the best thing to do is simply weep with those who weep, and realize we do not have the complete picture.