Christians and doubt

It seems relatively common to hear “It’s okay to doubt.” But is it really.
 

 


*from “Ode to Sovereign Grace” by Christopher Ness

I don’t think it makes sense to conflate doubt with unbelief. If I were truly an unbeliever then there would be nothing to doubt in the first place.

Also, doubt can have many objects. I can doubt whether the Bible is truly inerrant. I can doubt whether a flood literally covered the entire globe all at once. I can also doubt the existence of God, but these doubts are not all at the same level. By making “doubt” into some kind of sin, you’re more likely to simply get less honesty from people, and inner shame that can’t be talked about with anyone for fear of being labeled a “doubter.” It can also contribute to an “all or nothing” mentality, whereby someone who is plagued with doubt may simply come to the conclusion that they don’t belong to God and leave just because they couldn’t honestly display a perfect level of faith to everyone. God knows our frame – he knows we’re dust. That’s why we need Jesus. Not because we’ve managed to seal off our brains into a purely doubt-free environment.

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Good points. But the doubt referred to in the Spurgeon piece is pretty specific, i.e., doubting the faithfulness of God. If he is truly a Christian’s Father in heaven… On the other hand, easy believism and a false or rote faith should lead to doubt?

So more of a “I believe in God but I’m not sure he really loves me” sort of doubt?

They might be more likely to – but that still doesn’t mean that doubt = false faith.

It can! But it may also mean that doubt = an uninformed or immature faith. (Children can have more mature faiths than some adults.) It’s not sinful to ask for reassurances, and God promises us trials to test our faith!

You’ve seen this before, from the end of Keller’s book:

During a dark time in her life, a woman in my congregation complained that she had prayed over and over, “God, help me find you,” but had gotten nowhere. A Christian friend suggested to her that she might change her prayer to, “God, come and find me. After all, you are the Good Shepherd who goes looking for the lost sheep.” She concluded when she was recounting this to me, “The only reason I can tell you this story is – he did.”

Tim Keller, *The Reason for God *, p.240

 
This too:

 
And I love this:

(Recall that Jesus rebuked the disciples on Galilee, but maybe more for their fear than for their doubt.)

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(I think both. If a person doubts God exists, they will certainly doubt that he is their Father.)

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An important difference is between “help, I’m not sure!” and “yeah, right!” - is this a doubt that is asking and seeking, or one that is uninterested in investigating the question?

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Yes, thanks, good point, remaking the distinction between a professing Christian’s doubt and an unbeliever’s. It requires epistemic humility.

I see this differently. Honestly, in talking with many atheists, it’s they who have the humility in contrast to my own heritage.
Austin Fischer wrote in Faith In the Shadows, "

“People don’t abandon faith because they have doubts. People abandon faith because they think they’re not allowed to have doubts.”

Too often, our honest questions about faith are met with cold confidence and easy answers. But false certitude doesn’t result in strong faith—it results in disillusionment, or worse, in a dogmatic, overweening faith unable to see itself or its object clearly.

Thanks.

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Agreed. We all know about YECism’s epistemic humility, right? (And I presume that is the heritage you are referring to.)

But do you have any doubts about the existence of your biological father? Christians can have the same assurance about the existence of their heavenly Father. It is desirable(!), maybe necessary, and certainly available.
 


(Note my Oxford comma. ; - )

Jesus also says go and sin no more.
Jesus says if we love him he will obey him, which means living righteously.
The fruit of spirit is one thing and the fruit of the flesh is another.!

Yet everyone, since forever, sins.

So we can look at each other and say , “ they are imperfect and they have fruit of the flesh and therefore they are not truly Christians damning the whole planet or we can recognize no one is perfect. The paradigm should reflect reality.

So let’s say doubting is a sin. If doubting is a sin then we don’t need faith because we have undeniable evidence. But we don’t. Everyone on this planet doubts. Even if the lie about it. But there is nothing wrong with doubt. Doubt is a byproduct of faith. Faith is believing in the unknown. It is unknown because none of us have experienced otherwise.

Weaponizing a persons doubt into guilt tripping the for doing what everyone else does is a bad model in my experience. All it really does is shut down a real conversation.

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I have Wiccan friends. One of my Wiccan friends left out charms for her vegetable garden and it did really good. She said it’s because of the green man. They also believe in fairies. The believe that when you think you see something move outbox the corner of your eye but nothing is there it’s fairies. She did a fairy celebration and left a offering for them in hopes her mother’s surgery would go good and it went good. I called her one day to see if she wanted to go out and get some pizza and then come back we are going to watch some episodes of Sabrina together. She laughed because she said she was starving and broke waiting to get her first check to go out to eat and she just just wrote her wish on a rock and tossed it into a river the night before. She believes all of this is evidence of her mother , who she calls a earth goddesses and not her actual biological mother, listening to her. I hear similar stories from Muslims , Buddhists and other nature based religions.

None of their testimonies or evidence carries weight with me. Everytime we hang out we it’s talk about religion and so my Christian faith comes up as well as what I think is healthier doctrine. I well like it’s Yahweh always hang me to bless her in a time of need. I told her that one and well why does he only do it after she prays to her goddess then.

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I do doubt the existence of God; for good reason. I do not have the same experience of Him that I did with my father (more’s the pity).

I am concerned that we can guilt someone into saying they believe–when they have no proof.

I do believe that things will be clearer in the end.

In the meantime, I do have faith that if God exists, He knows exactly how we are made, and what our faith muscles can do.–and that He is not only fair, but loves us better than an earthly father. I do think that atheists that come to their conclusion through anguished reasoning and suffering will be the first to whom God will say, “Welcome home.” To those who serve without the ability to believe, He will say, “Well done!”

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Do you think that is what Spurgeon was doing, what I am doing?! Not at all! Every child should desire assurances! This faith is not simply an abstraction to be talked about. I wonder occasionally if my faith is weaker than some because I have third party verifiable evidences like Maggie and Rich Stearns did. The evidence does not have to be external, either. (Some have been posted here at BioLogos.) Phil Yancey’s experience* was not objectively observable by others, but it certainly was objective to him! (It wasn’t mere feelings nor opinion, but an observation of a spiritual reality, a principle that he finally recognized and acknowledged.)

And there’s this (I love the present continuous tense of the YLT):

He who is having my commands, and is keeping them, that one it is who is loving me, and he who is loving me shall be loved by my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him.
John 14:21

 


*Where the Light Fell: A Memoir (Not a fun read, but very much to the point of coming out of a fundamentalist background.)

They come from him, like a heart of stone becoming one of flesh (with muscles). You cannot clench your teeth and fists, squeeze your eyes tight shut and force yourself, pretending you have faith muscles.
 

That hybrid between secular thinking and scripture might not grow.

Yet, there are studies in Harvard that some are able to have more faith than others. Autistic folks have more difficulty with religious faith, often, for example. Others who struggle with the problem of evil do, as well.

What does this mean? Is God not true and just? If He were not, would he be God?

I would not feel guilty about the Maggie and Stearns points of view.

I’m not surprised at all the he was in contact with other Christians who would want him to join them or World Vision, nor that he would be offered a contract before dropping his salary from $2 million to 0.5 million, nor that it would be a last minute pause before he made the final decision.

Many fundraisers allude to a miraculous connecting of the dots; some have more tendency to see this type of thinking than others do.

My family has been in World Vision for a long time (one was a Midwest director). Many involved in WV are sacrificial. I remember one my grandpa met, who literally only had one or two pairs of clothes, so he could donate more to others.

However, I struggle with the salary Mr Stearns got.

I give frequently to WV and think they do good work.

Thanks

Good points. I think it was Anne Lamott who said ““The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty.” I have at times thought that my faith would be somehow more “worthy” if I just got rid of doubt, but maybe doubt has helped me to get rid of certainty that attempted to codify my own versions of faith as some kind of absolute truth.

Same here – fatherhood is a beautiful metaphor but it can’t be an exact analogy without forcing us to pretend to know things we don’t know. But faith helps us in the here and now while we see through the glass darkly.

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Doubt is awfully difficult.

What do you think of Randal Rauser’s thought?

If you want a simple and effective way to identify a Christian apologist worth listening to, ask them to share their thoughts on the problem of evil. If they keep their discussion of the problem in the abstract and if they suggest that it is a problem easily solved, you should keep looking. But if they instead take the time to describe the agonizing depth and breadth of the problem, and if they recognize that the problem is such that some people reasonably find their way to non-belief, then that is likely an apologist worth heeding in other matters.

Thanks. I appreciate your thoughts on how we can help those with doubts and struggling with the problem of evil.

Coming to Terms with the Problem of Evil - Randal Rauser

Addendum: I certainly affirm that you and the others on this forum are very compassionate. However, I honestly struggle deeply with Spurgeon’s quote. Is he telling people with doubts to just try harder? Is he shaming them? Does this work?

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I’ve wondered too, but I cannot speak to how much he gave away nor to his heart in the matter. I doubt if you can either. (Nor am I claiming he was free from sin.)
 

There were other dots that you appear to be blurring subjectively and others maybe tinting?
 

Not to be justifying the disingenuous tactics by, say, some TV evangelists, some biases are correct.

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I’m trying to be a Christian realist. Will you hold it against me that I frequently weep during the evening news? To suggest at least indirectly that I am not aware of the depth of the problem of evil with your Rauser quote is… never mind.

Thanks.

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“Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.” -Colossians 4:6

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