Hey guys! I know there are plenty of resources out there, esp. good ones from BioLogos, regarding this question but I think I have a different spin on it. Over the last few months I’ve been overcome with a lot of doubt concerning the truthfulness of Christianity. So as someone who already believes in Christianity and evolutionary creationism, I find myself wandering into doubt. Questions like: If evolution is true, if we have natural explanations, why do we need God? If this is out of bounds for the forum, that’s fine! But if you have any thoughts or encouragement, I would greatly appreciate it!
Good for you for reaching out – this post is absolutely in line with the types of questions and concerns this forum is here for. I get where you’re coming from as I’ve had to rethink aspects of faith since becoming convinced of EC. I don’t think doubt is something terrible, but it can be good to put a name to the doubts and bring them out into the open.
I think the question you ask can bring up another question: Does God serve a purpose beyond creating us? I don’t know what tradition you’re coming from, but much young-earth rhetoric implies or outright says that evolution would falsify Christianity if true – which I don’t think is true, but it makes it worth asking why that would supposedly be the case. Does a natural explanation for the water cycle mean that God has no power over the rain or other forms of weather? Does the field of psychology render the Holy Spirit impotent to guide and influence us? I see all of our study and potential answers as just a drop in the bucket compared to what an infinite God is capable of.
I’m sure others will chime in with their own observations, but I think we need God for the same reason a child needs a parent – the world is broken, but God is redeeming and unwinding the brokenness and sin all around us, and when we follow Jesus we have the chance to be a part of that.
Thanks for this, Elle!
I’m coming from a reformed (SBC) baptist background. It’s funny since I’m no longer reformed (as I stated in an older post). I guess I have questions beyond the scope of the discussion board (I’m assuming that). Questions concerning the problem of evil, the different religions in the world, and a lack of experience in my life concerning Jesus, why is my life so ordinary (i use that in the best possible way. I love the life I live!) if I claim to follow Jesus and am filled by the spirit?
Why does life between Christians, different religions, and non-theists look the same in day-to-day life, with the same troubles, obstacles, etc? What if we’ve made it all up, a sort of god-of-the-gaps understanding? How can I trust that the resurrection occurred? How are we not simply assuming our conclusions when we make arguments for these things we hold closest and most passionately?
I recognize that’s a lot! At the base level, I’m wanting to be near to God and for him to fulfill his side of the promise of James 4:8, that God will draw near to those who draw near to him. I don’t know what that sounds, smells, tastes, etc. like. My faith has been an intellectual one and one that, for a long time, looked at emotions negatively. So, because of the hurt I’ve undergone and the changes I’ve undergone over the last two years, I’m looking for a new paradigm for faith in Christ and I’m simply at a point where intellectual matters haven’t sustained me and now I’m missing the “heart” aspect of the greatest command. I long to be near to Christ, to honor God, by the spirit. But, these questions and lack of nearness feel like massive enemies.
That reminds me of my time at seminary. I decided to leave my pet issue (creation) aside and focus on other questions. That led to many papers on when God appears to behave badly (such as the conquest accounts), how God reveals things to people, and – recurrently – hell. (I often refer to my time at seminary as four years of hell, and I really enjoyed it there!)
So to a subset of your questions, here’s one way I’ve come to look at things (some of this comes from one of those papers). Why is there no silver bullet that shows Christianity to be true? Why, as many psalmists and other biblical authors state, does God so often seem hidden? Perhaps to leave us in a forgivable state of ignorance. I go back to Jesus stretched out on the cross, fighting for his last breaths. He looks at the people who’ve done this and says, “Father, forgive them! They don’t know what they’re doing.” And maybe he isn’t just thinking of the soldiers and jeering crowds. Maybe this is his conclusion after living thirty-odd years in a world messed up by greed and hate and pride. Jesus saw how people lived, their habitual ruts and blindness to a different way. His conclusion? “They don’t have a clue, so let’s forgive them!”
God’s hiddenness is a grace that prevents utilitarian obedience and limits how badly we can mess up. We can’t simply choose God’s way because it obviously leads to the most rewards. It takes faith and hope to follow God, not just an ability to follow a string of logic. When we choose our own way instead, our lack of sure knowledge of God limits how far we can rebel. By speaking in whispers rather than indisputable declarations, God limits our culpability. Because of all this, we’re not beyond forgiveness or grace when we die and face Jesus.
According to Hebrews 9:27, it’s appointed for all to die and face judgement. Not die and hear the verdict, though I was taught to read it that way, seeing the “judgement” after death as only a ceremonial regurgitation of a judgement already made. But what if judgement really does come after death? What if everyone faces Jesus and finally sees him as he truly is? Then this world will have prepared us for that encounter, perhaps even settled the disposition we’ll have during it, but it certainly won’t be obvious to us how any other person will act at such a point. We don’t know who will plead for mercy. We don’t know who will consent to the divine surgery necessary to cleave from their being the malignancy that cannot enter the new creation and who will insist on cleaving to that malignacy by calling it “me”.
In this light, the lack of clarity in this world isn’t as big of a problem, and God’s not monstrous for allowing it. But I know it also raises many more questions and perhaps even more doubts. But maybe it also makes the process of voicing doubts and inspecting them a bit less terrible.
Welcome, Austin, to the Form where almost every participant has found a measure of ‘Truth’ but is, nevertheless, assailed at times with 'Doubt’. When the Jewish elders brought Jesus before the Roman governor for justice, Pilate (quite sensibly) asked: “What IS Truth”? We shouldn’t blame Pilate for not being sure about a concept that is still in doubt some two millennia later: the full truthfulness of Christianity. Perhaps God is the only Mind that fully comprehends that concept. Nevertheless, the search itself is definitely worthwhile, especially since it often gives the searcher a sense of Purpose and Meaning that imparts happiness to a life on Earth that otherwise might be considered an Exile from a Garden of Eden.
IMHO we need to carefully examine all the nuances of words found in Scripture that lead to life-directing conclusions; e.g. the passage in Genesis where God pronounces the early steps of creation as “Good” or Very Good". But if interpreted as “Perfect”, and the World we now live in is definitely NOT PERFECT, then we must give the words redeemer and savior a decidedly different connotation.
Elle’s quotation certainly expresses the Christian Truth that has been the most widely accepted based on a dogma of Original Sin that spoiled the Perfection. But the Truth of Evolution strongly supports a Creation that never went through a stage of perfection. This, basically, is what led Teilhard de Chardin to propose that Christian Truth should emphasize Original Blessing rather than Original Sin; that the evolution of Mind from brain in Homo sapiens and the freedom it confers on humanity to choose to rise above the selfishness of its animal roots was a precious Gift. Prior to that Gift there was no such thing as Morality, and therefore no Sin. But an intrinsic part of that Gift was the potential of becoming Images of our Creator. Jesus showed us that this is humanly possible and has shown us the way. This is the way I seem Him as Savior and Redeemer.
Austin, my method of ‘searching’ may not work out for you as it has for me, but I hope and pray that you will persevere in a search that makes you comfortable with your purpose in life.
To live a life different from the rest, involves giving up on any selfishness. Humans operate on selfishness. That is how we are programmed to avoid phenomenon that would hurts us or cause us to hurt others. We allow ourselves to be placed under human government, and local communities that as a whole look out for our wellbeing. But the end result of human selfishness is emptiness. Even the most success and fulfillment a human can achieve leaves only emptiness. Changing who we are is not just turning our will over to just any one or purpose with their own selfish agenda. Nor is it trying to be like God to satisfy God’s selfish desires.
Allowing God to control us is not any different than allowing human government to control us. Nor is the purpose necessarily to make us perfect beings, a standard which may be out of our ability, and thus resulting in a state of failure worse than the one we are trying to avoid. The reason we trust God over humans, is because humans will fail us. The main reason is that God knows the beginning and the end of our lives, and will help us get through the hard times. That and the promise when we are obedient to God, it will not be for our glory. It will be for God’s glory to be seen by others. This representative aspect will have different results for everyone we have contact with in our lives. Some will resent God, some will be drawn to God. We may never even known what such influences may result in. That is ok, because God is eternal. The results of being “God” in the world are eternal. Obeying God has nothing to do with God being selfish, nor are we being selfish. Representing God has nothing to do with telling people what to do, or even what to change in their lives. It is the ministry of God’s Holy Spirit that may or may not be evidenced in this life, but will have eternal consequences. I realize we want to live perfection in the here and now. If that is accomplished it is not really success. It is a bonus above what we should actually expect. It is a paradox, and intuitively contradictory to what we as humans do expect out of life. But it is Faith realized, not just a hope we can even have faith.
As Laura said, those are great questions. I think the unwillingness of many church traditions to openly acknowledge doubt and address it has been detrimental to the faith. I have enjoyed and learned a lot from Peter Enns writings on doubt (his book The Sin of Certainty is worth reading)
Doubt is certainly not a new idea, voiced by many in the Bible, voiced by many icons of the faith, and in this hymn penned in 1757
O to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be!
Let Thy goodness, like a fetter,
Bind my wandering heart to Thee.
Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it,
Prone to leave the God I love;
Here’s my heart, O take and seal it,
Seal it for Thy courts above.
This verse of the hymn is perhaps the most deeply felt by most, and certainly by myself. While you may have to deconstruct old ideas to get to bedrock, just remember the reconstruct your faith on that solid rock.
First of all, I could not believe in Christianity without evolution. I find the problem of evil and suffering to be a devastating argument against the existence of God just because of the shear quantity and indiscriminate nature of the many sources of evil and suffering in the world. But evolution makes the worst of this fall apart because it shows that God is not in the role of a designer. We are what we are not because God made us that way but because we evolved and learned to be this way and God’s role is that of a shepherd, parent, or teacher, not a designer.
In fact, it leads one to take a closer look at the very nature of life and realize that design is the ONLY difference between a living organism and a machine. That which is designed exists for an end - the purpose for which it is designed, and that is what it means to be a tool. But a child is very different, created as an end in itself. And the fact is that life does not serve any useful function for a tool. Why would anyone want a tool with free will doing things for its own reasons? Automation and robotics are vastly superior to life for any tool. So the very fact of creating life, points to a very different motivation on the part of God.
And I should say that I am an avid support of abiogenesis also and I think a working theory of this is not far in the future. Life is a highly quantitative self-organizing process and not some magical stuff added to matter. I believe it is in fact the whole reason for the existence of the physical universe and its mathematical natural laws, because they are all necessary for the very process of life itself.
But is this really the reason why we believe in God? Since when has God really offered any explanations of anything? Perhaps it is even like a quantum physicist visiting a kindergarten class? What can he even say that is going to make sense to any of them? Perhaps the best he can do is encourage them to ask questions and investigate the answers because explanations really have to ultimately come from them as the grow and learn. Perhaps the real role of God is the one God has actually had in the development of science and that is an expectation there are reasons to be found for things – so that we would even have a reason to ask the question why at all.
I should say, however, that I don’t think a belief in God is good thing for everyone. So I am certainly not trying to get you to believe in God as a matter of desperation. Clearly, I do not believe in a God who intends to send people to hell for not believing He exists, let alone for having doubt. Doubt and questions are a necessity for mental health. So by all means seek the answer which is best for you personally.
The question of God, Creation and Evil has troubled many people of good conscience over the centuries, and the subject matter is often difficult to understand. I have found a paper by Hart on this to be helpful, and I have added a lengthy quote that is interesting:
“It is not merely peculiarity of personal temperament that prompts Tertullian to speak of the saved relishing the delightful spectacle of the destruction of the reprobate, or Peter Lombard and Thomas Aquinas to assert that the vision of the torments of the damned will increase the beatitude of the redeemed (as any trace of pity would darken the joys of heaven), or Luther to insist that the saved will rejoice to see their loved ones roasting in hell. All of them were simply following the only poor thread of logic they had to guide them out of a labyrinth of impossible contradictions; the sheer enormity of the idea of a hell of eternal torment forces the mind toward absurdities and atrocities. Of course, the logical deficiencies of such language are obvious: After all, what is a person other than a whole history of associations, loves, memories, attachments, and affinities? Who are we, other than all the others who have made us who we are, and to whom we belong as much as they to us? We are those others. To say that the sufferings of the damned will either be clouded from the eyes of the blessed or, worse, increase the pitiless bliss of heaven is also to say that no persons can possibly be saved: for, if the memories of others are removed, or lost, or one’s knowledge of their misery is converted into indifference or, God forbid, into greater beatitude, what then remains of one in one’s last bliss? Some other being altogether, surely: a spiritual anonymity, a vapid spark of pure intellection, the residue of a soul reduced to no one. But not a person—not the person who was. But the deepest problem is not the logic of such claims; it is their sheer moral hideousness.”
God, Creation, and Evil:
The Moral Meaning of creatio ex nihilho
David Bentley Hart
I can relate to this… I know Baptists are diverse, but I have often experienced varying levels of suspicion toward anything that seems “emotional,” which can often result in faith that leans too far toward being a matter of intellectual assent. I know it’s more complex than that, but yes, the intellect alone cannot sustain a healthy faith. I appreciate that God doesn’t treat us like robots and has made humans with diverse measures of emotional expressiveness and intellectual curiosity – I think a lot of the Christian walk involves watching and learning from those close to us who are going in the same direction, which makes it sometimes messy, and I am often very averse to messiness. I can second the recommendation to some of Pete Enns’ writings, even though I don’t personally agree with all his views or conclusions. His blog is pretty accessible if you aren’t able to get a copy of his books. I also really appreciate musician Andrew Peterson – he has so much focus on redemption and his music has a depth to it that has many times helped “remind” me of why I believe. Blessings as you sort these things out – you aren’t alone.
I can understand from where you come from. I tend to take a more intellectual view towards faith while i’m open towards emotional/spiritual experiences/encounters to faith due to me having both a Methodist and Charismatic background. I feel we need to have a good balance of the both as God want’s us to have a personal intimate relationship with Him while at the same time He wants us to “reason with Him”. Doubt should never bee seen as a negative and be seen as the building up of muscles, though it may hurt now it will build up your faith for later. I still have boggling questions about God and EC since my departure from YEC months ago and since I have taken a critical hermeneutical view of Scripture (mostly the Old Testament) it makes me wonder why God did and allowed all the things that took place in the OT. We are all on the same journey and we all need each other’s help and to lift each other up when these questions seem to hit us out of no where (I know many have wacked me a lot recently) What we need to remind ourselves is that God is Sovereign and has has a plan since the start of creation and all things are playing out according to His Will and we can rest assured that God will win in the end of all this chaos.
I know it can be very intimidating (as a fellow born and raised Baptist who has similar struggles finding my heart and loosing my passion) to admit that there are spiritual needs that reading another book or doing a Bible study can’t meet. I also came to a point in life where I realized that knowing God was not at all the same thing as knowing truths about God and knowing truths about God is not love.
I will pray for you; that God meets you in your sincere desire to experience his presence and power. I love how the NLT translates Ephesians 3:14-18:
When I think of all this, I fall to my knees and pray to the Father, the Creator of everything in heaven and on earth. I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit. Then Christ will make his home in your hearts as you trust in him. Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God.
It is a comfort to me to know that since the very beginning of the church, people have needed this prayer. I love how organic and experiential and free of striving the imagery is.
I am such an intellectual person that it is pretty much inevitable that my faith will always be mostly an intellectual one. But my approach to emotions was a bit different than yours has been. Instead of looking on them negatively, I have always considered them part of the data along with everything else to be considered. Or take the highly religious behavior of the vast majority of humanity. Does it really make sense to simply dismiss all that as stupid and unimportant simply because it doesn’t fit into some rigid rational system of thought, or is that also part of the data along with everything else to be considered in understanding reality? To give you an example of how I do that… is it not easy to observe the diversity of human thinking in religion? For many that just becomes a reason for dismissal, but not for me. For me it suggest the possibility that there is a subjective aspect of reality which is not the same for everybody – that dreams, beliefs, and desires are a part of reality too – the spiritual portion of reality.
Thank you! I love Andrew Peterson and my wife and I have ended up in a very good Anglican Church. Were excited by it.
Interesting. Yeah, I’m not sure. I was taught that emotions were negative so I’m having to rework that myself!
Thank you for the reminder that it’s about building muscle. I like that
That’s the most difficult part. Tearing down the old paradigms and reconstructing. But not sure how to do that. But yes. It must be built on Christ.
Thank you very much. It is felt and appreciated!
I had a pretty rough last two years. I would listen to Andrew Peterson’s We Will Survive on repeat sometimes, because that was right about where I was at. I cannot underestimate the importance of other people’s faith when my own spiritual and emotional resources were exhausted. We really do need other Christians to look us in the eye when things are hard and hopeless and tell us again all the things we are forgetting and hold for us all the things we just can’t hold onto ourselves at the moment. I hope you find a real life community of grace like that where you can lean on the faith of others while all those broken straight lines are healing. And you can come share your musings here with us any time.
Thanks for your warmth, encouragement, and kindness!