Doubt. If Christian is honest, that is something we all have had in our Christian walk. Despite my readings in the past couple years on apologetics, which does not mean apologizing for our faith, but defending our faith, doubt still creeps in.
William Lane Craig shares a story in his book, Hard Questions, Real Answers about a student who came up to him after class one day and said, “How come everything you say confirms what my pastor taught?” Somewhat taken aback by this comment Dr. Craig replied, “Why shouldn’t it?” The questioning student replied, “Well, all the other professors in my department challenge my faith.” Craig replied, “Look, I don’t want to challenge your faith; I want to challenge your thinking. But I want to build up your faith.” 1
That is a significant insight into a teacher’s responsibility that I have been guilty of over looking at times. Having taught Jr. High for many years, I have enjoyed numerous meaningful conversations with students about a wide variety of topics. From politics to puberty, I have had opportunities to share my thoughts and beliefs with my students, which often were counter to what the world was teaching them.
As a young Christian, I can remember hearing that doubt is a good thing, it will strengthen your faith. Made sense to me at the time, but I have come to realize that doubt is not a good thing and it is something we need to struggle against. James 1:6 says, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.”
Certainly Thomas had doubts and Jesus told him to stop doubting. John 20:27, “Then He said to Thomas, ‘Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.’” When believers have doubts they need to share them with others and seek answers, this goes double for our youth in public schools or college who are engaged daily with the real world and its counter culture that undermines everything they are taught to believe in church. Those who instruct our youth need to be especially vigilant when occupied with young believers. Teachers need to be careful about raising questions in the form of instruction, but to always present solutions that will employ their minds, and strengthen their faith.
How does someone build their faith? If you define faith as Peter Boghossian, does it is not possible. He defines faith as belief without evidence. Or specifically as, “Pretending to know things you don’t know.” 2
Some Christians view faith as what you have when you don’t have evidence. You just ‘choose’ to believe even if you don’t have reasons, but faith is built by evidence, not the lack of it. As you learn more about the historicity, (historical evidence), of Christ and how testimony outside the Gospels add evidence to the person of Christ, your knowledge grows along with your faith. As archeology supports the historical record of scripture your knowledge increases along with your faith. John Lennox put it this way, “Indeed, faith is a response to evidence, not a rejoicing in the absence of evidence.” 3
Just the other day my wife and I viewed a DVD Film by John Christy titled, “My Week in Atheism”. I plan on watching it again and taking notes because many of the topics in the film raised questions that Christians might struggle with. The film is about two friends, one an atheist activist, (David Smalley), and the other a Christian apologist, (John Christy). Despite their opposite world views, the two of them have maintained a close friendship.
The movie explores both world views and attempts, (successfully I believe), to give the viewer a greater understanding of both the Christian and the atheist world views. Even more importantly, why they believe what they believe, and why their world views spill over into politics and create such tension between many atheists and Christians. This film is not about politics, but about moving beyond the rhetoric both sides often offer.
During one session, David asked the question about how an all powerful and loving God would allow a three year old girl to suffer a lengthy illness and then die of cancer. He asked this question because he knew a three year old girl who that actually happened to. In our own church, we have had families suffer such losses, or had children born with severe disabilities. In recent years, at least two families have lost both parents in the prime of their life. Parents who, on all accounts, were living for the Lord and faithful to Christ. For me personally, with my youngest daughter dealing with scoliosis and possibly facing surgery, asking God why and desiring an answer has now become personal.
The suffering we experience in this world is one of the greatest stumbling blocks to the Christian World view. Everyone can agree, if God was all knowing, then he would be aware of the suffering in our world. If God were all powerful, then he would be able to stop the suffering and evil that takes place in our world. If God was all loving, then he would want to do something about the evil he knows about, and is able to stop. Yet, evil and suffering exists in our world, so some conclude an all knowing, all powerful, and all loving God cannot exist. Many use this argument to claim, the God of the Bible does not exist. Philosophers and apologists know this as the ‘problem of evil’.
When addressing the problem of evil, it is important to recognize two difficulties. First is the emotional problem of evil, and the second is the intellectual problem of evil.
When someone has experienced a great loss, or is suffering in some way that causes them emotional and even physical stress, addressing the problem of evil from philosophical or intellectual direction often does more harm than good. It is in our nature, (granted some more than others), to physically console or embrace those who suffer. Many times words are not even exchanged, but just a physical closeness and willingness to share in the suffering, express empathy, is all that one can offer, and often, that is all that the one suffering would desire.
At a time of great loss or suffering, offering trite comments like, “God understands”, or “His ways are mysterious”, or “It is part of his plan we may never understand” do little or nothing to alleviate the pain, even when the person offering such condolences is deeply sincere. They are mistakenly offering an intellectual solution when none is asked for. The time to address the intellectual problem of evil is never when the loss is still causing emotional turmoil.
Often the person who has suffered the loss will, on their own time, bring up the problem of evil and share questions, doubts, frustration, and anger at God, with their close friends or family. It is at that time, friends can discuss the moral dilemma and possibility come to some kind of answer.
After hearing of the death of his wife, C.S. Lewis wrote, “The more we believe that God hurts only to heal, the less we can believe that there is any use in begging for tenderness. A cruel man might be bribed – might grow tired of his vile sport – might have a temporary fit of mercy, as an alcoholic have fits of sobriety. But suppose that what you are up against is a surgeon whose intentions are wholly good. The kinder and more conscientious he is, the more inexorably he will go on cutting. If he yielded to your entreaties, if he stopped before that operation was complete, all the pain up to that point would have been useless.” 4
If the aim of someone is to show that God and evil in the world cannot exist together, then the objector of God has to show that God does not have any moral reasons for permitting the evil we experience. Dinesh D’Souza shared this, “Carl Sagan helpfully suggests that in order to dispel all doubts about His existence, ‘God could have engraved the Ten Commandments on the moon.’ Pascal supplies a plausible reason for that he calls the hiddenness of God. Perhaps, he writes, God wants to hide Himself from those who have no desire to encounter Him while revealing Himself to those whose hearts are open to Him. If God were to declare Himself beyond our ability to reject Him, then He would be forcing Himself on us.” 5
- Craig, William L. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print
- Boghossian, Peter. A Manual For Creating Atheists. Durham: Pitchstone Publishing, 2013. Print
- Lennox, John. God’s Undertaker. Oxford: Lion Books, 2009. Print
- Craig, William L. Hard Questions Real Answers. Wheaton: Crossway, 2003. Print
- D’Souza, Dinesh. What’s So Great About Christianity. Carol Stream: Tyndale House, 2007. Print