Thoughts on Doubting Faith

DoubtAt some point or another, almost everyone who claims to follow any systematized faith or tradition of any sort will be faced with doubts. Doubts about the truthfulness of their beliefs. Doubts about the applicability what their claims. Doubts about thinking they way that they think. Today I want to briefly offer some thoughts on doubting faith, how to think about those doubts, and what to do about them.

First, we need to realize that there is nothing inherently wrong or problematic about doubting faith. Thinking about one’s faith indicates a commitment to that system of beliefs beyond mere mental approval. Anyone can say that they belief something, but until you seriously consider that something (and the implications of the something), many would seriously question whether you actually believe anything. Thinking about what you claim to believe is not only important, but its also intellectually honest. Anyone can memorize “6 x 6 = 36”, but unless you understand the reasoning behind why that statement is true, you’re really just putting up a façade. The same is true with faith– you don’t have to understand everything about everything (more about that in a minute)– but unless you have given some critical thought to what you believe and why you believe it, you are not being intellectually honest.

Lego of your doubt,The second thing that we need to remember when thinking about doubts in relation to faith is to ask for help. Yes, most of you reading this are Americans and you place ridiculously high importance in being an entirely self-sufficient individual who needs no help from anyone. But no human being exists completely independently of others. So when thinking about something as important and formative as the belief system that you adhere to, ask for some assistance. If you are at all like me, you will find that regardless of your position in life you can find people who have already thought about the topic you are thinking about, often in intellectually honest and insightful ways (Okay, nearly regardless of your position: if you think the moon landing was faked, well…). If you have a question about the philosophical potential that a transcendent being exists, find some philosophers to weigh in on the subject. If you are questioning the historical accuracy of a written work or claim, find a historian or do some critical research (that generally rules Wikipedia out). There are intelligent and honest people out there who have thought about what you’re thinking about. Figure out who they are and consult them.

Third, be careful to consider the implications of your doubts. In other words, do not make your concerns with one area of your faith necessarily indicative for your entire belief system. For example, if you grew up in a household that held a particular translation of the Bible in high regard and you’ve now learned some important information about translations and textual criticism, I would caution against dropping the entirety of your Christian faith. Instead, be willing to re-think your commitment to something like a Bible translation while remaining focused on the central issues of your faith, in this example, the things that make-or-break Christianity.  Thus even though you no longer have evidence that the King James Version was written by the very hand of God, you can still believe that if Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true, God does love you, and your faith has a historical basis.

Doubting FaithOn this note, far too many people in Western cultures have apparently forgotten that even if you don’t subscribe to an “organized religion” you still adhere to a set of worldviews principles that govern how you understand and view the world. And although you may not go to a place of worship every week where those principles are discussed, what you believe still impacts your life. Accordingly, you ought to know what you believe and why you believe it. For instance, if you want to be intellectually honest, you need to be able explain such things as organized religion and the concept of God– even if you don’t adhere to either. I have had friends say that they were going to walk away from Christianity who failed to consider the implications of what they were going to be walking “to.” When thinking about doubts, its import to consider the alternatives.

Fourth, be real about your doubts. That means being honest that you have doubts (do not pretend to be a hyper-Calvinist if you are experiencing doubts about double predestination) and treating your doubts honestly (being willing to doubt your doubts– if you really are going to leave one system of faith, what position are you switching too?). Being real also means that you may need to share them with others. This is, of course, one of the hardest issues surrounding doubt of any kind. My suggesting would be to find someone you can truly trust and talk to them in an appropriate situation, expressing your questions as honestly and straightforwardly as possible. Depending on your living situation, (family) context, and the extent of your doubts, announcing that you are doubting the resurrection of Jesus from the pulpit or at a family reunion may not be the best idea. Your doubts are hard for your deal with– they may be even harder for those close to you, especially if you share them in something of an inappropriate context. But being real means being honest with people and not cutting yourself off from the insights of others and their fellowship.

Doubting Stick FigureFifth, be consistent when dealing with doubts. If you are going to hold your current belief system accountable on the topic of historical reliability, be sure that you consider the historical reliability of other potential options as well. I think that a major problem with much of American Christianity (in particular) has  been an obsession with certainty– knowing for certain that the Bible is 100% accurate or that you are 100% saved– instead of talking about degrees of probability. When thinking about doubts, we need to understand that the presence of other possibilities does not necessarily require that we believe other probabilities. It’s possible that gravity will stop working and I’ll float off my chair as I write this. It’s possible. But is it probably? Not at all. Many times when people talk about the resurrection of Jesus they mention possible explanations for what happened– group hallucinations, stolen body, swoon theory, a body eaten by dogs, mistaken identity, and so on. And those are all possibilities. But, given the historical evidence we have, the most likely historical probability remains that Jesus was raised from the dead (for more on this, I recommend Michael Licona’s The Resurrection of Jesus). When thinking about doubts try to be consistent in your thinking and remember that possibilities are not necessarily probabilities.

Finally, try to remain positive and focused. For most people, “doubt” is a season of life. Eventually you find answers and your life can return to normal. But while you are in this season of doubt make the most of it: ask questions, read lots of books talk to lots of people, visit lots of places, and learn lots–about who you are and what you believe. For as Socrates once said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.”

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