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Despite the plot-breaking effect in your favorite police drama, confessions are a mixed blessing. On the one hand, it is great to know the truth. On the other hand, the truth often complicates things.
I would say this about the religious confession we rarely hear: doubt. The pressure in church is definitely against confessing your doubts about God, the Bible, and faith in general. Understandably, we are far more concerned about encouraging belief rather than pulling doubts out of each other. The problem, however, is when we expect faith in God to be breezy and natural—so natural, in fact, that if faith does not come easy, it must be a faulty faith.
Let me reassure the doubters: faith in God has never come easy for me. As I’ve stated before, the bookshelves in my office are peppered with evangelists of Atheism, and I purchased these books in doubting seasons to see if, indeed, there was a case against Christ. As they would say, and the apostle Paul and I agree, if there is no case for faith in Christ, there is no need to follow Christ. (1 Cor. 15:9)
So while I have read enough to know the arguments against belief in God and Jesus as God’s Son, I still believe. But my doubts required that I examine why I should believe in God. I have taken intentional steps to reach a point of belief. That may be what some of you need to do.
What follows are my reasons for belief in a world of doubt.
First, faith can be reasonable. I cannot conceive of a universe filled with things that need a cause to exist that does not also, in itself, need a cause—a First Cause—to exist. God is that first cause. From another angle, the inexplicable order and beauty and regularity of all existing people and things point to a remarkable intelligibility behind the world. And just as natural desires (hunger, thirst, sex, sleep) correspond to real objects that fill this desire, so do I believe that spiritual desires have corresponding objects. As C.S. Lewis wrote, “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.”
Second, I believe the Scriptures tell a story I can trust. I came to the Scriptures as a doubter and explored the story of Jesus with some reticence. I initially read the Bible as the book to find details about Jesus. Six months of reading and thinking preceded my conversion, and it was the Jesus of the Gospels that grabbed me. There are plenty of religious narratives in the world, but I believe the argument for Jesus as the Resurrected One. More than just my experience with this Jesus, I find in the New Testament a host of people who were similarly uprooted by the rabbi from Nazareth. The Bible continues to draw me to God.
Third, I cannot escape the experiences. True, subjective experience is often the worst argument for belief in God, but in speaking about Christ I almost have to echo the literal “seeing, hearing, and touching” evidence of John (1 Jn 1:1). My conversion to Christ includes a remarkable series of events when I was 21 years old that started in a college classroom, led to a solitary reading of Luke’s Gospel, and ended with my turn to Christ. I was under no compulsion from family or immediate culture to become a Christian. Only the truth of what I read (and God’s near hand) turned me toward Christ, not the belief that this turn would better my life. In fact, I have often joked that Jesus ruined my life. As far as the self-directed effort I was creating, he did.
And the experiences kept coming. These experiences include provision, people and responsibilities that met needs in my life that no one but God knew about. It includes prayer requests that were carried in secrecy but answered by God openly. It includes timely escapes from suffering and loss, but it far more includes the evidence of God’s presence during suffering and loss. Again, even as I have recorded time-and-place notes of these occurrences, none of my experiences prove God’s existence; but I cannot write them off as mere wish-projections.
Which brings me to my last piece of evidence: This God I follow is not my wish-projection. Were it up to me, I would project something far more self-serving—something without crucifixion, the need for forgiveness and the call to self-denial in the name of Christ. Were I out to invent a personal religion, I would not invent these ideas. Were I inventing, I would fashion something that did not call me to love enemies and rejoice at all times and in all circumstances. Were it up to me, I would invent something more temporary and less eternal.
Faith in God is counter-intuitive for me, so I know better than anyone that every day I follow is evidence of God behind and within me. When I struggle, however, I find that my struggle is with a God who is real and good. Because he loves, I find a God who sees my will to follow within the reluctance as a prayer for deeper belief. And he answers that prayer. When the dust settles, I believe in God because God always proves greater than my unbelief.
For me, a world of doubt is not enough to thwart these reasons for faith.
The Rev. Dr. Chris White is pastor of the First Baptist Church in Carrollton, Ky.