Is It Okay to Question Beliefs?

Part Two

Missed part one? Read it here

Over the years, I have talked with a number of people who have been told in response to their questioning about God, “You just don’t have enough faith,” or “You just need to read your Bible.” Some were given such a response in their childhood years; others, in their teenage to young adult years. In every situation described, the result was damaging to the person’s belief in God. I don’t know the mind of the responder, nor the reason why such a response would be given. However, I can say that Christians should thoughtfully engage with questions about doubt.

In Paul Copan’s book, “A Little Book for New Philosophers,” he cites several reasons as to why we should engage. Let’s look at a couple more reasons to add to the previous post.

3. The Christian faith offers ample resources and evidence to assist us.

The Christian faith has a two-fold approach in assisting us with answering our doubts. As Copan states, “When God enters our lives, we have the Spirit’s internal confirmation that we are children of God, that we have been accepted before him through Christ and that we can thus approach him with confidence (Rom 8: 14-16; Gal 4: 5-6; Heb 4: 16; 1 Jn 5: 13).”[1]

The internal confirmation relates to the personal and individual salvific experience of God. There is truth we learn through the experience of forgiveness of guilt and relief from shame, as well as from understanding that we have ultimate significance—that not only did God create us, but that he valued his creation as “good” and then gave himself as a sacrifice to reaffirm and redeem the goodness of his creation. However, internal confirmation is not the whole story. There are also external supports for the existence of God such as the historical reliability of the Scriptures, the evidence of the resurrection, the existence of objective moral values, presence of design in the universe, and many more. These two types of support work in concert to assist us in answering our doubt.

While we will not get exhaustive answers, we can begin to get answers. It’s been troubling me that many of the people who talk with me about doubt haven’t tried answering any of their doubts, though these folks have had the same questions or wonderings for years. The doubts don’t just go away on their own, we have to be responsible to use the gift of learning with which God has endowed his creation to seek answers. One of my favorite quotes from Dallas Willard is, “If you’re going to be a doubter, you need to believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts as well as to doubt your beliefs and believe your doubts.”[2] We need to be responsible with our doubts and our beliefs.

4. Fourth, we should reject the false and pernicious idea that knowledge requires 100 percent certainty.

This reason for engaging with doubts has been an idea on which I have been chewing for some years. The belief that one must have 100 percent certainty to have knowledge about a thing seems to be problematic for both those who believe in God and those who do not believe. I’ve heard Christians say things like, “I have no doubt in God. I will not be shaken. I cannot be moved.” While I believe the intention of such statements is from a desire to be obedient to God and trust Him, I think it may send an unrealistic message to others (and to ourselves) about faith. Faith in God doesn’t mean you will never have that trust shaken. I’ve had mine rocked to the core. Faith in God doesn’t mean that there are no more questions to ask. Rather, faith should mean that the questions have begun. After all, God is an infinite being and we are finite beings; this fact alone means there are things about God and the universe He created that we will never know. Yet, there are so many things that we can learn about our reality. When we first place our trust in God, we are beginning the life-long journey of learning the deep things of God.

I also mentioned that this desire for certainty was a problem for those who don’t believe in God. Atheism does not imbue the human being with any more intellectual power to gain certainty of knowledge than does any other worldview. While some people may argue to the contrary, this idea seems to be a misunderstanding of human nature; specifically with regard to our individual abilities in learning. The ability to gain knowledge through different modes of reasoning is not specific to any worldview. Rather, the ability is a human trait. Ultimately, the same problem arises for the atheist as for the Christian in that the universe is vast and we know so little about it, even with all of our current knowledge. The more knowledge we gain, the less ground we understand we have covered in our endeavors (Socrates was famous for stating this understanding of the world). One gain against nature unlocks several more mysteries.

As Copan states, to say that we need 100 percent certainty in order to say we have acquired knowledge is a statement that cannot live up to its own standard. How did we gain the knowledge with 100 percent certainty that we need this level of certainty in order to have acquired knowledge? It is an unattainable goal. Knowledge does not require 100 percent human certainty…not in atheism, and not in Christianity.

What should we do instead?

5. Those engaging in doubt should doubt fairly.

We’ll look over this next reason why Christians should engage with doubts in the next post on questioning.

For further reading, pick up a copy of Copan’s short book, “A Little Book for New Philosophers,” here.

[1] Copan, Paul (2016-11-19). A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy (Little Books) (Kindle Locations 1143-1144). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.

[2] From Dallas Willard, The Allure of Gentleness, as quoted by Copan, Paul (2016-11-19). A Little Book for New Philosophers: Why and How to Study Philosophy (Little Books) (Kindle Locations 1086-1087). InterVarsity Press. Kindle Edition.