I follow Jesus, not because I think he is a great moral philosopher with some solid principles on how to live a quality life; but because I believe that his claim to be the way, the truth, and the life, are in fact true. It is one thing to contemplate the abstract questioning of God, his existence, salvation, etc.; but it is an entirely different thing to experience life in such a way significant doubts are raised that require an answer. There are many, if not most, Christians who express some doubt surrounding their faith in the course of their lives. Some of that doubt is based on circumstances; others are based on lack of knowledge—yet all it can and should be confronted. Theologian and professor, Alister McGrath notes, “Doubt is probably a permanent feature of the Christian life. It’s like a kind of spiritual growing pain. Sometimes it recedes into the background; at other times it comes to the forefront, making its presence felt with a vengeance.” So then, how should we properly deal with our doubts?
Ask the tough question.
Doubts may make its presence felt with a vengeance, but there is no need to fear them or fear to ask tough questions as a result of them. If one person does not like the question, or cannot answer, find someone that will. Questions are part of the academic exercise of faith, which is all too often left behind for a brand of faith that is entirely fueled by emotionalism. Emotions that are not grounded in the intellect create a sort of schizophrenic faith. However, doubt is not the antithesis of faith, but rather, having doubts and asking tough questions about God is vital to Christian maturation.
Choose whom you are asking to answer your questions wisely.
You have more information at your hands than any other period in history. You can ask anyone anything. It was only a few years ago that connecting to the World Wide Web took considerable effort and was restricted to the bulky desktop computer at home or school. Today internet access is about as common as indoor plumbing. We find it odd when we are not connected. The more connected we are, the more information we have available to us. The kid who once asked mom and dad every possible question is now first turning to Google, Siri, or Alexa for answers. Based on the sheer volume of information available, students have no problem finding any answer they want and squeezing it into whatever worldview they wish to have rather than the worldview that represents truth. Information provides us with incredible opportunity and resources, but can also be incredibly dangerous.
Be willing to accept the tough realities.
Jesus never said the call of discipleship was going to be easy. It is a lot easier to gossip about people, speak evil of them, shame them, or blatantly ignore them. After all, it makes us feel better about ourselves. So it can be slightly annoying when I am reminded to love my neighbors—no matter how annoying and pray for my enemies. With so much information at our disposal, it is easy to simply dismiss answers we don’t like or only hold ourselves responsible in ways that we choose. However, this does not always line up with reality. Two plus two is always four, whether you like it or not. Truth is true, whether you like it or not.
This makes truth sometimes difficult to swallow. As was often the case, all kinds of people sought out Jesus and expressed their desire to follow him–whether people thought he was the Messiah or not didn’t always matter. Even the Pharisees knew there was just something different about him. But despite their intense desire, the reality of following Jesus was often too much for some to handle, including the rich young man in Mark chapter 10.
“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.” Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” At this, the man’s face fell. He went away sad because he had great wealth.” – Mark 10:17-22
This man’s status and wealth were not necessarily the problem. It was his unwillingness to let it go. He was certain that he had it all figured out, but when Jesus presented him with a challenge, it proved to be too much. The questions might be tough, the answers might be tougher, but what happens when there is no answer? Yes, regardless of what your Sunday school teacher taught you, Jesus is not always the correct answer.
Don’t be discouraged if some questions have unclear or incomplete answers.
Sometimes questions just simply cannot be answered. We might not know why God does something or allows something to happen to others or us. We might not be able to answer why some people respond to the gospel and others reject it. The Bible does not teach explicitly on every possible topic we might encounter now and in the future. It was not designed that way. For example, why doesn’t Jesus provide more detail about heaven? I am sure he could have if he chose to. But I have little doubt that if he did, we would surely be more focused on getting to heaven rather than focused on God’s kingdom here on earth. Jesus purposed us with a mission, in his sovereignty; we must trust that he has provided us all the information we need to know.
Allow your intellect to run the show rather than your emotions.
Emotions are important, and we should consider them a gift from God. But a consistent worldview is not made up of emotions. Otherwise, we might find ourselves changing worldviews with every changing emotion of the day or moment. A consistent and life guiding worldview is built on intellect. Doubts fueled by emotions cannot be properly channeled and answered.
So then, have your doubts. Ask your questions. But find the right place and people, get your answers, be ready for the tough realities, and keep your emotions guided by your intellect. Not only will you successfully navigate doubt, but also your faith and trust in Christ would increase exponentially.