For over forty years, I have been involved in a ministry designed to promote faith in God. Some of our work has been with Christians who had doubts, but did not want to admit it. Some of our work has been with people who flatly stated that if they had any doubts they would not become Christians because it would require too much of a change in their lifestyles. Some of our work involved working with Christians who were bothered by the fact that there were questions they could not answer — which they felt was a lack of faith on their part. They were particularly disturbed by passages in the Bible that linked faith to action on God’s part (see Luke 17:19 and Acts 14:9).
Doubt is an important property of sentient beings. What makes us human is not our physical body. We have learned in recent years that our bodies and even our genes are not that different from other forms of life. It has been widely reported in the media that humans and chimpanzees are over 90% identical genetically, so it is obvious that our physical makeup is not what makes humans unique. The factor that makes us unique is being created in the image of God — our spiritual makeup.
There are many ways in which this uniqueness is manifested such as our capacity to create art and music and our ability and desire to worship something higher than ourselves. We are also unique in our capacity to feel guilt, to be sympathetic, and to show compassion. Our concept of self and our ability to be taught to think are also manifestations of our uniqueness. None of these things are functions of our physical makeup. In this journal we have previously discussed these characteristics and the evidence that they are unique to humans. Another part of this uniqueness is our capacity to doubt.
Doubt is necessary to science. Renowned philosopher Michael Polangi points out, “Complete objectivity as usually attributed to the exact sciences is a delusion and is in fact a false ideal.” John Polkinghorne explains this, “Facts always come with interpretations. People of science are motivated to believe certain things as they proceed with their experiments, and people of faith are motivated to believe certain things as they proceed with their beliefs. Living with doubt leaves one open to additional discovery, both in science and faith.” (Both quotes are from USA Today, August 29, 2011, page 7A).
When I was in college in the 1950s, we were told that the fundamental building blocks of matter were protons, electrons, and neutrons. We were led to believe that these particles could not be broken down into smaller units. During my college years we learned that a neutron could be broken down into a proton and an electron, but that a new, virtually invisible particle was emitted when this happened which was called the neutrino. It took many years to find evidence for that particle. Scientists suggested that if a particle existed that could explain charge, that it could explain other things that had previously not been understood. This theoretical particle was called a quark. Steven Weinberg expresses it this way, “We don’t believe in quarks because we have seen them. We believe in quarks because the theories that have quarks in them work.” Many people believe that quarks can also be broken down, and other scientists have doubts about the quark theory as a whole. This is how discoveries are made in science, and many of the great discoveries in science have been made because people doubted current beliefs.
Jesus challenged people in his day to doubt the traditions that had been imposed upon them by the religious leaders. The traditional view of human justice at that time was “an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” (see Exodus 21:24 and Matthew 5:38 – 42). In Luke 17:3 – 5 Jesus tells his followers to forgive even if they were sinned against seven times in one day. His disciples had doubts about this total break with religious tradition and they responded “to the Lord, ‘increase our faith.’ ” The whole life of Jesus and the whole thrust of his teaching involved doubting the teachings of their religious leaders. The reason he incurred the wrath of the Pharisees was because he instilled doubt in people’s minds about what they were teaching. In the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 – 7 Jesus says over and over “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago … But I tell you …” (see Matthew 5:21 – 22; 5:27 – 28; 5:33 – 34; 5:38 – 39; 5:43 – 44).
On September 28, 2011, Barna Research released a written summary of eight national studies of young people and why they leave the church. Six reasons young people leave were given. “The church feels unfriendly to those who doubt” was one of the six. The other five were all areas where doubt is involved: (1) Churches seem overprotective; (2) Experience of Christianity is shallow; (3) Churches come across as antagonistic to science; (4) Church experiences related to sexuality are often simplistic and judgmental; and (5) The exclusive nature of Christianity. (See page 10 for more thoughts on these.)
Doubt is important for a young person. If people do not resolve doubts then the hard questions of life are not resolved. Then when the harsh realities of life come around people are set up to have their faith destroyed. In Mark 9:14 – 29 we find the heart-wrenching story of a man who has a son who is afflicted. When Jesus comes into the picture he says to the father, “Everything is possible for him who believes.” The father responds by saying, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief.” All of us have that same plea today. We learn and grow by doubting and then resolving that doubt. One way of resolving doubts is by looking at the evidence. To have doubts and not search out answers to those doubts is to be willing to wallow in the destructive pit of faithlessness. To find answers to the questions that plague us is to grow and be strengthened in our faith. Do not apologize for having doubts. Doubt is a good thing. At the same time, do not allow those doubts to paralyze you in what you do and how you live. Look for answers by using materials like those offered through this ministry. Our materials are all available free of charge on loan, and there are other sources of information in other ministries available as well. Look for answers by talking to people who have had the same doubts you are having and yet have resolved them.
In Matthew 17:20; Mark 9:23; and Luke 17:6, Jesus talks about the power of faith. To get that faith, we have to have doubts and grow by resolving the questions that plague us. The mountains of doubt will move — even if more slowly than we would like.
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