Doubt and Faith
Richard D. Rood
In most human relationships there is an interplay between the opposing forces of faith (or trust) and doubt. We see this in relationships between husbands and wives, parents and children, among friends, in the workplace, in government, and in comerce. The health of relationships hinges on which of these two forces prevails.
In our relationship with God this is no less true. We tend to think that genuine faith leaves no room for doubt. But this is not true, for the essence of faith prescribes the possibility of doubt. Otherwise, what we have is not faith—but absolute certainty. Not faith, but sight.
One commonly held reason for doubting even the existence of God is simply that we can’t see Him. This is certainly true. It is challenging to believe in someone or something we can’t see. But that alone does not disprove there is a God. I’ve never found anyone yet who doesn’t believe in the force of gravity. Neither have I found anyone who has actually seen it. The force of gravity itself is invisible!
There’s also the issue of all the terrible things that happen… why would a God allow so much suffering? The fact of suffering certainly constitutes a great challenge to the Christian faith. If we drew a circle representing the world, and at its center wrote “evil and suffering,” it is obvious there is much more to this world than just evil and suffering. There’s a lot of beauty and blessing and joy . . . evidence of God’s original good creation. This is what keeps us wanting to live and to get up in the morning! But granted, there is a lot of ugliness and pain as well. And sometimes these things overshadow the goodness of life.
We may ask, Why would God create a world such as the one in which we live…one that has given birth to a lot of suffering? Of course, just because we can’t at present see or know all the reasons why God created this kind of world, doesn’t mean there aren’t any. God created humans (and angels too for that matter) with the ability to make real choices, and He created a world with natural laws like gravity and motion, and this certainly would account for some of the bad things that happen. Human nature and the laws of nature are undeniably good things in themselves, but some bad things can result from them. The Bible tells us this is exactly the case.
But then, What if there were some purposes that could only be accomplished by God’s allowing us to live out our temporal life in a world such as this, a fallen world? For instance, what if there were some things about God that we could never know or experience or appreciate apart from living in a world like this one? In this world we experience God’s compassion and mercy on the suffering, His grace and love toward sinners (sinners like us), His ability to deliver when all hope is lost, to sustain when all strength is gone, to comfort when we have suffered great loss, to provide when all resources are exhausted, and experience His justice in ultimately defeating evil! In what other kind of world could we know such things about God?
What if by allowing us to live in such a world as this, God is instilling in us some qualities that could be formed in no other kind of world than one like this one? Qualities like humility, dependence, compassion on others who are suffering, grace toward those who have sinned against us, generosity and even sacrifice for the benefit of those who are suffering great want, perseverance when things are so hard we feel like giving up, gratitude for God’s blessings after a season of deprivation or even despair, a hunger in our heart for a better world to come, and when it finally does arrive, joy inexpressible at the sight of God’s triumph over His foes. These are the kind of qualities that we remember people for after they are gone, and speak of at their funerals. But they would not even exist in a perfect world—one different from the one we live in.
At this point God is still sitting way up above this world in His heaven, untouched by the anguish of His creatures living out their lives in this world. Ah, but what if God chose to enter into this world as a human being Himself, and experience life as we live it, even death itself? Well, that’s exactly what happened! In the incarnation, God assumed a human body and soul and was born into this world. He not only set the stage for bearing our sins on the cross, but also for bearing our sufferings. He experienced life just as we do…and because He did we have a Savior who can “sympathize with our weaknesses” because He was “tested in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).
But there’s more…. Not only is God able to identify with us in our suffering, He also helps us in our suffering. The verse in Hebrews also says that we can “receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Some of the ways God has promised to help us include
by putting a limit on our sufferings,
by being with us and making His presence known to us,
by strengthening us,
by giving us wisdom in navigating our troubles,
by comforting us in our sorrows,
by promising to use our sorrows for good,
by providing for us in our need,
by promising to reward us in eternity,
by promising ultimately to put an end to all evil and suffering at His appointed time.
When we add up all that God brings to us in our suffering, we have great reason for hope! The skeptic may still say, “This all sounds very good, but I still don’t believe there’s enough reason to believe there’s a God.” So he removes God from the equation. But deleting God from the equation doesn’t eliminate one ounce of suffering. What he does remove is any reasonable basis for hope. People without hope must find some way to anesthetize the pain, for without God all they really have left is despair. Despair in and of itself is not a good thing, but it can serve a good purpose if it instills in us a renewed search for hope…for hope in God.
What reasons are there for believing there is a God—this God of hope? While entire books have been written in answer to this question, I mention only three. The first is simply the existence of the world. It may sound strange to suggest that the mere existence of the universe is in itself a reason to believe in God, but not if we listen to those who have spenttheir lives studying it. All the evidence points to the cosmos as having had a beginning, and as apologist Norman Geisler states, “Anything that had a beginning had to have a ‘beginner.’” Alternative explanations to there being a Powerful Creator are pretty unconvincing.
Then, there’s the nature of the world we see. When we take a look at the world God made, what do we see? The religious philosopher Pascal put it this way: “There is enough light for those who want to see and enough darkness for those of a different persuasion.” For sure, when we look at the world we see a lot of pain and sorrow and tragedy. But we also see a lot of beauty, and purposeful design— so much in fact that it leaves one very skeptical about the idea that it could all have arrived without any guidance from an intelligent designer.
When we see design, we innately recognize it. And whenever we do, we naturally assume there was some intelligent designer behind it. Take the Grand Canyon as an example. It’s a beautiful sight. It is obvious that it was dug out of the ground by the natural forces of water and gravity. But if we drive up to South Dakota and take a look at Mt. Rushmore, we see the faces of four presidents carved out of rock: Washington, Jefferson, Lincoln and Teddy Roosevelt. Now if someone told you that the same forces that formed the Grand Canyon also shaped Mt. Rushmore, you would say, “You’re crazy!” Why? Because there’s too much design! And that much design requires an intelligent designer. In this case we know who he was. His name was Gutzon Borglum!
What about evidence of much more complex design for which there could have been no human designer, such as human vision? The very eyes we are looking through right now are as complex as any video camera and TV monitor—three-dimensional, stereo-scopic, full color, selffocusing, self-regulating for light, self cleaning, self-protecting, multidirectional. If Mt. Rushmore requires a human designer, it only stands to reason that human vision requires a divine designer.
Every morning when we awake and look in the mirror, there is enough evidence staring us in the face to lead us to believe there is not only a powerful creator, but also a wise designer. Francis Collins, the director of the human genome project, put it this way, “When you look from the perspective of a scientist at the universe, it looks as if it knew we were coming. There are 15 constants, such as gravity…that have precise values. If any one of those constants was off by even one part in a million, or in some cases, by one part in a million million, the universe could not have actually come to the point where we see it. Matter would not have been able to coalesce; there would be no galaxy, stars, planets, or people.” God has left us an abundance of pointers to Himself.
For those who respond to these pointers, by seeking to know Him in a personal way, God sees that they receive what they need to enter into such a relationship with Him through faith in his Son, Jesus Christ. That’s what Hebrews 11:6 tells us: He is the “rewarder of those who seek Him.” He rewards those who seek Him by seeing that He is found by them. People who enter into such a relationship with God, add to all the objective evidences that there is a God, the evidence that arises from an experiential and personal knowledge of God.
Years ago when I left seminary and became a young pastor, someone encouraged me to begin keeping a journal of God’s hand on my life and my family’s life . . . to record ways in which He guided us and provided for us, things He was teaching us. Now, 33 years later, that journal, next to the Word of God, is my most precious possession…because it contains the record of God’s shepherding care over my life…during the good times, and during the really tough times.
Anyone reading my journal might say that I have recorded a number of interesting coincidences—events that catch your attention and make you think that there is more to life than meets the eye. But I have learned not to call God’s intervention in my life struggles coincidences. If I rolled a pair of dice and they came up two sixes, nothing extraordinary about that. If I rolled them a second time, and they came up two sixes again, that’s a coincidence. A third time, a remarkable coincidence! But after that…if they came up two sixes, we would conclude that someone had been messing with the dice!
In the same way, in our own lives, after a while we learn not to call these events coincidences. A better word is providence, a Latin word that literally means “to see ahead.” It refers to God’s making arrangements for our lives in advance—His watching over us from above, like a shepherd watching over his flock, or a mother watching over her children. In my life I have much evidence to believe that God is not only a powerful creator and wise designer but also a faithful and gracious provider.
So the question remains, Are there reasons for doubt in this world? And the answer, of course, is yes. We can’t explain all the things that happen in our lives or in this world. The very essence of faith assumes the possibility of doubt. But are there reasons for faith? Faith in God? You bet there are! For those who have eyes to see, they are not just barely enough, but more than enough, to place our trust in Him…both for this life, and for the life to come.
If you have never placed your trust in God for the life He offers, and you would consider doing so now, here is a simply prayer you can offer to God.
“Dear God, I believe you are real. And I believe that you made me for your own good purposes. I acknowledge that I have gone my own way in life. I have preferred my desires to yours. I have sinned against you and against others. I believe that Jesus Christ is your Son, that you sent Him into the world to make payment for my sin, and that you raised Him from the dead as proof of that fact. I trust in Him as my Savior, to forgive me of my sins and to bring me into an eternal relationship with you. Let me begin a life with you today. I have much to learn, God. I don’t understand everything about you and about life. But help me to live my life, not in the shadow of my doubts, but in the light of the many reasons for faith that you have provided. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”