by C Michael PattonJune 10th, 2010 35 Comments
Also titled “Dealing with Doubt: Part 5 – Spiritual Doubt.” See previous posts on doubt here.
Why do some people believe and others don’t? Some of the most intelligent people I know, who understand the faith as well or better than myself, are unbelievers. Others are believers. What is the difference? In both cases the information is the same, so it is not a lack of knowledge. Of course, there are all kinds of issues tugging war for their allegiance, but these do not always explain why one person believes and another does not.
It has been well said that unbelief, not doubt, is the opposite of belief. Doubt is the bridge from our current faith to perfect faith. It expresses some degree of a lack in certainty. It can be said that no matter what you believe, you are probably going to experience some doubt. Christians can doubt God. Atheists doubt their atheism. In both cases, the lack of certainty does not mean that you don’t believe. It just means that in some sense you lack perfect belief. Faith, doubt, and belief are all in the same philosophical semantic domain. They are all more of a mystery than we like to think.
Belief in God is not something that comes natural for people. The Bible teaches that our natural inclination toward God is not favorable. Ephesians 2:3 calls us “children of wrath.” According to Romans 3:10, there is not even anyone who seeks for God. Psalm 53 is even more explicit saying that God looks down from heaven to see if there is anyone who seeks after him and can find no candidates. In other words, according to the Christian worldview, our nature is not simply a nature of doubt, but complete unbelief. We are born unbelievers. This does not mean that we don’t know about God, but that we don’t turn to him in acknowledgment and gratitude (Rom. 1:19; 21).
Orthodox Christianity has universally believed that we cannot overcome this unbelief on our own. We settled this in the great Augustine/Pelagian battles of the fourth-century. No amount of evidence, tactics, or manipulation of our mind can cause man to turn to God in true belief on their own. About this, Paul tells the Corinthians (2:14-15) that the truths of Christianity are “not in words taught by human wisdom, but in those taught by the Spirit, combining spiritual thoughts with spiritual words.” He goes on to talk about the disposition of man in his natural state: “But a natural man does not accept the things of the Spirit of God; for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually appraised.” It is not that the “natural man” cannot intellectually grasp truth about God, but that he cannot accept this truth without God’s radical intervention.
Some call this intervention “prevenient grace” and some call it “saving grace.” This is not the time for that discussion. The point is that no matter what your theological persuasion, all Christians believe that we are at the mercy of the grace of God to come into our hearts and change our unbelieving disposition. Paul tells the Romans that faith it is not dependent on “human will or exertion, but on God who has mercy” (Rom. 9:16). Christ does not give Peter accolades for believing in him when everyone else was fumbling on his identity, but he tells him that his belief is based on a merciful blessing of God, not his own power. “And Jesus answered him, ‘Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven’” (Mat 16:17).
We could go on and on with this. My point is that belief in God is not something that comes naturally. We must recognize this in our quest to understand and overcome doubt. Belief is a very spiritual thing. So is doubt.
While there is a doubt that can be attributed to the emotions and one that can come from our intellect, there is a spiritual doubt as well. And no amount of intellectual engagement or emotional manipulation can overcome spiritual doubt. Of course, when I say that there is spiritual doubt, I am assuming that there is a very spiritual side to belief.
Notice from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man dies and goes to a place of torment. While here, he asks Abraham to send Lazarus back from the dead and warn his five brothers so they would not share his same fate. What Abraham says is very interesting and telling concerning the nature of belief, unbelief, and doubt. He tells him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them give ear to what they say.” Abraham first appeals to the sufficiency of revelation already given. The rich man responds, ”No, father Abraham, but if someone went to them from the dead, their hearts would be changed.” Notice that the rich man is attempting to provide his brothers with something that he believes would be sure to change their hearts. The rich man believes that if his brothers actually saw and heard testimony from a dead man they would surely believe. We must pause here and consider what the rich man is asking. Have you not ever asked something similar? I have. In fact, I appealed to God in such a way just recently. I wanted God to do something so supernatural, so miraculous, that I would be compelled, intellectually and emotionally, to rid myself of all doubt. ”If God would just write his name in the sky, I would believe.” “If God would simply break his auditory silence and speak to me, I would believe.” ”If God would just raise someone from the dead, I would believe.” I have heard all of these. The point is that from a biblical worldview, we have a much bigger problem than the lack of evidence. Notice how Abraham responds to the rich man: “And he said to him, If they will not give attention to Moses and the prophets, they will not be moved even if someone comes back from the dead” (31). In other words, if they don’t believe now, they won’t believe no matter what happens.
Belief takes a mighty work of God in our hearts and this work transcends all human endeavors.
When we have doubts, these can be emotional and they can be intellectual. But we dare not fail to recognize that God is the one who gives us a portion of faith (Rom. 12:3). Ephesians 2:8 tells us that faith is a gift of God so that no man can boast. We are what we are because of the grace of God (1 Cor 15:10). Often times I see people attempting to overcome their doubt by filling their heads with more information. While I am certainly not against learning and mongering for truth with the mind that God has given, we all have to understand the spiritual dimension to our faith. We must have the gift of faith and this only comes from God.
Ultimately, spiritual belief is not something we can buy or sell. It is not available in any market of man. Doubt is often the same. Doubt can transcend all the knowledge, books, reason, and arguments you encounter. Often times you might find yourself in a circumstance where you have every reason to believe, but you simply cannot. Smart people don’t disagree about the validity of Christianity based on the information or lack thereof, but because of the spiritual battle that is going on. Doubt can be a very spiritual thing. There comes a time when we must lay the books down, cease to ask for further signs, and turn to God with pleadings for his mercy.
Do you doubt God? Are you riddled with skepticism and the inability to believe? Do you find that you are always one “sign” away from belief? This I can assure you: you will always be one step away no matter how many steps you take. In these circumstances the only thing we can do is call upon God to change us. God’s mercy is ground zero for our faith.
- Dealing with Doubt
- Why is there Something Rather than Nothing?
- Dealing with Doubt – Part 1
- “Memorize these Two Verses and Call Me in the Morning” or Dealing with Doubt – Part 2
- “How People Become Evangelists of Unbelief” or Leaving (Christ)ianity – An Evangelical Epidemic