GERALD COWAN’S PERSONAL PERIODICALS
Number 606 • January 20, 2021
UNCOMFORTABLE PROBLEMS THE CHURCH NEEDS TO TALK ABOUT – 3. SINCERE DOUBT
Existence of God is easy for a child to accept – in depth philosophical arguments and evidence are not needed and would not be understood if given. God made everything – God made me. I am important to God. That’s easy, isn’t it? What about Jesus, the son of God? Jesus loves little children – red, yellow, black, white; they are all precious in his sight. Jesus loves me – I know it ‘cause the Bible tells me so. I love him too. That’s easy, isn’t it? What about the Holy Spirit? That’s not easy for anybody, is it? What else is there that a child can understand and accept without much difficulty? The church. These are all the people of God, children and old people too. They love each other and do things to help each other and make each other feel happy. And they do things to make God and Jesus happy too. God and Jesus are happy when the people they love in the church do what is right and good and don’t do anything to hurt other people. That’s easy, isn’t it? None of this is difficult for a child to believe and accept. Is this what Jesus meant when he said we must all become like little children (Matthew 18:3)? Maybe, at least in part but not in everything – we’ll say more about it later.
Children don’t stay children. The child grows up and is exposed to a lot of things that he can’t understand, things that don’t seem to fit with what others are saying, things that don’t seem to fit what he learned in Sunday School. One of the favorite words of children is why – tell them something is a certain way and they ask, why? The why’s are often consecutive. A simple answer to a why leads to another why, then another until you can’t find an answer or lose patience and your final answer is because I say so. And you know how long because I say so is acceptable and sufficient to satisfy the developing critical mind of the maturing child – not long at all. “Because the Bible tells me so,” leads to other questions: Where does it say that? What does that mean? Why is that so? Are there any other answers? You get stuck while the child continues to search for rational satisfaction and stability. And then … doubt begins to settle in where the answers are not sufficient, where the answers only lead to more questions. This too is a normal part of natural growth and development of the child. Children may be the best example and evidence that “inquiring minds want to know.” An inquiring mind is evidence of, and necessary for, proper growth and development. Maybe Jesus also meant to say we must, like the developing child, search for answers until there are no further meaningful questions and the conclusion is inescapable and can no longer be questioned or doubted.
Marshall Keeble is credited with the motto: “God said it, I believe it, and that settles it.” It seems to be a plausible uncomplicated argument- stopper. But some have detected a redundancy in it, so a more simplistic version is currently floating: “God said it, that settles it – whether you believe it or not.” Cute? Yes. Accurate and argument-stopping? Not so much. The supposedly “revised and corrected version” can seem to say your belief is irrelevant, your belief or unbelief doesn’t prove anything. That would be like saying, “God said it. End of discussion. No more questions. The matter is now closed.” Does God really say anything like that in scripture? If so, where can I find it?
God, in His word, says: Test/prove all things. Hold fast (only) what is good (1 Thessalonians 5:21-22). Whatever is not of faith is sin – if it is doubtful don’t do it. Don’t bring condemnation on yourself by accepting and allowing things that God does not (Romans 14:22-23). Doesn’t that mean if one cannot be sure or is not convinced about a thing, then he should not do that thing? Would that apply to everything or just a few things? God says I should not rely on my own judgment (Matthew 7:1-3), and that if I ask, seek, and knock I will receive, find, and have it opened up for me (Matthew 7:7). I am asking but nobody answers, looking but not finding, knocking but nobody opens the door – nobody answers my questions or resolves my doubts? Don’t tell me to just listen to God. God doesn’t talk to me. Don’t tell me to pray and the answer will come. God doesn’t give or do what I ask and pray for, what I want and need. Don’t tell me just to take the church’s word for it. There are thousands of other churches who don’t agree. Which one should I believe, if any – and why should I believe one and not the others. The Christian religion is not the only one in the world. Which religion is best for me, and why? Some have done really terrible things to others. Is the biggest one the best? How can they all be right if they disagree? Is one religion or church as good as others or are all good and I can choose the one I like best without being an enemy and have to defend myself against the others that I don’t choose? Nobody is willing to take time for discussion with a doubter like me. Some people in the church are offended that I even ask questions. Where do I go from here? Should I just do whatever it takes to be accepted and get along with others even if I don’t agree with them? Isn’t that hypocritical, and you say God doesn’t like hypocrites? How will you answer this man’s doubts – should you even try? Would you rather he just go away?
It might surprise you to know that many preachers, teachers, elders and leaders struggle with doubts. They have read or heard all the recommended apologetics. They have read the scriptures. They have tried but often failed to understand what they read or hear. They have cried out to God in prayer but did not receive clarity and specificity in any verifiable answer. They struggle to believe but they keep defending things they have been told or taught, depending upon them to be true, trusting those who have instructed them to believe and depend and defend “the faith” of “their church/their religion.” They continue mouthing the same words and going through the same motions, and encouraging others to continue with them in the ways and traditions of their church – all the while plagued by inner uneasiness (they have been taught not to doubt but simply to trust and obey) – and cannot silence completely the “what if this is wrong, what if I am wrong” questions that sometimes surface but are not admitted or vocalized or investigated. Sometimes these persons that we are following are simply links in a chain that stretches who knows how far backward and is being perpetuated by us and those we persuade to follow us. I am the product of my teacher, and he is the product of his teacher who is the product of his teacher and so on back to the beginning. Others can or will be the product of my teaching and they will teach others who become the product of their teaching, and so on ad infinitum. Isn’t that what we are taught to do? For example in 2 Timothy 2:2 where Paul says: The things you have heard from me … commit to faithful men who will be able to teach (the same things) to others. He adds, in Philippians 4:9, Do what you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
Here are just a few topics that need to be taught with incontrovertible evidence provided, from the pulpit, in the classroom, and in private studies. Lack of conviction on these matters may kill the soul and irreparably damage the church.
- Scientific, physical, and philosophical evidence of existence of God.
- Scientific, physical, and philosophical evidence of creation rather than evolution.
- Proof of the origin and continuity of human life – from Adam and Eve to now and beyond.
- Proof of the virgin birth of Jesus Christ.
- Evidence of an omniscient, omnipotent, and benevolent God, though evil is in the world.
- The justice and righteousness of the Law of God as presented in the Bible.
- Why the Old Testament for the Jews is set aside by the New Testament for all people.
- The absolute morality of Christianity opposed to flexible morality or amorality of culture.
- The morally questionable parts of scripture and the actions of God it relates.
- What is the credible alternative to the existence of God – what are the possible explanations for what exists if there is no God?
We tell them to accept and believe these things but often do not tell them why.
God did not and does not intend that we should live with unresolved doubts – He has made information available to resolve most doubts. But there are or may be unresolvable doubts due to our limited ability to understand. He might well say, in answer to some of our questions and doubts, “I could tell you, but you would not understand. You have ways and thoughts but they are not like My ways and thoughts – Mine are as far above yours as heaven is above earth (Isaiah 55:8-9). He could say, “I have said it and that settles it. Take my word for it until you are able to prove it, and then accept it as proved and settled.” Be thankful that God adds this for us little and inadequate people: “Trust me. Some day, if you keep faith with Me, all the mysteries will be solved, all the questions will be answered and you will know as fully as is possible for your glorified and exalted – but still less than God – state” (1 John 3:1-2, 1 Corinthians 13:12).
One of the most vital ways the Church can handle doubt in its members is to stop acting like everything about faith is obvious. The Church can recognize that all of us will have doubts from time to time, but we cling to a hope that is beyond mere rational explanation. Churches should stop trying to hide the hard parts of the Bible or downplay the significance ethically questionable parts of scripture play in a person’s rational doubt.