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Faith and Doubt

August 1, 2016

Doubt . . . [is] an element of faith.” Paul Tillich

God has used many doubters to accomplish his purposes. Many people started out on a quest to destroy Christianity, and became believers in the process. St. Paul, the great persecutor of Jesus’ followers after his crucifixion, is one of the more dramatic examples of a person who was brought to Jesus kicking and screaming. Others who set out to “disprove” Christianity have become among its most ardent believers. Lee Strobel is one such person. He says “I started out as an atheist, utterly convinced that God didn’t create people but that people created God in a pathetic effort to explain the unknown and temper their overpowering fear of death. My previous book, The Case for Christ, described my nearly two-year examination of the historical evidence that pointed me toward the verdict that God really exists and that Jesus is his unique Son. . . but that hadn’t been enough to completely settle the matter for me. There were still those nagging objections.” Strobel’s second book, The Case for Faith, addressed the eight most common objections to the Christian faith. (Strobel, The Case for Faith (2000), Zondervan, p. 26).

The Bible is replete with the stories of people of God who had episodes of doubt. My study Bible reminds us that “Jesus wasn’t hard on Thomas for his doubts . . . Some people need to doubt before they believe. If doubt leads to questions, questions lead to answers, and the answers are accepted, doubt is a good thing.” (Life Application Bible, NIV, p. 1928). As Tillich noted, “If doubt appears, it should not be considered a negation of faith, but as an element which was always and will always be present in the act of faith.” (Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (1957) Harper & Row, p. 22). Any breathing and thinking person has doubts. When doubts about the reality of God creep into my mind, I rely on my past encounters with him, and my faith is renewed. I have learned from my own relationship with God and experiences with him, that he is there with me, guiding me, helping me, even if I can’t “feel” his presence. I know that when I turn to him he never fails me. When I am afraid and call on him, he protects me–“he is our help and our shield.” (Psalm 33:20)

The author of Hebrews lists a number of people who lived “by faith” in the epistle reading for this Sunday.[1] Among them were Abraham and Sarah who both doubted God’s promise that despite their old age, they would have as many descendants as there are stars in the sky (Genesis 15: 5). Faith is defined as “Confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Hebrews 11:1). Many Old Testament heroes who lived and acted by faith and “were still living by faith when they died” are listed in the text (Hebrews 11:13).

Pointing others to the faith does not have to involve proselytizing: “Saint Francis once said, ‘Preach the gospel, and if you must use words.’ He is in good company. H. M. Stanley discovered David Livingston in Central Africa. After having spent time with him, he said, ‘If I had been with him any longer, I would have been compelled to be a Christian, and he never spoke about it at all.’” (Staub, Dick, Too Christian Too Pagan, Zondervan (2000) p. 90).

When doubts assail you, when fear threatens to overcome you, remember Jesus’ words to his disciples: “Do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. . . your Father knows that you need them.” (Luke 12:22, 30b). If you have difficulty believing in the God of the Bible, take a gamble, you can’t lose. Blaise Pascal, the brilliant French mathematician and physicist posited that the gamble is well worth taking. There are only two choices: God is, or God is not—a decision cannot be made on reason alone. “Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.” (Pascal, Pensees, Bibliobazaar, p. 109, #233).

You have nothing to lose and all to gain. Go for it.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

 

 

[1] The Scripture texts for the Twelfth Sunday After Pentecost are Psalm 33:12-22; Genesis 15:1-6; Hebrews 11:1-16; Luke 12:22-34. The author of Hebrews is not identified in the text; some argue that Paul authored it; other possibilities are Luke, Barnabas, Apollos, Silas, Philip, or Priscilla.

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