From Question Marks to Exclamation Marks

“I am beginning to lose my confidence that the Christian faith is really true. Sometimes it all seems so hard to believe, especially in a scientifically advanced age as ours.”

“May be I am saved, I am not sure any more. It’s like I am cut off and God won’t answer. He seems to be silent and far away when I need Him the most.”

“I see too much of evil in this world, I can’t believe that a good God exists.”

These are three sample quotes from students I work with. These statements, however, sound familiar to most of us.

A few would admit but at some point in our Christian life we have either doubted the truth of the Christian faith or our relationship with God. Doubt is universal and we know that doubt was one of the doors through which sin entered into this world. Doubt is an unsettled state of uncertainty. If faced properly, doubt can be a blessing in strengthening our faith whereas if not handled maturely, it can lead us to unbelief.

If dealt properly, a doubt can be a blessing in strengthening our faith whereas if not handled maturely, it can lead us to unbelief.

Doubt is often viewed by believers as a negative state of mind. Our attitude is that having doubts is ‘unspiritual’ and also a sign of backsliding. It is also suggested that true believers never doubt, that doubt is the opposite of faith. But doubt is not the opposite of faith—it is a state of uncertainty in which we stagger between yes and no, i.e., between belief and unbelief. Just as temptation is not sin in itself, nothing is wrong with doubt as such. Just as temptation can lead us to sin, doubt can lead us to unbelief. God can heal us in our doubts in the same way as he helps us in our temptations.

What the Bible teaches here is interesting—that true believers can experience the doubt of the worst kind. In the Old and New Testaments believers express a wide range of questions, especially on topics such as pain and suffering (Job), meaninglessness (Eccl), prosperity of the wicked (Ps 71). In the New Testament, the two classic examples are those of John the Baptist (Mat 11:4–5 and Luke 7:21, 22) and that of Doubting Thomas (John 20: 24–29). Even Lord Jesus on the cross raised questions concerning his relationship with the Father.

Doubts can take different shades depending upon our temperament and emotional makeup. For some, who tend to be logical in approach, the doubts that plague are intellectual—whether the Bible is trustworthy, whether miracles are possible, whether God exists, etc. These doubts are chiefly concerned with evidences. For others, it’s the emotional doubts that nag—they begin to doubt their relationship with God based on their feelings. Here, there’s a gnawing feeling about one’s belief in God and that God has not forgiven and that He has forsaken. We shall look at these two areas separately.

Intellectual Doubts: When everything seems improbable

We are living in a digital age with a supermarket of ideologies. There are times when we lose confidence in God’s word amidst the marketplace of ideas. The common areas of doubts concern philosophy, history and science—the three basic disciplines for knowledge. Fortunately Christian thinkers, historians and scientists are answering all kinds of objections that have been mustered against the Christian faith. We can draw from these resources.

It is important to recognize that God has given us two ‘books’—nature and Scripture. One is open to all and the other is for all who open it.

Whatever area of knowledge we pursue, it should be our basic conviction that all truth is God’s truth. God has given enough evidence that we need not suspend our rational thinking to become and live as a believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. He has also taken out enough from this world that we can be true worshippers only by faith. Christian faith rests on evidence and reason but goes beyond it into the realm of faith.

The so-called doubting Thomas, the apostle, is a biblical example of one who wrestled with intellectual doubt. Poor Thomas was not there for the evening service on the resurrection Sunday. His ‘Easter’ came late by seven days. He missed out a great evening and a life-changing fellowship. Reason? He was grappling with doubt. But did God leave him? Not at all. After eight days, God appeared to Thomas. It was a day of restoration. Thomas would have said that ‘I don’t believe this stuff.’ He wanted evidence. He believed everything up to the burial. His last point in the faith was a tomb. He could not perceive an empty tomb. He believed the burial but not the resurrection. God restored Thomas by presenting evidence that was undeniable. Why did God restore Thomas? He loved Thomas. Let me take this to the next level—Thomas handled his doubt. That energized him. If the tradition is correct, he came to Kerala in AD 52. Thomas’ dealing and healing of doubt created ripples in history!

When I became a believer I was a teenager. I was baffled by the intellectual dilemmas the new-found faith raised. I found that the Bible was the greatest apologetic that could adequately deal with my doubts. Books and literature, too, can be of immense help. A personal anecdote would be appropriate here. I studied in a college campus where atheism was a prominent world view. There were times when I sat in my hostel room and wondered if the arguments of atheists were indeed true. I remember reading two books authored by Francis Schaeffer—The God Who Is There and He Is There and He Is Not Silent—which Jacob Samuel (Sunnychayan) of Palakkad, who was serving as a medical representative, ‘prescribed’ for my ‘ailment’. The persuasive arguments in these books still remain the bedrock of my conviction in the Christian faith.

A common opinion—which reverberates in educational institutions today—is that Bible contradicts the findings of science. It is important to recognize that God has given us two ‘books’—nature and Scripture. One is open to all and the other is for all who open it. Since God is the author of both, the two can never contradict and be at cross purposes. What can possibly contradict is science and theology—our interpretation of both nature and scripture. So when dealing with doubts in these areas, it is important to realise that scientists can inform as well as correct theologians and vice-versa. Scientists and theologians, therefore, have a reciprocal responsibility. Christian faith is verifiable. It rests on facts in history. God is a rational God and He is the source of all wisdom. All these basic convictions should help us deal with intellectual doubts. We look into the Bible and see how amazingly accurate it is when it talks about scientific matters. We note how the Bible places itself in the historical context with a lot of reference to history and geography. Furthermore, wisdom is displayed throughout its pages. Philosophically, historically and scientifically we have as strong a case since God is the source of all truth.

Emotional doubts: When God seems silent

Emotional doubts usually occur when believers do not receive answers to prayers in the way they think they should. We doubt God and his goodness when something unexpected happens to us. We are tempted to believe that our prayers are unanswered if we do not get the answer in a relatively short time. Yet it may not be the case that God has failed to reply. Faith actually grows under great pressure. We find that in the lives of Abraham and Job. The greatest comfort is that God is trustworthy. What we already know about Him in known areas is more than enough to trust him in unknown areas (Rom 4:21).

We may not know why our prayers go unanswered, but we should know how we have to respond when we think we have not been answered. The antidote to emotional doubts is to trust God with the assurance that He is in control and that His larger purposes cannot be frustrated. Emotional doubts often need counselling from God and God’s people. Healing will be ours if we handle doubts with scripture and prayer, aided by wise counsel of mature Christians. Asaph struggled with the prosperity of the wicked in Psalm 71. His doubts could not be completely resolved but they were eventually dissolved in the climax of worship. Asaph’s experience of tension between life and theology teaches us that many of the question marks in our minds will transform into exclamation marks in worship before the sanctuary.

When the silence of God in the midst of vicissitudes of life is baffling, I have garnered enormous comfort from a couple of passages from the book of Revelation. First is Rev 8:1, where we read there was silence in heaven for half an hour. ‘Half an hour’ is mercifully an infinitesimally short period in an eternal heaven! As apostle John was baffled by the silence of Heaven, what he sees and hears are sounds of increasing intensity. Firstly, there are seven trumpets (8:1) then there came peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightening and an earthquake (8:5). He also hears loud voices (8:13, 11:12 and 11:15). What is the big picture? He is there and He is not silent!

Second aspect of God’s care is found in Rev 7:17 — “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes”. This is amazing! Normally, adults wipe their own tears. It is for children that we wipe when they are in tears. The eyeball is a sensitive organ. It requires to be handled in a delicate manner. When we wipe someone’s tears away, it demonstrates concern, love and sensitivity. This God wipes away our tears with great sensitivity. God himself will do that—without hurting! This theme is reiterated in 22: 4 — He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning, or crying or pain, for the old order of things have passed away. The psalmist had this confidence: You keep track of all my sorrows. You have collected all my tears in your bottle. You have recorded each one in your book (Ps 56:8).

God can heal us emotionally and intellectually. He is interested in our total personality. Building a personal relationship with a personal God on a day-to-day basis is the key to overcome doubts. Let us also assist one another in dealing with our doubts.

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