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Confession: Faith has never come easy for me.
I have lived most of my Christian life with a constant voice in the back of my head saying, “But what if it’s not true?” These days, the voice is mostly just a whisper (some days I don’t hear it at all); at other times, it’s been a full-on shout.
The voice started in high school, in Mr. Gus’s class, where we explored the great thinkers of the Enlightenment. Mr. Gus dared us to answer hard questions, to prove why we believed what we believed. His questions made me stop and think, “Why do I believe these things? Is this really my faith, or have I blindly adopted my parents’ faith?”
I came home asking questions—lots of them. I am forever thankful for my parents’ wisdom. They didn’t freak out: “How dare you doubt God and the Bible?!” They didn’t panic: “Oh, no! Our daughter is falling away from God!” They didn’t blow me off: “Huh. Those are hard questions. Good luck figuring things out.” They didn’t write me off: “You’re just going through a weird teenage phase—it will go away in a week or two.”
Photo credit: Sara Engel
They took me seriously, and let me dive deep. They didn’t offer quick, shallow answers. My dad, who has wrestled with a number of faith questions himself, said, “I understand why you have those questions—I’ve had them too! So let’s study them out together.” He gave me books to read, and gave me freedom to ask all my questions. We worked through them one by one, step by step. There was no pressure, no guilt, and no rush. I went back and forth on some of these questions for months—some for years—and Mom and Dad were always there to listen, to discuss, to reason, and to point me to helpful resources. And it’s not like I grew up and stopped asking questions—I still ask a ton of questions, but now I know enough about the Bible and apologetics that I know where to turn when questions crop up.
Here are a few conclusions I’ve come to over the years—maybe they will encourage you if you find faith difficult:
1.It’s okay to have questions about faith—in fact, questions are good. Doubt means you are thinking. Doubt means you don’t just blindly accept everything you hear from the pulpit or from popular Christian culture. God encourages us to love him “with all [our] minds” (Mark 12:30)—he doesn’t want us to check our brains at the door when we become Christians! Thinking and study are an integral part of our faith. Doubt only becomes a problem if we don’t take the time to address it—if we are lazy and unwilling to put the time in to read and study and seek answers.
Photo credit: Sara Engel
2.I’m not the first person to have this question. Whatever question I am asking, some other Christian has asked it before me. Which means: 1) I’m not weird or sinful for having this question, and 2) I can find helpful writings (and podcasts and videos) on this topic. Chances are, great Christian thinkers and apologists have already produced a wealth of material on this exact question, and somewhere in their words, I can find the help I need. (My go-to person for faith questions is my longtime friend Dr. Douglas Jacoby, whose website is a vast resource for Christians with questions.)
3.Faith is a long journey—embrace the twists and turns. There will be times in our lives when faith is harder: maybe a painful experience is bringing up doubts; maybe a disappointment or loss has rocked us; maybe God seems distant or silent. Times like these don’t need to destroy our faith—in fact, they can strengthen it if we tackle our questions and doubts honestly, and with Scripture. (Random shout-out: If God feels far away, read Philip Yancey’s book, Prayer: Does It Make a Difference? MIND-BLOWING. LIFE-CHANGING.)
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4. We don’t have to accept the easy answer. Some questions about God and the Bible do not have quick, easy answers. Warfare in the Bible? Senseless suffering? Predestination? These are hard, complex topics. Simple blanket statements like “Just have faith” or “Just trust God” won’t do it for questions like these.
I need more than pat answers to keep my faith healthy: I need Scriptures. Logic. Honest analysis of the contradictions and difficulties. And you know what? God designed me this way! He made me to think. To question. To explore. He doesn’t expect me to settle for easy answers to hard questions. If you’re like me, and you’re a thinker, a questioner, a wonder-er, that’s not a bad thing. Let’s embrace who we are, and take joy in the journey of working out our faith.
5.It’s okay to live with some questions and uncertainty. I have come to realize that some of our faith-related questions may never be completely resolved. The big questions are resolved: Do I believe in God? YES. Was Jesus really the Son of God, and did he die for sins and resurrect from the dead? YES. Can I trust God with my life? YES. (But even in those questions, doubt can occasionally resurface, and we have to go back and remind ourselves: This is what I believe, and why.)
But some other questions—about tough topics like suffering, or predestination, or how God’s will works in daily life—are up for debate. God hasn’t explained every nuance of who he is and how he works—if he tried, the Bible would be a gazillion pages long (plus, our brains might explode). We can keep thinking, keep reading, keep debating and discussing, but we might have to settle for “This is the best answer I can come up with for now. And I reserve the right to change my thinking on it over time.”
6.Faith is an adventure. I used to feel guilty when a new doubt or question cropped up; now I see those moments as opportunities to study and grow. Questions are a chance to dig in to Scripture and some new books, and to have some deep conversations with trusted thinker-friends. Doubts are an opportunity to be honest with God about what we’re working through, and to ask him to point us in the right direction.
Let’s take comfort and joy from Jesus’ words to Thomas, our fellow doubter, because they are written about you and me (how cool is that?!): “Because you [Thomas] have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:28).
Okay, your turn: What faith questions do you have? Do you view doubt as a weakness, or an opportunity for growth and exploration? If your kids have questions about God, how do you plan to handle them?