Healthy Questions and Doubts
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Believing purely by faith, having no tangible evidence, is not a natural approach for everybody in all cases. Just as the Lord made people very different in their personalities and physical makeup, there are also different kinds of faith. Whether you need time and study to reach a place of belief, or whether you embrace concepts with little questioning, the goal is what counts—building a living faith.
It’s not unusual to go through crises of faith and to question points of doctrine or even foundational Christian principles. The Lord often works through such battles of the mind and spirit and uses them to strengthen us. He can use this process to help us to go back to the foundation of our faith, to reaffirm our belief system, and to gain greater clarity. It can help us reach a better understanding as to why we believe certain things to be true—the scriptural foundation for our faith.
Many Christians have experienced crises of faith or grappled with bouts of doubt. Some noteworthy examples come quickly to mind—Martin Luther, Mother Teresa, and the pioneer missionary Adoniram Judson. Their crises of faith and the battles they fought to reach a place of faith and understanding have been documented. The result of their experiences, however, was a stronger faith, a deeper understanding of God and the intimate relationship He seeks with each of us. Their battles and victories have inspired many. I would venture to say that their struggles also gave them a deeper understanding of the battles people face in affirming their faith and how these can be used to ultimately strengthen their faith. You may have had similar experiences.
Rather than looking at doubts and crises of faith as a potential threat to our faith, to be resisted and pushed out of mind and heart, we need to bear in mind that questioning, doubt, and skepticism can also be stepping stones to a strong and mature Christian faith. They can help us to reason and understand our faith, to research and to determine “whether these things [are] so”1 and to reach a place of personal and reasoned faith. A faith built on these premises will not be easily swayed when challenged by contrary arguments or beliefs, or by the intellectual reasoning of unbelievers. Ultimately, the result can be a stronger and more seasoned faith.
Analyzing, discussing, and debating points of doctrine can be healthy for your faith, as it requires you to research, dig deep, and learn to articulate and defend your views and the scriptural foundation for them. There is also a lot written in the Bible about understanding and using our minds as a vehicle for our faith. God can strengthen and consolidate our faith through our gaining a greater understanding of its foundations.—Maria Fontaine
Diligently seeking Him through the questions
I grew up thinking that “faith” and “doubt” were opposites. Faith was good. Doubt was bad. With that mindset, even questions could be dangerous, as I figured they could lead to doubt. For an intellectually curious person, that is a difficult thing to deal with, and I struggled with it for most of my rememberable life. The questions I used to resist ranged from wondering whether God really cared that much about X or Y specific rule mentioned in the Bible, sometimes vaguely or heavily interpreted, to that large and ever-present question: Does God exist?
At one point, I had what seemed to me a revelation, and which I have since learned to be something many people of faith agree on: Doubt is not the enemy of faith, but can in fact make it stronger. Answers need questions as much as questions need answers.
The way I see it, when you are a person of faith and you question your faith, one of two things happens: either you lose said faith—in which case it was probably not real or strong enough to begin with—or you find that despite the inner struggles, despite the sadness, despite the unexplainable or unanswerable, your faith remains.
In the end, what we are left with is a choice of faith. Hebrews 11, “the faith chapter,” says in verse 6: “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.”
I used to see that verse as saying that “if you doubt, you displease God.” Now I read it quite differently. There are only two things it says I need to do in order to have faith and please God: (1) Believe that He is, and (2) believe that He rewards those who “diligently seek Him.” I believe that He is, and I have diligently sought Him—the questions and doubts were a necessary part of that “diligent seeking.”
I have found peace in knowing that I’ll never have all the answers, and that’s okay. That’s a part of faith. Greatest of all, He rewards me with His presence. I know there’s no way of explaining that to someone who doesn’t have faith, but I know that I know Him, and that knowing Him is pure joy.—Jessie Richards
How questions can make your faith stronger
In many people’s eyes, religion is simply meant to be accepted. That is why it is called faith. To these people, questions and doubts belong firmly in the secular realm. To question religion is to question God, and questioning God is, of course, far beyond the rights of any mere mortal. Those who do have questions about their religion are seen as lacking faith. If they were strong and certain in their faith, if they truly followed God, then they would have no questions.
As such, the only way to deal with questioning minds is to encourage them to focus more fully on God. If they strengthen their faith, they will no longer need to question it. This often backfires. Someone who is asking serious questions about their faith does not want to hear platitudes and trite answers. They do not want to feel as if their honest concerns and sincere questions are being brushed aside. They want honest and truthful answers even if the answer is “I don’t know.” More importantly, they need to either be given their answers or given direction how to find the answers to their questions if they are going to continue practicing their faith.
People who are questioning their faith are not usually looking for excuses to leave religion behind. In fact, they are often doing the opposite. Many people who question their faith are desperate to receive answers that allow them to continue practicing their faith. They want to stay faithful, and they should be treated as such. Rather than being cast as weak in faith, they should be recognized as those who continue to trust that their faith does have the answers they seek if someone would just help them find those answers. Unfortunately, that perspective does not yet seem to have taken hold.
A person who has questions about their faith will want those questions answered. To get those answers, they will begin to investigate their own religion. While that idea may send some people aflutter, a person who investigates their own faith often starts by digging deeper into the texts they grew up reading and talking to the spiritual authorities they were raised to respect. …
Questions lead to investigation, which leads a person to become more knowledgeable about their faith. Answering questions also leads a person to grow in their faith. … Overcoming challenges makes something stronger. This is true whether it is a person’s mind, body, or faith that is challenged. That which can survive struggles will last, and that which can hold up under scrutiny is more likely to continue to be believed and trusted.
As such, there is nothing wrong with a person questioning their faith. It is through questions that a person learns and grows. It is through finding answers that a person gains the confidence to say without fear or reservation, “I believe.”—Stephanie Hertzenberg2
Published on Anchor February 2020. Read by Reuben Ruchevsky.
Music by John Listen.
1 Acts 17:11.