What About a Christian Who Doubts?

I think much of our “in your face” apologetics, as well as personal evangelism, is unhelpful for they do not deal with some of the real issues that can cause doubt.  To make things worse, when doubts arrive, friends are quick to condemn us for lack of faith or tell us we are sinning.  Doubts can be very real because they generally center on the basic relationship one has with God. I have a few general comments.

First, doubt is not the opposite of faith.  Unbelief is the opposite of faith.  Faith encompasses some doubt or it would not be faith.  Faith is not an intellectual exercise but a personal trust in the goodness and reliability of God to do what he promises to do.

Second, faith is a working hypothesis.  This is a position scientists take all the time.  The existence of black holes is a working hypothesis.  Evidence exists for black holes but they are not a provable fact at this point so that there is a law of black holes.  God, the Bible, salvation, etc. are all part of a large working religious hypothesis. Evidence for God exists, but the evidence is not provable fact.  We act upon our hypothesis as if it were true though not provable.

Three, we must admit that we could be wrong – our hypothesis may be wrong.  However, my Christian hypothesis answers more questions than any alternative I have considered.  Granted, I don’t know all the questions and all the alternatives that are available, but what I do points me to God.

Fourth, our atheist friends also have a working hypothesis and a faith.  They cannot disprove God any more than we can prove God.  Which hypothesis makes the most sense?  That is the basis upon which faith is built.  The atheist has a faith commitment to the scientific enterprise as the ultimate answer to life’s meaning.  I prefer making a faith commitment to God as the ultimate answer to life’s meaning. I have no quarrel with science per se or the scientific method, but making science or anything else less than God as an ultimate concern is building an idol that is the product of limited humanity.

Whose Family Values?

My wife and I spent time with family over the holidays, and it got me to thinking about family values. This is a very popular topic for politicians and preachers, for they champion family values for their respective audiences. Rarely do they, or any of the rest of us, define what is meant by family values.

“Value” is a word with many meanings, depending upon the context. It can refer to the importance, worth, or benefit, especially the importance or worth of something or someone one. Value can be related to the amount of money that can be received for something. Value can be applied to how useful or important something or someone is.

In general, I think of values as the beliefs people have, especially about what is right and wrong, what is most important in their lives, and what controls behavior. A search for family values in Google produced 24,100,000 results in 0.47 seconds. Traditional family values usually include such topics such as religion, marriage, communication, traditions, morals, holidays, interactions with relatives, and how time is spent together.  One source defined family values as

“. . . ideas passed down from generation to generation.  It boils down to the philosophy of how you want to live your family life.  Three traditional basic tasks in life have been described as work, play and love.”

I can go with this definition, but I would add a fourth task: faith. I would also add social responsibility. So, my basic tasks for family life are “to have socially responsible work, play, love, and faith.” Unless our values are lived out in socially responsible ways, family life in particular and community life in general will suffer and eventually deteriorate.

No two families will have identical values. Some writers have referred to life as living by a script. We are given a script in our family as children that tell us how we are to live our live in the family. As we get older, we begin to question the script we are given and eventually must decide whether to live with the script we are given, to rewrite portions of the childhood script, or to reject the family script altogether.

I have noticed that my children have some of the same values as those they were taught in our home, but I recognize they have values that reflect their own personalities and needs. Sometimes I am tempted to comment that they were not given that script in our home, but recognize that children must develop their own personal script. When we marry, we either incorporate items from our personal scripts into a new marriage script, or we scrap everything we were given and start afresh. Many family disputes arise from which script a person is following: a personal script v.s. a family script.

We need to encourage and help families to have values that guide them in living socially responsible lives.

Feelings: Yours and Mine

Christians often have a difficulty time with feelings, especially those feelings that they consider to be sinful. After all, didn’t Jesus talk about lusting in the heart is the same as committing adultery? So, doesn’t that mean my feelings can be sinful? A good question that I have been asked several times. The question usually comes from people who have a sense of guilt about feelings they have or have had. Or, they have feelings that have trapped them in the past.

First, you need to understand that your feelings are important. Without them you would be less than human. Your feelings can show what is going on inside of you and indicate either wellbeing, or, that something is amiss and needs attention. Feelings are important in understanding your personal relationships with other people. Your feelings motivate you to respond in various ways to your environment. These feelings are all essential to your day-to-day living.

Sometimes our feelings can be difficult because we can be trapped by painful feelings. Our minds remember unpleasant things that have happened in the past. We think about things that were said that should not have been said. We remember slights. Our memories can create feelings that trap us in the past and our feelings are in control.

By allowing our feelings to take control we can sometimes act and speak in ways that we later regret. Feelings can keep us from doing what we need to do. This is especially true when we have “the blues” or even deeper depression. Our feelings can affect our health, for the mind-body connection is very real.

Our feelings are not under our conscious control. They come in response to the way we perceive the world at any given time. This is a function of our mind. We interpret what is happening where we are and what others say and do. We make value judgments about what we see and hear. Our feelings arise in our mind and are produced by the way our mind is working in a given situation. Feelings are not good or bad, right or wrong; they are just feelings.

Though we can’t control when we have feelings, we can control them once we have them . We can choose to deny them, bury them, express them, and/or control them. In Psalm 32, the writer understood the danger of denying and burying his feelings. In his case, he had unconfessed sin that had been buried. He said, “I was worn out from crying all day long” (v.3), and “my strength was completely drained” (v. 4). The psalmist was having physical reactions from buried feelings. You and I will also have physical reactions from buried feelings.

Home, school, and society have programmed us in such a way that we are reluctant to express our feelings. We don’t want the possible fallout from others. We don’t want God to punish us for our feelings. To control your feelings instead of letting feelings control you is difficult, but you and I can learn to express our feelings in a responsible way. In verse 5 of Psalm 32 is how our friend solved his problem:

Then I confessed my sins to you;
    I did not conceal my wrongdoings.
I decided to confess them to you,
    and you forgave all my sins.

The writer connected his feelings with unconfessed sin. That is not always the case with you, or with me. I would not even suggest that your painful feelings are caused by unconfessed sin. You can be harassed by feelings that have nothing to do with something sinful. The writer of Psalm 42 asked, “Why am I so sad? Why am I so troubled?” He didn’t know why he felt the way he did, and the same can be true of you. You just feel sad and troubled, and want help.

Regardless, if you will let them, the painful feelings you have can make you aware of how much you need God’s help. Just as God helped the psalmists, He can help you to accept and to deal with your feelings in responsible ways and to revive whatever joy and peace has died in you. God can enlighten what’s dark, strengthen what’s weak, mend what’s broken, bind what’s wounded, and heal what’s sick in you.

The writer of Psalm 42 concluded: “I will put my hope in God, and once again I will praise him, my savior and my God.” That can be your conclusion, too.