Do you ever think about the big questions of life? I don’t mean in church, or some place where you are supposed to give the “right” answers. I mean when you’re all alone, in the middle of the night, in the privacy of your soul. Do you ever wonder, “Is God really true?”
There are many people in our day who say that faith doesn’t make any sense at all. Daniel C. Dennett wrote a book called, “Breaking the Spell.” He claims that religious faith has been protected by the idea that it is sacred, and it has never been subjected to the kind of critical thinking that reveals it to be nonsensical. He, Sam Harris, Christopher Hawkins, Richard Dawkins and others believe religious faith is misleading people to believe in rubbish.
But it’s not just people writing books who struggle with these questions. Usually at some points or others, people who want to believe, also find it a struggle.
Some women have told me how they prayed for their husband for 20, 30 or even 40 years but he never overcame his alcoholism or anger or whatever. Some prayed for their son or brother for decades and they never overcame their mental health problems and sometimes even committed suicide.
So what does it mean to believe? What does it mean to question and struggle?
Truth is friends, we all live at the mercy of our ideas about the way things are. What you believe will effect your future and even your present state. I believe doubt is an inescapable part of what it means to be human. There is no doubt-free living. Part of what it means to have a limited IQ is there is no escape from doubt.
When I got married, there was no doubt-free guarantee that it was the right decision. I knew I wanted to marry. It turned out to be a good decision. My wife tells me all men marry up, so maybe that explains it! But there was no guarantee.
When I left Ipswich to come to the Gold Coast for work, I thought it was the right decision. I believed it was a good place for us to move to, for me to start a new job, but there was no guarantee.
I have chosen to spend my life the way that I spend it, because I think that’s the best way that I can. But I’m finite, and I have questions, and I struggle with things too. If you wait until all doubt is removed before you make a decision, you will never get married, you will never take a new job, and you will never have a child. You will never make a friend. You will never follow God. Doubt is part of the human condition.
Not long ago, I was talking with someone who said, “I wish I could have faith like you, but I just can’t”. The idea behind this is that some people have faith and some people don’t. Or that some live only by what can be proven, by rational, logical, ideas and other people live by faith. The idea that some live by faith and others don’t is not true. Every human being lives by faith.
For example, this week, and I had been preoccupied by writing and when I walked outside it was a fabulous day! The sky was blue, there was a warm breeze and the sun was shining. I thought to myself “It is great to be alive”!
Now if you try to prove the statement “It is good to be alive” and if you wait to believe it until a physicist, or a biologist, or a mathematician proves it, then you might as well go back inside, because it cannot be proved. It is a basic conviction like the belief that children should get lots of love, that human beings are all equal. These are beliefs that cannot be proven in a scientific or mathematical or logical sense, but there are, I believe, good reasons we believe they are true.
Part of why I believe in the Christian faith is that the writers of the Bible tell us that the reason we ought to believe that it is good to be alive is that when God was at work in creation, He spoke, and said that it was good. So at those moments when we’re aware life is good, it is not just a survival instinct. It is the way things are.
In Jennifer Hedge’s book “A History of Doubt.” She offers an assessment scale to judge where you are when it comes to the God question. At one end of the scale, is “The universe is nothing but an accidental pile of stuff with no rhyme or reason, and all life on earth is an utterly inconsequential piece of nothing, never to be judged, noticed or remembered.” Has that depressed you yet? At the other end is the belief “this world was created by someone, by a personal God for a reason.”
Unfortunately neither of these ideas can be proven. Both positions are faith statements. Both are based on faith in something.
Rene Descartes once asked himself: “What’s the one thing I can know for sure, without any doubt?” What he came down to was, “At least I know that I exist, because I’m the one who is doubting. I’m the one who is asking the question.” He summarised his thoughts in that famous statement: Cogito ergo sum. … I think, therefore I am .
There’s a whole school of philosophy built on the idea that truth cannot be known. Technically, we call this idea scepticism: “We cannot know truth. We cannot know even if we exist.”
Steve Pinker is a neurologist who wrote: There is no such thing as “You.” All there are, are atoms. All there is is stuff. What we call “you” is nothing more than a series of brain states … just neurons firing. He writes: That notion of a “you” is just an illusion.
The problem with this position is it’s impossible to live it consistently. Nobody does. Steve Pinker writes and sells books arguing that there is no such thing as Steve Pinker, but somebody keeps making withdrawal from his bank account.
In the Bible, the writer of Hebrews says: Without faith, it is impossible to please God. (Hebrews 11:6) That troubles people sometimes. They wonder why we have to have faith.
But try to make a friend without having faith that they are a good person and trustworthy. Try pleasing a parent without trust in them. Try getting married without faith. Try to raise a child without learning about trust. Without faith, it is impossible to please God or to please anybody. Without faith, it is impossible to live.
But as long as you have faith, you will have doubts. Once you have knowledge of something you don’t need to have faith anymore. Faith is only required when there are doubts … when we do not know for sure. When knowledge comes, faith is no more .
So have faith. It will help you live well.