The team and I were inspired by a question we received a while back from a person who admitted to doubting her faith. The wonderful thing about doubts is that they often lead to new insights. So, in the hopes that this might be instructive, we decided to quickly share our thoughts about a theological issue that either has caused us doubt in the past or is difficult to understand and/or explain to others.
“If topics like Jesus’ divinity and the inspiration of the Bible are so clear and obvious, why are there so many churches and denominations? Do any of them really have truth?” Skeptics—including the one in my own head—have often wondered about these particular apparent inconsistencies when observing the diverse landscape of Christian religion. If the Bible supposedly leads us to believe truth, but then we form various groups, subgroups, or denominations, then do those Scriptures really contain consistent and accurate teachings?
There are several answers to this valid point of contention. The one that won me over has to do with nuance. Like any good piece of literature, the Bible is filled with deep nuance and meaning—and if it were not, we’d probably question the veracity of the Scriptures in terms of not engaging our minds through intricacies and a need for meditation or study. Meditation and study can lead us to emphasize various issues not related to the core beliefs and assertions of God’s word. However, such scholarship will lead us to greater certainty of those core beliefs—such as the resurrection of Jesus, the ability to know truth, and the nature of our Creator.
I struggle with the doctrine of election. I struggle with Reformed theology. I struggle with the idea that only some make it to Heaven. I struggle when I don’t hear God; will He ever speak to me again (did he speak to me? Is my memory skewed? Am I saved? Did I lose salvation? Did I ever have it?). Those issues may never be resolved, but I find confidence in two things: This world makes the most sense through the lens of Christianity and, if Christianity is true, my longings don’t make Him or His nature less true. That is, even if I die and become worm food, or the judgment is passed and I wasn’t selected, I know that this world is better because I didn’t live for myself: It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me (Gal 2:20).
I know that I’ve invested in others. I’ve helped others battle depression. I’ve comforted the dying. I’ve seen anger and hate turn to love and gentleness. And above all that, I know I couldn’t—more like I wouldn’t—have done any of it on my own. In that, I find my strength in God, who shines through me, not so I may see but so others can. It is my hope that you find comfort and strength by recognizing that it is often our own light which seems the dullest, but it is that same light which lights the way for those around us. Don’t give up. You are not alone.
I’ve always been troubled by how “absent” or “unreal” God is to my conscience. But the problem lies in my idea of “real.” I cling to logic in an attempt to be as objective as possible, but when I do this I often neglect everything else in life that’s certainly as “real” as objective logic. In other words, there’s too much commonality with fellow humans for my subjective experiences about life to be “only for me.” Everything that captivates our consciousness as humans, although subjective to each individual, is tied to objective reality like the notes on music sheets are tied to mathematics. We all ring different tones, pitches and durations, but we’re all tied to the same system. Both subjectivity and objectivity are required to answer the question, “What is real?”
In a sense, my doubts about the certainty of God’s existence are akin to asking the mathematics behind music to prove itself. How absurd is it to demand something that’s self-evident from the right perspective? For me to demand God to be “more real” was to unknowingly confine him into my own little mental box. As a result, I was no longer looking for God. But the day came when I realized: “I don’t need to reason God into existence, for a Necessary Being exists regardless of what I think of him.” For me to think I could prove God is to say a drop of ink in the shape of a half-note on a music sheet can prove mathematics. The God of the Bible is called “I Am” for a reason. I cannot escape the logic of a Necessary Being because I cannot escape the reality of my own conscience and the universe I live in. Only with the objective basis of a Necessary Being can I wholeheartedly accept all the joy, pain, goodness, beauty, love, purpose, and longing in my life as truly “real” and be able to share it with others.
Nate: The Trinity
I think a common misconception (perhaps from non-believers) is that, if something can’t be fully explained, it cannot be true. One of the theological issues that I struggle understanding fully and explaining to others is the Trinity. On our latest episode of the podcast, I mentioned that it is human nature to want to image things as it helps us to understand concepts. But, when it comes to God, we are expressly forbidden to image Him (Exodus 20:4). That’s because any image we attribute to God will understandably dwarf His true essence.
Fortunately, the notion of The Trinity is comprehendible and, more importantly, logically valid. As a matter of fact, the definition of God as one Being, three Persons violates neither the law of non-contradiction nor identity. And it should make sense, for those truly thinking about the subject, that the Creator of the universe, who is not human, would be beyond mere analogic representation. Therefore, since God is beyond mere analogic representation, it’s not strange at all that it is difficult to fully grasp and/or explain The Trinity. Also important to note: without a Trinity we cannot explain some of the fundamental qualities of God, like love. So, in the words of Greg Koukl, The Trinity is a solution, not a problem.
Gene: The Canaanites
I have to be honest and say that since putting my faith in Jesus and becoming a believer there has not been an issue or topic that has caused me to doubt my belief in the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus. That’s not to say that some issues haven’t troubled me or given me pause in different ways. One such topic is the commands for apparent genocide in the Old Testament. Nonbelievers will use this case as a proof of sorts that either God does not exist, or if there is a God and he is not the one found in the Bible. Such a loving Creator could not possibly command the murder of a whole people group, could he? In the past, and even still today at times, this issue creates a curiosity in me as to the nature of God and his treatment of human beings. I see many evidences that display his love for us and desire for our communion with him, but I also see scripture like this which could indicate a different attitude that God has towards man.
In the end, God’s command of Israel to destroy the Canaanites is not something that causes doubt in me of the existence of God, but rather causes me to recalibrate my estimation of God’s just nature and hatred of sin. The Bible describes some of the things that the Canaanites were doing. They were atrocious deeds, including sacrificing their own children to idols in horrendous ways. The very type of evil that many claim they want God to instantaneously step in and do something to stop today. If God is all good then it follows he would not have much tolerance for wickedness from his creation. This gives me pause and forces me to meditate on exactly how serious of God takes sin and the lengths to which he has gone to defeat it. The greatest length of course being that of giving his only son to bear the penalty for all of us.
Logan: God’s Anger
If God is both divine and loving, why in Numbers does he kill so many of his own people out of apparent rage and impatience? This is a question that has challenged my faith. God at times, particularly in the book of Numbers, appears to be hot-headed and not so different from anger-fueled humans we know, or even pagan gods who so frequently succumb to impatient hot-headedness. Embedded in this are two assumptions, neither of which I now believe are correct. These two assumptions are that: 1. Strong emotion is a necessarily human and not divine trait, and that 2. The sins of the Israelites (in these particular instances) are deserving not of death, but of a lesser sort of punishment. As to the first, we often associate anger with sin – but anger in and of itself is not sin. David himself says “be angry and do not sin” and our Lord Jesus himself was so angry that he overturned the tables in the temple – an action to drive them out because he was righteously anger at the misuse of the temple.
The fact is, God does experience emotion, and his experiencing anger is implicit in that. The fact that a divine being would not experience emotion is neither apparent nor logical; it is only an ungrounded assumption of culture. The second note is very simple. From where did I get my moral compass which insists these are lesser sins? I am not a transcendent being, so I have established a code by which God must submit, I have done so illegitimately and without foundation. Objective morality cannot be made up by a particular human, but only by a transcendent source. Otherwise, someone with a completely different idea of morality than mine can have equal say to me in matters which place human life in the balance. In short, I realized that this objection was grounded not in an internal inconsistency of God’s character, but rather unfounded assumptions about the nature of divinity, and of a subjective idea of morality.