Christmas Doubt

My older sister wanted to go to college out of state. We grew up in a small town in California. So she decided to go to college in New York City. It was as far out of state as she could get—both physically and metaphorically.

She wanted to see the world from a different perspective. And she did. As I remember it, this became clear one Christmas break when she announced that she was no longer a Christian.

It’s not an unfamiliar story to many parents.

Your son or daughter may or may not be in college. But at some point, your child (young or old) will question and maybe even walk away from the Christian faith.

A recent study by the Fuller Youth Institute found that “seventy percent of students…reported having doubts in high school about what they believed about God and the Christian faith.”  Often these times of doubt come during the Christmas season. Because it’s a natural time of year to reflect on whether or not the Christmas story and all it implies is really true.

How can parents respond?

Here are three simple responses that will help you help your children as they work through doubts and unbelief:

  1. Give your child time and space to share their doubts

Don’t respond first with arguments. Instead, listen to your child’s doubts. Ask them what led them to their doubt? Praise them for thinking seriously about matters of faith. Allow them to critique, challenge, and even deny their faith. Don’t critique their critiquing. Instead, ask questions that seek to understand where they are coming from. And keep the dialogue going.

  1. Expose them to other Christian viewpoints

Often when your child questions Christianity, he or she is really just questioning their understanding of Christianity. New York City pastor, Timothy Keller, is famous for saying to young skeptics, “Describe the God you don’t believe in. Maybe I don’t believe that God either.” He then encourages skeptics to expand their understanding of Christianity by learning about how other Christians around the world understand and worship God, deal with suffering, and live the Christian life. As a parent, one of the best things you can do for your child is expose them to the breadth of Christian thought and practice throughout history and around the world.

  1. Remember this may be just a season

Don’t blow them off assuming this “phase” will pass. But don’t freak out assuming this “phase” is permanent. Remember God is bigger than our doubts. He’s not scared or offended by them. God is still at work in your child’s life, even if you or your child can’t see it. If you prayerfully pursue the above two actions it will only be a matter of time before you see what God is up to in the life of your child.

My older sister is actually proof that God is faithful even in the midst of doubt. Today, she loves Jesus, is committed to the church, and is married to an Anglican priest!

Hopefully, your Christmas season won’t involve any denials of faith. But if it does, see the moment as a door for opportunities. An opportunity to listen to your child’s story. An opportunity to expose your child to other Christian stories. And an opportunity to trust God that your child is still a part of His story.

How I handle doubts about God

From time to time it happens. I begin to really doubt the existence of God. That might sound taboo coming from a pastor, but honestly there are times when the existence of God just seems crazy. And that’s ok.  Having faith in an unseen, all-powerful being, in a world that screams “believe what you see” and “it’s all about me”, can sometimes take some work.  So what do I do when I start to doubt the very Being I committed my life to? Well, I start by drinking heavily… no, no, no, I’m just kidding. I actually start by asking myself three fundamental questions about existence.

1.  Why is there something rather than nothing?

Our universe is built out of matter—physical stuff—but where did the physical stuff come from?  Matter doesn’t just pop into existence, nor does it exist eternally.  Even famous atheist Richard Dawkins admits we currently don’t know where the matter for the origins of our universe came from. But his best guess is that maybe some intelligent aliens created our universe (http://youtu.be/abugiGHOHg0). That answer of course only pushes the question back to the universe of the aliens: How did they come to exist?  When I think about such things, it makes much more sense to me that something outside and wholly unlike matter created matter. Something that was self- existent, eternal, and immaterial.  Something that was intelligent with the ability to create. Something like God. Richard Dawkins would say, to posit God as creator of our universe is just lazy thinking—like coming up with any answer because you can’t take the time to think of anything better. But God is only a lazy answer if God does not actually exist, and if there are no other reasons to believe in God. But there are at least two other good reasons to believe God exists.

2.  How did life begin?

Now even if the universe did just pop into existence one day, there is still the nagging question, how did life begin?  Because for most of the Darwinian Evolutionary story there isn’t life at all, just lots of things made up of different chemicals. When it comes to the question of how did life begin, even Harvard biologist, Andrew Knoll is honest enough to say “The short answer is we don’t really know how life originated on this planet.”[1]  Now I will be the first to say that there is a difference between what is true, and what could be true but is currently unknown given our limitations. In other words it could be the case that what is true is that life began without God, but we currently lack the technology to explain how that happened. I understand that is possible, but it doesn’t seem highly probable. In the same way, something like matter does not come from nothing, so it seems unlikely that one kind of something (chemicals) would produce a fundamentally different kind of something (life).  But it would make perfect sense for something different, like God (who is himself a living being) to produce something similar to himself (more life). 

3.  What is the purpose of life?

I will be the first to admit that the way my mind answers this last question is the least rational of the three questions. But there is something inside me that hungers for purpose and significance. And when I think about a world in which there is no God, then there is not a lot of room for purpose or significance. In a world without God the most significant thing I could do with my existence is to please me. And truth be told, I have tried that, and yes, there are still times I fall back into that, but every time I do it’s terrible. I am terrible at living for me, because half the time I don’t even know what I want, let alone what will make my life truly significant.  I am terrible at writing the story of my life.  On the other hand, when I live as if God exists (namely the God and Father of Jesus), and when I seek him to determine my purpose and significance, trusting that both those things truly come only from him… well, it’s crazy, but that’s when I actually find myself pleased.

I have asked myself these three questions many times, and I imagine I’ll ask them again. But every time doubt in my Creator arises they have served as the initial roads that lead me back to belief.

In the future I’ll talk about how the bible and personal experience can also serve as two roads which can take one from doubt to belief.

What about you, what are your doubts about faith or God? How do you handle them?

Evil and Grace

Jesus on cross black and white

Why did God let a madman shoot up a school? Better yet, why did He let Adam sin? Better yet, why did He let Satan into the garden? Better yet, why did He let evil into Satan’s heart?

Why is there evil at all?

Sure it’s true that God Himself through Jesus Christ came to rescue sinners from evil and to redeem the world. But why should the world and the people in it need rescuing in the first place? Is God like a man who built a house, rented it out to tenants and then set it on fire so that He could later rescue them? And even if we say that, in God’s case, He did not actively set the house on fire, He just allowed it to happen, He is still the one that had the power to stop it and chose not to. Why?

Some say God did not stop evil because He could not; others say He did not stop evil because He chose not to. Among those who say He chose not to stop evil, there are those who say it is because God is evil, and then there are others who say it is because God wants to work good from the evil.  In either case, God still appears evil. Because even a God who allows the ends to justify the means appears to be a God who is simply a manipulator of creation, like someone just doing the best He can with what He has to work with.

But the God of the Bible is none of these things. So why then did YHWH allow evil into the world?

Imagine evil never existed. Imagine Adam and Eve never sinned. And not only did they never sin they never had the option to sin, because evil was nowhere in existence. What then could we know of God? We could know His power.  We could know His intelligence. But we could never know His Grace.

Grace–unmerited favor–cannot be known in a world without evil.  Grace does not exist in a perfect world because in a perfect world everything is merited.  Every reward is the natural consequence of the perfect action that preceded it. But in a world where there is evil, there are many actions that merit condemnation, judgment, and even wrath. And in that world there is now space for Grace.

In an evil world there is now an open place for favor to be poured out where it should not be. In an evil world Grace shines brightly against the just consequence of condemnation.

Grace…an unknowable quality of God in a world without evil. Could it be that the great I AM is interested in displaying all of who He IS?

In Grace we see a characteristic of God that is wholly unlike any other conceived divine being. In Grace we see the holiness of God (His otherness). In Grace we see the beauty of God. In Grace we see the love of God in a way that otherwise would not be possible.

The Cross, the great symbol of Grace, is not just about salvation from evil, nor is it just about Jesus conquering evil. It is even more: it is a glorious beacon brightly shining in the darkness of night, displaying who God IS.

Evil is necessary for Grace. Grace is an essential attribute of God. God desires to fully display His attributes. Therefore evil exists.

What are your thoughts?