BOOK EXCERPT - Faith & Doubt


My Bible tells me that no one can please God without faith.  There's a reason God requires faith. There's a reason He doesn't give us all the answers to all our ponderings. The Bible makes it clear that God intends our journey to include as much mystery as certainty, as many questions as answers. I think it's a mistake to think that unanswered questions equal untenable faith. In fact, answers are the enemy of faith.  

I remember a sermon at my church in which the teacher, a talented communicator named Jay, invited a volunteer to come to the stage. Jay held out a closed fist to the volunteer and said, "I'm going to give you whatever is in my hand. I'm telling you now, before I show you, that what's in my hand is one hundred dollars.” 

Then he turned to the audience and said, "Do you think I'm telling her the truth?" There was a general rumble toward the affirmative.  

Then Jay started to ask questions. "If there really is one hundred dollars in my hand, where did it come from? My bank account or the church's? I'm speaking at all three services today; do you think I'm really going to give away three hundred dollars of my own? Do you think the board of elders would approve giving away the church's money this way? What if it's Monopoly money? What if I really meant I would give her whatever is in my other hand?”  

After he created doubt in everyone's mind, he turned back to the volunteer and asked, "Do you still believe I'm really going to give you one hundred dollars?" To her credit, she answered, "Yes!”  

Jay said, "Now, that's faith! She has reason to doubt. She has considered the alternatives. And yet she believes. Now I'm going to ruin her faith. I'm going to crush it right in front of you all.” 

Then he opened his hand and revealed a crisp one hundred dollar bill. He handed it to the volunteer and she fairly skipped back to her seat.  

Jay drove home the point: the only thing necessary to kill faith is fact. Doubt isn't the enemy of faith; certainty is. Corrie ten Boom, the Christian subversive who helped Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust, who had every reason to doubt the story and the goodness of God, wasn't content with certainty. She wrote, "A religion that is small enough for our understanding would not be big enough for our needs.” 

As with many other issues, there is an equilibrium to strike here, a divinely-balanced mixture of mystery and matter, of wonder and cold hard fact. It won't do for Christians to ignore difficult questions. The bumper sticker theology that says, "The Bible says it, so I believe it" seems to imply something negative about doubt and, for that matter, scholarly study, as if we should embrace the hard truths of the Bible without wrestling with the hard questions they present. That doesn't sit well with a culture that is increasingly more skeptical, more jaded, and more creative.