Over the past few weeks I’ve looked at the way that sin and our own finitude cause us to doubt our faith. But these are certainly not the only things that give rise to doubt. Let me mention a few other causes here.
- New Knowledge. We’ve all had this happen before. We learn something new and it seems to be at odds with everything else we believe. When it happens, we have an overwhelming sense of ignorance and uncertainty that shakes us. Unfortunately, this can happen repeatedly since our knowledge is constantly expanding. So what should we do? First, relax. Step back for a moment and recognize that you’re not the first believer to face the issue you’re dealing with. In all likelihood, believers have been working on the issue for quite some time and you’ll have plenty to draw from. Second, step up and begin to explore the issue more fully. Don’t be afraid of new knowledge.
- Stress, exhaustion and failure. Most people don’t think these are issues, but they are. Most of us respond very poorly to stress and frustration. For most of us, when we are exhausted we are more likely to experience doubt. This is especially true in the case of failure. When we work hard for something and ultimately fail to accomplish what we hoped, we tend to throw up our hands and question God. We need to recognize this tendency and learn to step back in these moments to avoid drawing the wrong conclusion. We might also need to get some rest!
- Pain and suffering. This one is a little more obvious. The experience of pain and suffering can have a significant negative impact on a person’s faith. I often tell my students, the problem of evil isn’t a problem because a bunch of philosophers sit around and debate it. It’s a problem because it jumps up off the street and punches us in the gut. And when it does, it tends to leave us struggling with our faith. In these moments we need to seek pastoral care from our friends and church family. We need to let the people of God into our lives in these moments so they can help us and comfort us. Whatever we do, we don’t need to isolate ourselves!
- Bullies. Last of all, we need to note the impact that social pressure can have on our faith. Let’s face it, it has probably never been more unpopular to be faithful to Christ in our time as it is right now. We’re called bigots, haters, morons, and worse on a daily basis. We are mocked and ridiculed for what we believe and people express disgust at our religious convictions. And when it happens, we feel the pressure to sink back and stay quiet. So what should we do? First, we must be kind and gracious. We cannot return evil for evil (I Peter 3:9). But second, we can’t let this pressure shake us either. We must be prepared to take our lumps for Christ. Our brothers and sisters around the world have been doing it for quite some time. Perhaps our time is now. Remember, we’re in good company (Matthew 5:10-12).
Unfortunately, we can’t avoid most of the problems. Life throws them at us on a regular basis. But, we don’t have to let them crush our faith. Next week, I’ll begin looking at how to handle these issues. Until then, I’m praying with you and for you. Stay tuned!