Somewhere Between Belief and Disbelief

There is no weariness like that which rises from doubting.

ROBERT SOUTH, eighteenth-century clergyman

The university chapel was dark and empty, with only the evening shadows casting through the stained-glass windows and a low light glowing above the lectern. I sat alone on one of the eight wooden pews. A war was raging inside me, not just in my mind but in my whole being. I couldn't stand going on without knowing for sure, and I determined to answer the question once and for all that night.

    I was supposed to be at a Bible study, and that is where I had been earlier, attempting to be a good Christian as I had been raised to be. The daughter of a pastor, I had always, at least on some level, attempted to do what was right. But I just wasn't sure anymore.

   In the previous few months questions had been flooding my mind and sweeping away every certainty I had thought I had held securely. The atheistic worldviews held by some of my professors were having an effect on me, but that wasn't all. For quite some time there had been a gnawing uncertainty deep inside me, insistently whispering, What if it is all a lie?

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   At the Bible study all my questions had come crashing through my mind, and I hadn't been able to go on pretending I still believed. I slipped out at my first opportunity and in desperation made my way to the chapel.

   There I determined to settle the question. If God were real, I reasoned, surely he could find a way to reveal himself to men. I wasn't asking to see an angel or to hear him speak audibly. Anything at all would do — a sense of peace, a flicker of the light above the lectern, the arrival of another person who would give me some encouragement. Anything!

   I decided I was not going home until I had come to a resolution. But only silence answered my prayers, and I felt more alone than I ever had before. A cold fear began creeping into my heart as the minutes ticked by. What if he really wasn't there?

   Grasping for a last shred of hope, I opened my Bible randomly and prayed that God would cause it to fall to something that would speak to me. But the pages opened to an obscure passage from which I could not garner one iota of meaning. It was over, I resolved. I had laid everything on the line in search of God and found nothing.

   Tears ran down my face as I returned to my empty apartment. Lying in bed surrounded by darkness, I tried to grasp the significance of it all. There is no God, I told myself. This life is all there is. No one really knows why we are here or how we got here. There is nothing more than self-centered, imperfect humanity in which to hope. There is no real meaning, no basis for knowing what is right and wrong. It doesn't matter what we do or how we live. There is no foundation, no right and wrong, no hope.

   No! something deep inside of me screamed. It could not be true. I couldn't believe that life was just a sick joke with humans and their capacity for love, appreciation of beauty, and need for meaning as the pitiful punch line. That went against all my experience as a human being. There had to be something more!

   That night was the beginning of new no-holds-barred search for truth in my life. If Christianity wasn't true, I wanted to know so I could go on to seek truth somewhere else — because the one thing I did know after that night was that I couldn't believe this life is all there is. Something deep inside me seemed to testify that somehow "good" is better than "bad" and "love" is better than "hate," and that meant we must be something more than

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just a sum of atoms.

   That experience initiated a commitment to begin searching for answers as if my life depended on it. And this search became the pathway for me to return to Christianity with hard-won answers, able to call Christianity my own faith, not just the faith of my family, friends or church.

What About You?

Do you have questions about the truth of Christianity?

Are you a committed Christian who sometimes wrestles with doubts?

Are you often overcome with uncertainty when you attempt to explain to others why you believe?

Or are you even among those who were raised in the church but now seriously doubt the truth of any of it?

   If so, you are not alone. Every Christian I have ever been close enough to to ask has admitted to me that they have struggled with doubt, at least to some degree. In fact Gary Habermas, author of Dealing with Doubt, claims doubt may be the single most widespread problem among Christians today.1

   If not confronted, doubt can be debilitating in the life of a Christian. It robs us of our peace and joy and hinders our relationship with God — after all, how can we devote ourselves to knowing someone we are not sure exists? And even in small doses it can undermine our greatest intentions to tell others about our faith. If you are a Christian struggling with doubt you probably know this all too well. If Christianity is true, however, the devastation of doubt if you are an unbeliever is even greater — it can keep you from having a relationship with the only true God of the universe.

Each of us should examine the foundations of our own faith. Why do we believe God is there? Why do we believe God is good? How do we know Jesus ever lived? How do we know Jesus rose from the dead? Why do we trust the authority of the Bible? How do we understand that Christianity is true? ... Answers to such questions are no substitute for faith. But without the answers to such questions faith may be no match for doubt. OS GUINNESS2

   But when allowed to drive us to earnest inquiry, doubt can be an avenue to deeper faith. A vibrant faith can never successfully be grounded in hearsay, habit or the faith of others. A faith strong enough to overcome doubt and help light the world must be a faith of our own, forged in the furnace of

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honest seeking and tested in the laboratory of real life. Daily we are confronted with a dizzying variety of alternative belief systems and sometimes even hostility toward traditional faith. Now more than ever we need to know not only what we believe but also why we believe it.

Some Faces of Doubt

My husband's friend Cody was raised in a strict Christian home. He rebelled in high school but always believed he would come back to the God of his childhood. However, the longer he stayed away and hung out with people who didn't believe, the more questions he had about the validity of Christianity. Now he is married with a young family, trying to figure out how to raise his children. It seems as if he should have them in church. But he wonders about all the errors people say are in the Bible. And is it even possible to know if  religion is really true?

   Nina is the wife of a pastor. In a rush of enthusiasm she became a Christian in early adulthood; she even attended a Christian college. But after years of hard service in the church, she sometimes wonders if God is really there. Why does he sometimes let such horrible things happen in the world? And why is the Bible so confusing at times?

   Jeff, one of our neighbors, has always attended church and lived a fairly moral life, but he had held back from making a real commitment to Christianity. As an intellectual, he knows there is always much more to learn about any subject — how can he really know enough about Christianity to make a decision? Isn't it good to keep your options open? And doesn't the Bible contradict science?

Using This Book

This book is designed to help your forge a vibrant faith. Of course the very fact that you are experiencing doubt means that you are uncertain about the truth of Christianity. My purpose here is not to convince you of the truth of Christianity at all costs. Obviously my search for truth has led me to believe in Christianity. But if I were wrong, I wouldn't want to lead you to follow my error. My desire, instead, is to help you evenhandedly examine the evidences for Christianity so you can make your own decision.

   This book provides an overview of the major areas of support for Christianity and basic responses to some of the chief arguments against Christianity. It is meant to help you work through the process of determining exactly

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what you believe and why. Questions are sprinkled throughout the text to help you think through the points raised and decide about them for yourself.

The real community of man... is the community of those who seek the truth, of the potential knowers. ALLAN BLOOM (University of Chicago professor of social thought)3

   Along the way you'll find quotations of people from a variety of walks of life and different eras. End notes are provided in case you want to do further reading. Where it seems relevant, I have provided some background information about the individuals quoted.

   I urge you to scrutinize the information presented in each chapter for any facts or reasoning you question. Information generally means little to us unless we evaluate it, seek further clarification if necessary, and then either reject it or accept it. This book will be useful to you only in proportion to your willingness to explore your questions and seek out the facts or insights you need to settle them.

   I promise you that I will never knowingly present faulty evidence to try to make an argument stronger. However, if you come across a statement you question, I encourage you to do further study and come to your own resolution. You may contact me by email through this web site. I would love to hear from you. Please address me, Teresa Vining, in your email.

Your Companion Journal

This book is designed for you to use with a journal. Depending on your preference, you can use anything from a spiral notebook with your name scrawled on the front to an embossed journal from a card shop. Your journal will serve you in several ways.

   Define your questions clearly. Identifying specific questions is the first step to answering them. Sometimes when I am struggling with doubt, I feel overwhelmed by so many questions I can't even begin to deal with all of them. However, when I actually sit down to identify what they are, most of them boil down to only a handful of major issues. Once I identify what my questions really are, I don't feel so overwhelmed, and I can begin searching for answers.

   Keep a record of your process of investigating your questions and account of the answers you found. I heard an old farmer who continually

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doubted that he was really a Christian. He couldn't believe that God had forgiven him for his past sins. For him, it came down to needing something tangible. He decided to drive a stake in the ground inscribed with the date he had asked Christ for forgiveness. After that, when he began to wonder if he was really a Christian, he went out and looked at the stake to remind himself that as of that date his sins were forgiven.

   Like the farmer's memorial stake, your journal can serve as a weapon against future doubts by documenting the decisions you make about what you believe and the basis for them. When doubt threatens your beliefs again, you can turn to your journal to remind yourself of the foundation on which your beliefs are based.

   Scattered throughout this book you will find an image of pencils above questions that call for a decision. When you have established what you believe about that point, you can write out your answer in your journal and mark it in some way. These marks will signify that you believe you have truly addressed the question and are confident in the decision you have made.

   Record questions for future study. Finally, your journal can serve as a springboard for future study. I pray that in working through this book you will obtain a solid foundation for belief in Christ, but I am not foolish enough to think all your questions will be answered. All my questions are not answered, and I don't expect some of them will ever be answered in this lifetime.

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. MATTHEW 7:7-8

   We can't expect God to answer all our questions. "The secret things," Deuteronomy 29:29 says, "belong to the LORD our God." However, I firmly believe God will give you enough answers to establish your faith securely if you really want them. "Every time in the Bible when a person is called upon to exercise faith," writes Josh McDowell, "it's an intelligent faith. Jesus said in John 8, 'You will know the truth,' not ignore it."4

   When you come upon questions that lie beyond the basics necessary for faith, record them in your journal so you can go back and investigate the is-

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sues in more detail later. We may never receive complete answers to some of our questions, but the more we seek God through studying the areas in which we still have questions, the more we can hope to know him better and help others know him better. As C.S. Lewis says, "Where we find difficulty, we may always expect that a discovery awaits us."5 Recording your questions and delving into them more thoroughly later will help you begin unearthing discoveries God has for you.

   To get the most from this book, before beginning the next chapter get a notebook or journal to record notes, questions and insights.

   As you read, you may want to take notes on the most important points of each chapter so you can go back and remind yourself of them later. You also may want to write the answers to questions in complete thoughts so you can go back and read your journal without having this book open.

Using this Book in a Group Study

This book is designed to be used equally well in an individual or a group Bible study. The questions in each chapter, in addition to helping you work through the information, make great discussion questions for groups.

   Here are a few reasons you may want to consider going through this book with one or more other people.

The accountability provided by a group can be an important factor in keeping you motivated.

Encouragement from others can give you hope when you are struggling with tough questions and discouragement.

In a group you have the benefit of hearing the comments of others who may tackle a question differently than you do or have different insights.

The kingdom of heaven is like a treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field. MATTHEW 13:44

Worth the Cost

As you work through this study, you may sometimes feel discouraged. Sorting through what you believe can be hard. You may start wondering if answers are really out there and if it is worth the effort anyway.

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   But what if it is true that the God of the universe loves you and wants to have a relationship with you? What if it is possible to work through your doubts and become confident in what you believe? What if God can become so real to you that others can't help but see him in your life? Wouldn't you hate to give up and keep stumbling along with your questions when answers were within your reach? Wouldn't that possibility alone be worth the effort?

   The Bible tells us, "Love the Lord your God and with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind" (Lk 10:27). Unfortunately, I wouldn't say this describes most Christians, but it can describe you and me if we want it to. Being willing to invest the time to become convinced of what we believe is a crucial step in that direction.

   Begin your journal by answering the following questions:

   What part is doubt playing in your life right now?

   What are some questions you have struggled with about Christianity?

   What is your response to the biblical command to seek truth with all your heart, soul, mind and strength?

Chapter Two  ||  Table of Contents