Do you ever have moments or even days of doubt about your faith or lack of one? Doubting is normal because we are human with all our imperfections and brokenness. Don’t forget even Jesus’ followers doubted – St. Thomas, until he stuck his finger in Jesus’ side where he had been pierced on the cross, and St. Peter who doubled down on doubting when he denied that he knew him when Jesus was arrested. Doubting doesn’t pertain to only people of faith but may apply to everyone – seekers and those who classify themselves as atheist and agnostic.
Pastor Timothy Keller had a big heart for doubters of all shades. He welcomed them with open arms in his Redeemer Presbyterian church in Manhattan, New York. Partially for this reason his church grew to some 5,000 regular attenders in the 1990s in a part of the country noted for its materialism and secularism. Keller challenged doubters to doubt their doubts, in other words doubt the secular goals and gods they cherish for happiness and success, and as their philosophies for change in society. He might ask, “You don’t accept that Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is a life journey you wish to follow and promote as the best answer to society’s ills, then what do you believe? How do you know your belief system is true,” Keller would ask?
Sadly, Pastor Keller passed away of pancreatic cancer at the age of 72 on May 19th. He was a best-selling author and sought-after speaker. The world lost a giant defender of the Gospel. I got to know him vicariously a few years ago when my youngest son, Chip, and I formed a two-person book club. “What should we read?” I asked. He replied something like, “Books on exploring issues of faith.” The first book we read was Keller’s The Reason for God.
Where is it written that Christians must check their minds at the church door? Didn’t Jesus say, when asked about the greatest commandment, that it was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind? (Matt.22:37)
Some years ago, I was in a kind of faith funk. I still attended my local church in Idaho, but I noticed that some of my friends were playing golf hooky on Sunday morning. Maybe I don’t need to adhere to that Sunday discipline either, I thought. I was going through the motions but wasn’t enthusiastic about my faith journey. About this time, I became aware of a book called The Case for Christ by Lee Strobel. It recounts the true story of how the author, a confirmed atheist who worked as an investigative reporter for the Chicago Tribune, investigated the facts of the faith by interviewing multiple scholars, professors and authors, and came to faith in Jesus. Reading Strobel’s book, for the first time in my life, my mind was stimulated by the faith that I had grown up with and accepted at face value. I can still remember excitedly saying to my praise band team as we were preparing for an Easter service, something like, “Hey guys, do you know that this whole cross thing, Jesus dying and beating death is true. It’s not just a theory or good story, it really happened.” For a moment no one spoke as my friends looked at me as if to say, “Well, duh, of course it did.”
I salute those of you reading this whose acceptance of their faith doesn’t depend on engaging the mind. But for me, maybe therefore a lesser believer than others, knowing and believing the facts of this true story helps my faith. Maybe a crutch? No, I choose not to think so.
According to Keller a faith without doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. Believers (and non-believers) should acknowledge and wrestle with their doubts. Doubt your doubts. Finally, as written in the Daily Bread, “Trusting Christ isn’t religious escapism or wishful thinking. Our faith is grounded in facts of history, including the resurrection of Jesus and the evidence of the creation bearing witness to its Creator.” It is a life of hope in a world that is largely hopeless.
Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope you have. But do so this with gentleness and respect. (1 Peter 3:15)