After a full weekend of cleaning, moving, and unpacking, I am officially moved in to the new apartment. It doesn’t have internet access right now and won’t for a while, so blogging will be tough, but I always seem to manage.

Only 26 long days, though, until I will be gone for 2 weeks getting married and honeymooning. I’ll be asking the other Mere-O contributors to step up in my absence.

While I was gone, Joe Carter clarified his thoughts regarding the place of doubt in the Christian life. He writes:

I have to admit that I personally have a difficult time sympathizing with Christians who express doubts about God’s existence. The very idea strikes me as
evidence of immaturity and the need for more humility. In holding such a view,
though, I am reminded of my own need for humility and to do my duty to, as Jude
exhorts, “be
merciful to those who doubt.”

I agree with Carter’s position, now that it’s explained a bit more, but I have reservations about identifying ‘doubt’ with “immaturity” and “the need for more humility.” In this post, I’ll try to add some clarifying comments to Carter’s position, and then clarify my qualms.

In the comments to the post, Carter writes:

(b) Most doubts have nothing to do with the intellect so it isn’t a matter of
being “irrational.” If everyone were basing their beliefs purely on reason than
everyone would believe because the expected payoff would be the rational choice
(see: Pascal’s Wager). The fact that they don’t believe is a matter of the will,
not the intellect.

This is, perhaps, the clearest expression of Carter’s concern. What Carter seems to be suggesting is that ‘doubt’ and ‘certainty’ are psychological predicates, and not philosophical predicates. In other words, they have more to do with our cognitive functioning than they do with our level of justification. I may have many reasons to believe a belief is true and still doubt that it is true. Alternatively, I may have no reason to believe that the moon is made of cheese and still be utterly certain that it is true, because ‘certainty’ describes my mental state and not my level of justification for believing. In both cases I would be committing an ‘intellectual sin’ for not aligning my soul with the level of justification that I have.

When Christians actually doubt, it is not, as Carter affirms, reasons that are the issue, but the soul. What’s needed is grace, which comes (I think) in the form of a divine communicative act. I think this is most evident in that most Christians who doubt the existence of God do so in response to experiences of pain or evil in their own life–this certainly was the case for me. It is during these times that God seems silent–even Scripture loses its vitality. Giving someone reasons to believe during these times can be callous, and is often ineffective for bringing them out of their doubts.

Yet I think this also means that doubting the existence of God is not necessarily a sign of ‘immaturity’ but a sign that somewhere the soul is out of line, which is possible regardless of the level of spiritual maturity. The experience of evil and pain can be so overwhelming as to make one call in to question past experiences and awarenesses, even for the most spiritually aware person. Add to this the use of ‘doubt’ (again as a psychological predicate) during these times by demonic beings, and it seems that no one is immune from this experience. This also applies to the “need for humility” cause.

There’s much more here to be explored. Carter’s post is interesting and thought provoking, which is par for the course over at Evangelical Outpost.

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

5 Comments

  1. Thanks for an intelligently crafted post — well reasoned and insightful.

    I teach philosophy and pastoral theology at a Seminary and operate a blogsite (inthefight.blogspot.com) with one of my colleagues. So, I am always cheered do discover a fellow believer thinking clearly and helping others in the blogosphere to do so.

    I’ll visit your site again.

    Reply

  2. Thanks for the kind words, Steve.

    You’re always welcome back and feel free to participate–we enjoy a good dialogue here, as you can tell from some of the recent posts here…

    Reply

  3. A college theology professor once said something to this effect in theology class I took years ago, and it really stuck with me.
    Ultimately the conviction of a person’s religious belief comes from a spiritual or emotional experience they’ve had or have
    Initially I thought I disagreed with your post, but after re-reading it several times I agree with most everything you say.
    I am only put slightly at edge by the statement.
    Add to this the use of ‘doubt’ (again as a psychological predicate) during these times by demonic beings
    I feel that doubt may be something that “demonic beings” could use, but I feel that it is also likely that unyeilding conviction might be as easily used. My only fear is that too many Christians would try to equate belief with goodness and doubt with evil. Balance is good.

    Reply

  4. Chazritz,

    Thanks so much for the kind words.

    Regarding my comment that it may be ‘demonic,’ I would agree that it isn’t always the case, and in fact might not ever be the case. Obstinacy of will most often comes from a person’s character and their formation (as you suggested).

    However, I wouldn’t say that we need ‘balance’ between doubt and faith, at least not with respect to doubt as I’ve explained it above. I want to say that a balance is needed between faith and something like ‘openness to revision’, but these thoughts are less well formulated at this point.

    Thanks again for the comment!

    Reply

  5. […] emailed me, expressing her struggles to believe in the goodness of God.  Below is my response (and here are some related thoughts). I don’t think I understand the depth of your struggle, but I have shared in a minor way in […]

    Reply

Leave a reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *