Monday, June 23, 2014

Doubt, Lack of Willingness to Believe, and Atheism

Not unlike many other people, since I was very little, I began questioning almost everything, if not out loud, in my mind.  I'm still that way.  Sometimes I say I must be from Missouri, though I'm not, because it's called "the show me state."   Missouri's U.S. Congressman Willard Duncan Vandiver, who served in the United States House of Representatives from 1897 to 1903, attended an 1899 naval banquet in Philadelphia. In a speech there, he declared:

I come from a state that raises corn and cotton and cockleburs and Democrats, and frothy eloquence neither convinces nor satisfies me. I am from Missouri. You have got to show me.

Very early on, I also started believing things.  Everyone does.  You won't make it through life without believing anything.  If something is believable, and you won't believe it, you're just being stubborn.

As life went on, I found out that I couldn't question everything.  I didn't want to be gullible, but at some point, I couldn't make it through life without trusting.  I crossed bridges.  I flew on planes.  I ate at restaurants.  I used credit cards.  I did online banking. There is a certain grid that I always keep up, but I trust, a lot.  I live in California, even though it's supposed to slide into the ocean.

Going through college and graduate school, I typed on a manual Smith-Corona typewriter.  I don't miss it.   Outside of an apocalyptic loss of electricity, I would never go back to that since I use a laptop with wireless printing.  I believed in that Smith-Corona typewriter, but I found something better.

In the big picture items, I still question.  I still challenge.  I still get up to check the front door to make sure it's locked, so to speak.  With that, I would have what I would call certainty.  Most think I operate with too much certainty.  This is not because of a lack of doubt, because, again, I still question.

I go evangelizing door-to-door, and I go to persuade, but I'm also ready to be convinced, to give everything up for the truth.  My belief in God is the biggest picture item.  Nothing is bigger.

I'm calling on people radically to change, to leave their whole life behind.  When Paul did that, he said he had to count the old life as dung.  No half measures would do.

In other words, when I talk to a Buddhist, I would be a Buddhist if Buddhism was the truth.  Hindu if Hinduism was.  Atheist if Atheism was.  The way I look at certainty and belief is that there is always some doubt, maybe a sliver.  I don't know how to measure it.  Maybe this sounds bad to you.  I'm not going to attempt too much to develop the theology of it for you.  John the Baptist doubted Jesus at the end right before His death, we know from the passage where Jesus said he was the greatest man up to that point.  That's the kind of material I would give you.

The margin of doubt in my faith relates to questioning it, checking the lock on the door.  But this is what I've found about the Bible, genuine Christianity.  I believe it.  It's the truth.  I check the lock on my Christianity more than anything I check.  I poke.  I prod.  There is a hypothetical eject button for me to push.  Maybe it's not real, but I can't really question if there isn't a sliver of possibility.  I don't do the same thing with airplanes or bridges or the life insurance company I'm still making payments, even though I doubt them.

Believing isn't the total absence of doubt.  It is acting on faith.  By faith we act.  The three Hebrew children in Babylon said their God would deliver them from the fiery furnace, but if not.

With all of the above being said, my doubt is the length of my little toe, and my certainty travels to the other side of the house and keeps growing.  People won't believe.  It isn't the evidence.  There are no holes in Christianity.  Christianity comes with so many redundancies.  The O rings might fail, but there's a back up of a back up of a back up.  The layers are thicker than a Dagwood sandwich.  The people who reject it, just don't want it.  Now that is what the Bible says about them too.  It's a problem of volition, not intellect, but in my repeated checks of my front door, this is my experience too.

People have a far different standard of evidence for God.  It's very personal for them.  They can't go with what would normally count for evidence and be way, way too much.  If the evidence they expected for God were ketchup, they couldn't find their hamburger buried under one entire ketchup factory.  They must have what I call the crown performance.  They sit on their throne and expect God to be their court jester, to give them a show.  They give all new meaning to "show me state." God has already given them a crown performance, but they keep raising the bar.  They don't want to believe, so no amount of evidence will do.

With that inside voice that we don't want anyone hearing as an outside voice, I want more evidence from God too.  But that is living in the sliver.  If I step from the sliver side to the side that stretches to the other side of the house, the sliver is a sliver.  It's unreasonable.  It's rebellious.  And it makes sense to me, that for all God has done and does and will do, the requirement or expectation is just disrespectful.  If we were God, and we had His power, we would kill for that disrespect, but the hypocrites that we are, we want mercy.  Puny men keep making their demands, thinking they can hold God hostage.  He's God.  He doesn't have to do any more.  He's done enough.


Joshua said...

Hi Pastor Brandenburg,

This article is extremely timely for me. Just last week I was meeting with a man who was not yet a brother, and he struggled with not possessing 0% doubt about Christianity. His desire was for 100% certainty before he would be saved.

Further exploration demonstrated that the 100% certainty standard he was after wasn't really possible for anything (belief in God or otherwise), and that the issue was more to do with the chains of this world than inability to believe without 100% certainty.

Before the night was out, he chose Christ over those chains, and referenced the verse "Lord I believe, help thou my unbelief" over his doubts. I'll send him this article to encourage him.

I view faith like 4 men and a famous survivalist who have crashed a plane on a mountain and are cowering in a cave. The survivalist announces who he is, and asks them to trust him and follow down the mountain. One man refuses to believe his claims, and wont leave the cave. Another rhapsodises about how wonderful the famous survivalist is, and lists many interesting facts about him, and how he is their only hope, but won't actually follow him out of the cave. The third man says he believes him, follows him out of the cave, but refuses to listen to him or follow his instructions as they progress down the mountain and perishes. The final man is afraid, but decides to put his faith in the survivalists claims. Despite lingering doubts, he follows him out of the cave, obeys his instructions and makes it to safety - his confidence, trust and faith in the survivalist growing every step confirms to him that the faith he put in the survivalist was not in vain.

Not one of those men had 100% confidence at the start, yet we would all agree the last man was the only one that truly had faith.

Paul Brownfield said...

Amen! Look at Israel. Jesus gave them sign after sign but they still refused to believe. People choose to not believe.

Anonymous said...

'Amen! Look at Israel. Jesus gave them sign after sign but they still refused to believe. People choose to not believe"

Of course that is what the bible teaches clearly. There is no lost sinner (Romans 3) that has ever been chosen "before the foundations of the world". That is nothing more than private interpretation, willful ignorance, or one that "preaches another gospel".

Kent Brandenburg said...

Thanks for the comments!

Joshua, I'm glad this came in handy!

Sorry I didn't comment earlier -- this post, though I liked it a lot, sort of slipped through the cracks.