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CHARLTON: You never should question God’s presence

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By Dave Charlton

“Torture numbers,” someone has said, “and they’ll confess to anything.” Sounds like a pretty good description of how we come up with statistics.

I find statistics interesting, but I don’t put a lot of stock in them. Consider the following statistic about religious belief – according to a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, the number of Americans younger than 30 who say they never doubt God’s existence has dropped 15 points since 2007.

In 2007, 83 percent of young Americans said they never doubted the existence of God. A recent survey suggests that now only 68 percent  of that age group never doubt the existence of God. This survey is one of a number that appears to show a decline in religious belief, but I’m not sure that is really the case. Numbers, after all, don’t tell the whole story.

Young people naturally ask questions, and there is certainly nothing wrong with asking questions, or even expressing doubts. We learn through our questions and our doubts help us to think carefully about what we believe.

The great danger, I believe, is not doubt, but the failure to ever ask a question or express a doubt. It is the combination of our questions and searching that forms the basis for a strong and vital faith. Faith that asks questions and expresses some doubt is a faith that has been tested by the struggles and difficulties of life and has come through those struggles and difficulties, not just intact, but stronger than before.

I’m not very adept at identifying trees (on a good day, I can point out a pine tree and maybe a maple tree), so I don’t know what kinds of trees grew on my family’s farm. I remember, though, one kind of tree that was so flexible you could take a small branch and tie it in a knot and it wouldn’t break.

Other trees on the farm were so rigid the branches would break under the slightest stress. When a moderate wind blew the branches from the rigid trees would be all over the ground, and sometimes, after a strong wind, the tree itself would be toppled, a victim of its on rigidity. Not so with the flexible trees, which would bend with the wind, but not be broken.

I’ll always choose a bending, flexible, doubting, and questioning faith over one that is rigid and unquestioning. Life has thrown some difficulties my way over the years, and those difficulties have caused me to ask my own share of questions and express my own set of doubts.

Yet, through those struggles, my faith, though it asked many questions, grew stronger and deeper. Ignoring some advice I heard years ago – that we should never question God – I asked God a lot of questions. Sometimes I sensed an answer, sometimes not, but I found that faith is much like a classroom – you learn by asking questions and seeking answers to those questions.

Even throughout the Scriptures we find characters who were not afraid to express their doubts and questions. Job – the archetype of one who suffers – did not hesitate to ask questions or to express doubts. Even Jesus, while on the cross, questioned God as he quoted the psalmist in asking “my God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Psalm 22:1).

Some people will point to statistics about doubt and see in them a decline in religious faith. I look at those statistics and see healthier faith, because a faith that is not afraid to ask questions and express a measure of doubt is a faith that will never be broken by the struggles of life.

Os Guinness wrote, “If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt…there is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the stronger for understanding and resolving doubt.”

Don’t be afraid of doubt, as it often serves as the first step to a stronger faith.

 

Dave Charlton is pastor of First Christian Church. His column will appear every other week. You can reach him at davidpaulcharlton@gmail.com.