Dr Oakes, have you ever struggled with doubts in your faith? About God? Christianity?
If so how have you overcome them? Thanks so much.
A great question. Of course I have doubts. Faith without doubts is probably not real faith. A reasonable level of doubt is required in order to grow. We had a lesson on doubt at our recent Christian Evidence Conference. You should get a copy of the proceedings of that conference (available at www.ipibooks.com). You can also get the recording if you join the membership option at the web site, in which case you get access to well over 100 recordings. The class was given by Richard Knopp.
All of us have doubts. The only way to have no doubts is to ask no questions, but an unquestioned faith is a weak faith. There was a time in my Christian life when such doubts could cause me to struggle, at least a little bit, but at this point in my Christian walk such doubts no longer cause me to struggle. Let me explain.
When we have legitimate questions, say, about the nature of God or a theological question or about the consistency of the Bible or an apparent contradiction or a supposed scientific “error” in the Bible, what we should do is seek to find an answer to that question. Might what appears to be a contradiction in fact not be an actual contradiction? Could the apparent scientific error in fact simply be due to a misinterpretation on my part? Questions that are not immediately answered should be filed away, either literally by writing down and maintaining a list of so-far-unanswered questions or at the very list keeping a mental list of concerns and doubts. Over time, such potential sources of doubt should be resolved, being open, at least in principle, to the possibility that it is a true contradiction or to the possibility that the Bible is in fact not completely inspired. If we are not at least in principle open-minded then that is not a way to address doubts. My experience is that in the short run your list of doubts and concerns will bet longer, but eventually the list will start to decrease, and, proportianally, your faith in God and in the Bible will increase.
At some point, you will find yourself able to give the Bible the benefit of the doubt. This will be an important point in your Christian walk. You will have reached the point that so many potential questions and concerns have been answered in a positive way that even a reasonable person can assume, at least initially, that the Bible will prove to be correct, reliable and inspired. I reached this point many years ago. When I come across a “problem” in the scriptures, I have earned the right by hard work and careful inquiry, to assume, at least temporarily, that a reasonable explanation will be found. That is why such doubts no longer cause me to struggle.
Let me give an example. I have been married 31 years. For all those years my wife has been very faithful to me, as far as I know. She has now earned the right of the benefit of the doubt from me by experience. When we were first married or when we were dating, if I had seen her having lunch with some guy and she did not tell me anything about it, I would have struggled with that, and for good reason. Now, after 31 years, if I saw Jan in what could be perceived as a compromising situation, I would assume automatically that it was totally not a problem. I could resonable put aside the apparent compromising situation as I KNOW my wife is faithful to me. This is how the Bible and Christianity is for me at this point, after 36 years. But I had to go through a period of more doubt and more questions. If we avoid this period and shove questions under the rug, our faith will not grow and our knowledge of God will remain shallow. Doubt is good. For beginners, doubt can cause struggle, but even that struggle is good if we handle it with wisdom. We should ask questions of experts (which is exactly what you did). We should pursue answers, but we must be at least partially open-minded toward these doubts.
I suggest you spend some time using the web site roomfordoubt. http://www.roomfordoubt.com/
I hope this gets you started.