The Burden of Doubt: A Cross to Bear

Loneliness

A wise man once said: “In dealing with the arrogant asserter of doubt, it is not the right method to tell him to stop doubting. It is rather the right method to tell him to go on doubting, to doubt a little more, to doubt every day newer and wilder things in the universe, until at last, by some strange enlightenment, he may begin to doubt himself.”

Apologetics has been a part of my Christian walk for years because doubt has been a part of that walk for years. Being trained in the field of biochemistry, both as an undergraduate and then later as a research scientist, I was confronted pretty early on with the supposed conflict between faith and science, a conflict that cast a shadow across the simpler belief of my childhood. I say “supposed conflict” because apologetics went on to show me that if anything, Western science owes a large part of its success to the assumptions that we live in an orderly universe that is open to investigation by our reliable reasoning faculty – both of which imply a Mind behind the universe if anything, not blind and impersonal forces.

Through apologetics, I learned that I could be a scientist and a Christian; that science could actually help me grow in my wonder and awe of God. He is the Great Designer of the world that science investigates, after all! In fact, at times I remember feeling closer to God in the science lab than I did at church. I’d laugh to myself saying “The heavens declare the glory of God … and so do these tiny little protein molecules I am studying!” In the end, I learned that science could never undermine my faith for it could never answer the why of existence. It can only provide descriptions of how things occur and make plausible predictions. But science paints its pictures in one-dimension only; pictures that are flat and featureless in comparison to the whole of existence. It’s the difference between studying a map of the Scottish highlands and actually visiting them. And yet, science’s discoveries are still a marvel to withhold, too! My faith made my science more beautiful.

Little did I know that the greatest challenge to my faith would not be in the hallowed halls of a scientific research institution, but at home – the even more hallowed halls of hearth and home. After our first child was born, I quickly found myself plunged into the depths of spiritual doubt, again, the likes of which I had never experienced before. As all mothers know, having a child creates a level of vulnerability that can be crushing. This is especially pronounced in our information-saturated, isolating world where new mothers often lack the communal support systems that past generations enjoyed. I felt this fear and isolation acutely. These are perfect conditions in which the seeds of doubt can flourish.

The thought hit me like a thunderbolt that if anything were to ever happen to my child, a part of me would die – would forever die, it seemed. C.S. Lewis called the death of a loved one an amputation. I felt this and it shook my faith in God to the core. If my baby died, would she truly cease to exist? Would her suffering be as meaningless as the movement of molecules in the materialist’s cosmos?

The problem of evil loomed large in my thoughts and I wavered from its oppressive weight. The standard answer of man’s sin as its cause seemed suddenly insufficient, now that I had more skin in the game, now as a mother with a child that might experience, that would indeed experience the evil and suffering this world had to offer. In life, suffering of some sort is inevitable, isn’t it?

What had I done? Can I trust God not to allow pain and suffering into her life? Given the sheer amount of suffering in the world, does He care or …. worst of all, I began to ask, is He even there?

Around the same time, we had a friend that had left the faith because of similar struggles with the problem of evil. He began pounding me with questions: “How can we trust the Bible?” “What about all the evil that God seems to inflict in the Old Testament?” “How could a good and loving God allow evil and suffering?” He sent me articles and excerpts from the writings of famous atheists such as Sam Harris, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Daniel Dennett, and more.

In no time, my faith was in shambles. I struggled to find answers in the church that I was attending, a church of wonderful people but no answers that could satisfy the intellectual doubts. I was given a lot of support and prayer, two very important components to overcoming the emotional aspects of doubt, but answers were not there.

That’s when I turned, once again, to Christian apologetics. Thankfully, because of the popularity of atheists like the ones listed above, apologetics conferences were becoming more prevalent. The Christian community was waking up to the need to defend the faith against these new atheists and their claims, as well as train the laity in defending it. My husband and I began attending every apologetics conference we could. We even spent an anniversary weekend at one! I devoured books by the likes of G.K. Chesterton, C.S. Lewis, Nancy Pearcey, Francis Schaeffer, William Lane Craig, Daniel Wallace, John Lennox, JP Moreland, Ed Feser, Tim Keller, and many more. I listened to apologetics podcasts every possible chance that I could, like when our (now two) daughters took their afternoon naps, or when I worked out, or when driving in the car.  A podcast that I found to be immensely helpful was Dr. Craig’s Reasonable Faith podcast. Oh, how I looked forward to each new episode! His Defender’s class on Theology and Apologetics was also a favorite of ours.

Years later, I am here to tell you that if it weren’t for Christian apologetics (and dear brothers and sisters in Christ who prayed for me and held onto me during that time), my faith might not have survived. I am also here to tell you that there is light at the end of the dark tunnel of doubt.

As far as the thorny problem of evil, pain, and suffering that sent my faith into the depths, I am now more confident in how that very problem, one that theologians and philosophers have wrestled with since the beginning of time, actually points to God rather than discredits His existence or goodness. Our Gospel is clothed in the problem of evil, you could say. The good news comes to us in a cloak of pain and crown of suffering, in a dramatic confrontation with evil that seems to end in defeat. But only seems! There is an empty tomb at the end of that story, after all.

Our Lord endured the forsakenness that I felt in my doubt when He cried out from the cross, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” We worship a God that is not only not removed from our suffering, but One that entered into it in order to end all suffering one day. He has experienced our dereliction on this darkling plain and in a way that none of us can fathom, Jesus being infinite perfection.

And now, as I minister to others who are doubting and as I defend the faith against scoffers, I can see this problem of evil at the heart of most of their objections to God, not any new scientific discovery or unresolvable philosophical problem. In fact, the only problem is indeed unresolvable. Only God could resolve it and He did it in a profound way, a way that no eye had ever seen, no ear had ever heard, and no heart could have ever imagined.

Still, it is very human to doubt God when we suffer or see others suffering. It is completely natural. The Book of Job shows us this, doesn’t it? But this doubt should actually signal to us that not only is evil objectively real, so is good. These are two things that we are compelled to abandon if there is no personal God. If in our pain and doubt, we then curse or reject God, we not only get rid of the problem of evil but our intuitions that good and evil are realities beyond our immediate perspective and experience. We have to reject our notions that they are more than self-referential, subjective realities. This is a high price to pay. It turns out then that acceptance of atheism as a response to suffering is too simple.

C.S. Lewis wrote the following in his book Mere Christianity:

My argument against God was that the universe seemed so cruel and unjust. But how had I got this idea of just and unjust? A man does not call a line crooked unless he has some idea of a straight line. What was I comparing this universe with when I called it unjust? If the whole show was bad and senseless from A to Z, so to speak, why did I, who was supposed to be part of the show, find myself in such violent reaction against it?  A man feels wet when he falls into water, because man is not a water animal: a fish would not feel wet. Of course, I could have given up my idea of justice by saying it was nothing but a private idea of my own. But if I did that, then my argument against God collapsed too—for the argument depended on saying that the world was really unjust, not simply that it did not happen to please my fancies. Thus in the very act of trying to prove that God did not exist—in other words, that the whole of reality was senseless—I found I was forced to assume that one part of reality—namely my idea of justice—was full of sense. Consequently, atheism turns out to be too simple. If the whole universe has no meaning, we should never have found out that it has no meaning: just as, if there were no light in the universe and therefore no creatures with eyes, we should never know it was dark. Dark would be a word without meaning.

Atheism is too simple because it explains away pain and suffering as artifacts of evolution rather than confronts them. Yet if one explains away the problem of evil, the problem of good follows along. It is all a useful fiction. The world does not need a belief system that depicts suffering as merely some sort of randomly generated survival mechanism for it makes a mockery not only of our pain but of our highest aspirations to knowledge, goodness, kindness, excellence, and love. The beauty of our Christian creed, with its dying and rising Saviour, is that it is large enough to contain all of these – the good as well as the evil. It reminds us that there is a world of objective “meaning, truth, beauty, and goodness” outside the groans of this world.

In the end, our Creed is large enough to both encompass our sorrow without explaining it away, while guiding us through it with hope. One of my favorite Christian apologists, G.K. Chesterton, wrote the following in his book Orthodoxy:

When once one believes in a creed, one is proud of its complexity, as scientists are proud of the complexity of science. It shows how rich it is in discoveries. If it is right at all, it is a compliment to say that it’s elaborately right. A stick might fit a hole or a stone a hollow by accident. But a key and a lock are both complex. And if a key fits a lock, you know it is the right key.

I believe Chesterton is right. Apologetics helps us discover the complexity of our creed and assures us that it is big enough to guide us through all of life, our joys as well as our sorrows. We have nothing to fear for we belong to Him who is the Key! It affirms our intuitions that evil is absolutely evil, that good is truly good, and that death is not natural. Chesterton wrote that as a young agnostic searching for a satisfying worldview he could not shake this “vague and vast impression that in some way all good was a remnant to be stored and held sacred out of some primordial ruin.” He continued:

Man had saved his good as Crusoe saved his goods: he had saved them from a wreck. All this I felt and the age gave me no encouragement to feel it. And all this time I had not even thought of Christian theology.

What about doubt? It is a cross we must bear at times in our spiritual growth. Whether intellectual, emotional or both, spiritual doubt is a consequence of living in this fallen world as finite beings with fallen and finite perspectives. But doubt itself needs to be doubted, as the wise man wrote in the first quote I shared (that wise man was G.K. Chesterton, by the way!). Doubt even your doubts, turning them inside out and upside down, never resting until you find your answer. Don’t forget to doubt yourself when you doubt God! The book of Hebrews tells us that God rewards those who earnestly seek Him and the proverb tells us that He gives grace to the humble but resists the proud.

Don’t give up then! We’ve too much to lose in doing so. Too much.

“I believe in Christianity as I believe that the Sun has risen, not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.” C.S. Lewis from “Is Theology Poetry”

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