Why Do Christians Leave the Faith? The Problem of Responding Badly to Doubt

Part 3 in a series on deconversion

Does Christians’ bad behavior cause people to leave the faith? When we started this research project deconversion, I assumed that the most frequently-referenced cause would be Christians’ misbehavior—something along the lines of “I left the Church because Christians don’t act like Christians.” After all, this “Christians don’t act like Christians” narrative is extremely popular among Christian writers.

A majority (42 out of 50) of the deconverts that we studied did mention frustration with the Christians they knew, but it usually wasn’t misbehavior, per se, rather it was something that I never would have guessed: Frustration with how their fellow Christians reacted to their doubts.

The way that Christians react to the doubts of others can, inadvertently, amplify existing doubt. Many of the writers told of sharing their burgeoning doubts with a Christian friend or family member only to receive trite, unhelpful answers. These answers, in turn, moved them further away from Christianity.

For example, a former Southern Baptist, rather harshly, identified this tendency among the Christians that he had known: “Christians have their PAT phrases for every little whim. . . Christians always use the word “faith” as their last word when they are too stupid to answer a question.”

Standard pat answers included statements such as: “God will never put more on you than you can bear,” “God works in mysterious ways,” “it was God’s will,” “your faith wasn’t strong enough,” “God wanted him in heaven,” and “God is testing you – stand firm!”

Frequently, such statements are not Biblical quotations but are common interpretations and understandings among Christians. One writer recounted, “I asked questions that no one else dared to ask, like ‘What about all the starving people in the third world?’ The answer I got was, ‘They are just as culpable as we are.’”

Ex-Christians were not only critical of fellow parishioners, but also of clergy’s and church lay-leadership’s failure to address the doubter’s questions. One ex-Christian wrote: “And to top all of it off, I could get no satisfying answers to my questions (they call them sinful doubts) even from the pastors and elders. I was told not to read the bible to try to find problems, that was a sin.”

In sum, the absence of thoughtful answers and the lack of listening carefully to questions were interpreted as both anti-intellectualism and a lack of empathy, leading the writers to feel trivialized.

Related were several remarks about rule enforcement. For example, a former member of an Assemblies of God church recounted an incident regarding his smoking. “I was struggling with smoking at this time, and was sincere about wanting to quit. At a prayer meeting one Thursday night, I told the group of 5 men about my struggle with tobacco. They proceeded to tell me that smoking was sin (the body being “the temple” of the Holy Spirit and all), and that “god doesn’t hear the prayer of a sinner.” What happened next stunned me. As the men took turns praying, it came to be my turn, and as I began to say my prayers, they all got up and walked away from me!!!”

Ultimately, Christians appear to contribute most directly to the deconversion process by reacting badly to those who are struggling with their faith, either in their belief or action.

We did find occasional mentions of Christian hypocrisy, but they tended to reference rather severe actions. For example, a former Pentecostal Christian, and now self-described Hellenic pagan, spoke of her “mistake” in dating a Fundamentalist Christian and how she felt abused by him. “I also found out that he was an addict, and had lied about it. . . After being with this person, I felt spiritually raped.”

Several writers commented on what they perceived as general, amoral behavior among Christians. One wrote that extra-marital sex was rampant in the church that he attended. “As long as you go church, you can have all the sex you want. I know this because I sat back in churches for 15 years watching people repent of Saturday’s escapade on Sunday morning.”

Just as commonly, however, the writers spoke fondly of their previous coreligionists and how they missed interacting with them more regularly. As I’ve written about at length, Christians do a lot of right things, and so maybe it shouldn’t be a surprise that hypocrisy wasn’t a main driving force away from the faith, at least in this small study.

What does this mean for us Christians? We need to come to terms with Christian doubt. For many people doubt is part of the Christian walk for many. Why even Mother Teresa felt deep doubts about her faith at times. It happens, and the real question is how do we respond to it in ourselves and others? How can we love the doubter in truth? I would be interested in your thoughts on this question, but it seems to me to require both of empathy and wisdom.

For pastors, it seems like a good idea for them to occasionally preach on doubt in the Christian faith. Hearing sermons about doubt would make us more accepting of our own times of doubt. It would also make us more sympathetic of other peoples’ doubt was well as equip us to respond to it wisely.

Thoughts?

Part 4: The Relative Unimportance of Non-Christians

  • http://www.inamirrordimly.com ed cyzewski

    Great stuff Brad. I have noticed that several Christian writers such as Jason Boyett and Rachel Held Evans have touched on doubt quite a bit in their writings.

    I have personally found that writing about doubt calls for walking along a fine line. There is a need for empathy and support, while also sharing your own reasons for hope. My guess is that some Christians fear discussions of doubt because their faith is founded on too many cliches and theology and not a personal encounter with God and the Holy Spirit. So the tactics become either opposing the doubters for fear of confronting their cliches or simply spouting cliches and closing down the conversation.

    I honestly don’t see much value in trying to reason someone back to the faith. Christianity for me is all about a daily encounter with real, living God. So if someone has doubts, I pray for that person to meet God in a real, living way. That’s really all I have to offer when it comes down to what matters most.

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Frankly I don’t have any really good ideas on how to deal with peoples’ doubt, just see that it needs to be done. Your idea of balancing it with hope makes sense.

      I would probably put more emphasis on the importance of reason, for, as was talked about in the first post of this series, even if it’s not the real, underlying issue, addressing it might help people focus on the real issues.

      Thanks for you comment Ed.

      • http://www.briercrest.ca/facultyprofile.asp?facultyName=CharlesHackney&facultyId=132 Charles

        In a 2002 longitudinal study published in the Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion, Hunsberger, Pratt and Pancer found that adolescents who responded to doubt by consulting anti-religious literature become significantly less religious at a two-year follow-up. Those who responded to doubt by consulting pro-religious literature demonstrated significantly increased religiousness two years later. So my thought about how to deal with people’s doubts would be to encourage them to do their homework. Is the doubt connected to Dawkins’ writings? Maybe they should be told about the philosophers, theologians, and historians who have written rebuttals of Dawkins. That sort of thing.

        • http://Likeachildscience.blogspot.com Lac

          The question then becomes…what classifies as a Christian author? Conservatives like Piper, moderates like Nt Wright or Boyd, or progressives like Borg?

          My doubts were actually excaerbated by Christian authors, from Lewis’ Miracles, Enns’ I&I, Polkinghorne, etc. There are so many types of doubt…they can’t be lumped together. Intellectual doubt likely poses the largest hurdle for Christians to grasp, and few are equipped to handle it, and many that do comprehend the challenges of historical Biblical scholarship end up deconstructing their own spirituality to a more liberal form…which then removes much of the passion for apologetics or evangelicalism.

  • http://chrisblackstone.com Chris Blackstone

    My problem with the concept of doubt when it comes to faith is people seem OK with letting doubt stay there, as doubt, instead of being determined to find a resolution, even if you don’t fully understand the resolution. Biblically, doubt seems to be discouraged

    Matthew 14:31
    Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”

    Matthew 21:21
    And Jesus answered them, “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.

    Mark 11:23
    Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.

    Jude 22 does say “And have mercy on those who doubt;”, but that seems to refer to doubters as those who don’t believe.

    Churches and Christians should never be OK with people staying as doubters, they should lovingly and humbly encourage them to have faith and particularly point them to the truth of God’s Word in the Bible. People have to the point where they trust God and not their own wisdom. For some that is harder than others, but if you expect to always have completly solid, perfectly provable answers to every difficult thing that life presents, then I think you’ll have a hard time ever being a Christian. I mean, God became fully man, died, and rose again — there will never be a way to fully “prove” that to someone who intends on doubting. At some point, you have to trust that God is good and has revealed to us all that will help us know Him.

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Good points about how we shouldn’t look for doubt, or look to create it, but how do we respond to people who have it. Seems like some Christians just say “don’t doubt”, which may not be helpful. So, taking your and Ed’s comments, there’s a balance of hope and encouragement vs. empathy and acceptance?

    • Joe Bob Jim Bob Smith

      “Matthew 14:31
      Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?””

      Your post (to me) seems to be flavored in the way the article spoke. It seems to make you uncomfortable.
      Last I checked God gave us free will and the information to make our own decisions. Doubt is part of this process and it is ok to have it. Questions lead to answers.

      You’ll notice in the above passage of scripture I quotes that Jesus reached out and caught the man anyway-despite his doubts. People should be pointed to passages like these and be told it is ok to doubt and that most Christians do at some point or another.

  • http://www.briercrest.ca/facultyprofile.asp?facultyName=CharlesHackney&facultyId=132 Charles

    You are absolutely right about the Church’s bad reactions to religious struggles. When I teach Psychology of Religion, I deliberately included a sizable coverage of the theoretical and empirical literature on doubts and struggle (your posts have so far shown striking parallels to Julie Exline’s research on factors involved in religious struggle and deconversion, by the way). I emphasize to my students that doubt is not weakness, that struggle is normal, and that we should not be surprised when other believers behave badly (after all, most of what we see in the Bible is not God telling humans “Yay for you wonderful people.” Most of it is “You’re doing it wrong. Knock it off and start doing it right.”).

    If I was ever given an opportunity to run a youth group again (since these struggles tend to peak around adolescence), I would place a strong emphasis on it being a safe place to grapple with doubt and ask hard questions. Clergy and lay leaders need to be secure enough to hear these questions, and secure enough to say “I don’t have the answer to that one. Let me do some digging and see if any scholars have addressed it.”

  • http://www.seekingfaithfulnessblog.blogspot.com Holly

    It takes being able to balance grim reality in one hand, hope in the other. From my own experience, I see that doubt isn’t a lack of faith – it’s a working thru to make faith our own (instead of the faith of our parents, for example.)

    I think the best way to handle doubt in others is to let them have their say. Let them lay it out, listen to them. Look at it, acknowledge it – then hold out that personal hope you have in the other hand. Sometimes, when they see that a person who loves them and that they admire still has hope, it gives them a glimmer to grow toward as well.

    p.s. I’m giving your book Upside for Christmas to many of the professional Doomers in my life. :) Thanks for my giving easy this year. :)

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Interesting about doubt being, in part, taking ownership of beliefs.
      I hope that your friends/ family like the book! (They may want fruitcake next year, though). :-)

      • http://www.seekingfaithfulnessblog.blogspot.com Holly

        You don’t buy my theory, eh? :) Gosh, my husband almost died last year of a staph infection in his hip joint/then blood stream, and I went thru such doubts about who I thought God really was, what motivated him, what was his character like. Was he real? Did he care? Why did such a horrible thing happen (and there was so much more.) After doubt and anger, it came down to standing at the abyss (drama, I know….), looking in it, contemplating life without God or faith in him, and deciding that I could not raise my children without hope. And I could not have hope without faith – my own faith, not my husband’s and not my parents’ faith. It was a very real thing, very difficult – but my faith is deeper and stronger now than I would have ever thought it could be, and I chose that I would love God even if what I hoped for never happened in this life. I gained “big picture” faith, as opposed to a “platitude” faith. In other words, I owned it, I internalized it – but it would not have come about without the tough times and the doubt. After all of that, doubt doesn’t frighten me. It’s okay, and we should press thru and hang in there until we reach resolution. It is sad to read the reasons people leave their faith. I can’t help but think “It didn’t have to be that way.”

        Fruitcake? Ha Ha. They might! :) But not likely. They may find that they do have reasons to hope, reasons to live.

        • Christy

          Hi Holly –

          I wanted to make one quick comment on something you said, because I find that it’s a common assumption among Christians, that deconversion somehow equals hopelessness, unhappiness, bitterness, etc:

          “They may find that they do have reasons to hope, reasons to live.”

          Several years post-deconversion, I am more hopeful and more peaceful now than I have ever been. (And my Christian friends would agree with that.) While the process of deconversion can be very painful and messy and there is frequently some pretty significant anger that goes along with it, the results of it can be very positive. I am tremendously grateful to be in the spot that I am today, and a big part of getting here was finally letting go of Christianity. (Lots of therapy helped too.)
          All that to say, while for you, the prospect of leaving the Christian face feels like it would be hopeless, that is not necessarily how those who leave the faith experience it.

  • http://sandwichesforsale.blogspot.com DagoodS

    How to individually respond to a person doubting within a deconversion.

    This is geared to how an individual can respond. Frankly the corporate Church is ill-equipped to deal with this type of doubt—a coupla sermons or canned response is so inadequate it only exacerbates the situation. The vast majority of Christians do not understand this doubt; let alone develop a “model” form of response.

    1. Be honored. We know the stigma associated with doubt. Very likely we have read deconversion stories by the dozens, many replete with rejection by Christians, family and friends. We understand we are opening ourselves up to the equal possible rejection from you merely by uttering the words. The fact we did so demonstrates more trust than you can possibly imagine.

    2. Be honest…with yourself. This is going to take a lot of work. No…let me re-phrase that—this is going to take INORDINATE amount of work and effort. You are about to play “catch-up.” Learning topics, reading website discussions, perusing books, and engaging issues the deconverting person has already read and questioned. Further, you are looking for responses to these questions; responses the deconvert may have already considered and responded themselves.

    Figure on spending 2-3 hours a week (minimum) with the deconvert. Another 6-10 hours additionally studying (they are as well.) And this is likely to last months. Are you ready for that type of commitment? Does your life allow this type of time suck?

    If not, it is better to be upfront and say you are unable to commit to responding. I know… this sounds bad. It sounds unchristian. Worse, the deconvert will be hurt (don’t you care about them?) and will not thank you for your honesty. And I know—you think you can commit. Be honest…with yourself. Too many times, the person helping the doubter (I have had many do this to me; I speak with intimate personal experience) has the best of intentions, but once the conversation starts, realizes it can become what appears a never-ending conversation, and they pull out.

    You know what happens? The deconvert realizes Christianity does NOT have adequate answers. Responding to legitimate concerns goes from “appearing difficult” to “apparently impossible” because no one is able to stay the distance with the deconvert’s questions. You cause more doubt than resolution by going 10% and getting out.

    3. Be prepared to say, “I don’t know.” Often Christians feel there MUST be an answer, so they provide some response that does not satisfied the doubter. “Doubling down” and re-asserting the same response that didn’t work before won’t work the second time. Worse, if you repeatedly insist some response that turns out to be false, the doubter will lose trust in you.

    4. Learn what convinces the doubter. Just because it convinces you, doesn’t mean it convinces them. A personal testimony regarding what Jesus did for you won’t do a hill of beans to the doubter—they don’t have such a testimony and absent Jesus showing up in glowing robes, won’t be convinced by yours.

    5. Be prepared for them to stop being a Christian. The simple fact is by the time the doubter is expressing their doubts out loud, they are farther down the deconversion trail than even they know. It is very likely your effort will all be for naught.

    I apologize for the pessimistic response, but too often I have seen interactions with doubters that were…well…frankly terrible. Generating far worse results (from a Christian’s perspective in that the person is no longer a Christian; from the deconvert’s perspective that the Christian is no longer a friend.)

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      There are some great ideas here. You bring up the many facets of dealing with doubt, and some of the hard questions that undergird doing so. BTW, love the name of your blog.

    • Christy

      I will second your response, Dagoods. “I don’t know” is severely under-rated as a response to doubt. I know for me – by the time I went public with my long-standing doubts about core tenets of Christianity, I had been wrestling with them for years, and done lots of reading and thinking. By the time I spoke up, I was near the end of the process. If you’re a lifer like me, the exit fee from Christianity is substantial, so I didn’t speak publicly about these things until I was ready to pay the price. I’d questioned lots of other things over the years, but I knew that there are certain boundaries you don’t cross or question, unless you want to hand in your membership card.

      On the other hand, I have a handful of close Christian friends who are still my friends. They don’t try to change my mind or debate me or bring me back to the fold. I appreciate this more than I can say, even though the fact that we believe very different things now can be a point of tension. I try to respect their beliefs as well, even though it isn’t always easy. Sometimes I want to evangelize them out of evangelical Christianity just as much as some people might want to evangelize me back in. I find it helps to focus on what we have in common rather than what we don’t.

      • Krystal

        Nicely said. This was pretty much my experience as well. Friends fell into two groups: those who dropped me completely from their lives (this included the pastor of the church I had been attending) and the ones with whom I’ve remained friends. My family has been much more difficult. I come from a long line of evangelical missionaries who seem to think my decision is aimed at hurting them.

        My deconversion was the result of a long conflict between my religious beliefs and reason. I spent most of my 20s keeping the two separated into different compartments, trying not to think of the other when participating in the one. The social ostracism from my former church family certainly did not help; the friends who have been able to accept me, who have not seemed threatened by my views, have done a lot more to keep me at least at the edges and still trying to find a way to believe again.

  • Ryan Martin

    Brad,
    As a pastor I am frequently in conversation with people about doubts, reason, and alternative interpretations. You are absolutely right about our pat responses. Just as cookie cutter answers and shallow cliches can turn someone away, a well educated response from a good listener may retain some doubters. One thing I have discovered is that some Christians limit their ability to learn by forming absolutes, such as that the universe absolutely was created in six literal days, or that women absolutely may not have authority in the church. Close-mindedness doesn’t constitute expertise. I am grateful for your work and hope that people take note of your findings.

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Thank you, Ryan.

  • Andy Maxwell

    Great article and it really explains a lot. Jude v. 22 says to “Show mercy to those whose faith is wavering.” That says a lot to those of us in pastoral ministry but also to those who profess to be strong in their faith. Instead of crushing those who are wavering in their faith we are to show them mercy and encouragement.

  • http://www.changingthefaceofchristianity.com R. Brad White

    Bradley, you are absolutely correct. In my own research which corroborates yours, I found the same thing…people walk away from Christianity when the people they trust to provide answers let them down with insufficient answers, or reject the person asking the questions.

    Christians…we must step WAY UP and do a better job of educating ourselves so we can educate others who are just asking honest questions.

    You would also be pleased to know about the up-side. When we take a person’s questions seriously, and provide thoughtful replies, their understanding, faith, and ties to Christianity are strengthened.

    In case anyone is interested, here is a link to an article with additional research commentary on this topic: Changing the Face of Christianity article on how to address faith questions

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Thank you, Brad

  • Rebecca

    We walk by faith, not by sight. It seems to me that expressing honest doubt and questions is part of mature faith. Perhaps part of the difficulty is that people expect not to doubt..and feel they are less spiritual or condemned for something that is normal.

    It seems to me that when these challenges and questions are ignored, and pushed down beneath the surface is when they become most destructive to our relationship with God.

  • Oregon Catholic

    Faith is a gift and comes to us through grace. We can, in times of doubt, make a decision not to give up on faith and continue to trust in God. We can offer up the discomfort that our doubt causes us and put it in God’s hands and go on with our lives. That’s what Mother Teresa did – she made a decision not to give up even though things seemed so black. Sometimes God tests us to see if we really love Him with our will or only with our feelings. Great grace can come from these sufferings if we don’t give up. In fact, Mother Teresa is a good patron to pray to in times of doubt.

    • Joe Bob Jim Bob Smith

      I don’t think that response is going to help anyone. So basically if someone doubts then it is a shortcoming on their part and if they continue to doubt then surely they have failed a “test” and do not love God? How do you figure this?

      Please keep in mind people who might be doubting can turn to the internet and find your responses.

  • Ken Smith

    When I was an undergraduate I picked up a book by Os Guinness entitled _In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve It_, published in the late 70s. This book was a great help in recognizing the many facets & varieties of doubt.

    When I was assigned to teach an apologetic class in 2001, I was dismayed to see that the book was out of print. But I soon discovered that it is available, in a somewhat condensed form, under the title _God in the Dark_ (Crossway, 1996). Since then I have assigned it in all of my apologetics classes, and it has been very well received.

    The problem of doubt and broader apologetics issues have been too neglected among evangelicals. I believe this is due to a regretful negligence in matters of the intellect as well as matters of the spirit. But Os Guinness–who still lectures regularly to diverse audiences on apologetics-related topics–is a seasoned veteran thinker who has much to say today.

    http://www.amazon.com/God-Dark-Assurance-Beyond-Shadow/dp/0891078452/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1322880782&sr=8-1

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Thank you for the link. I agree that the topic is neglected among evangelicals, and based on conversations with Catholic friends, plus what Oregon Catholic has to say, I wonder if overall they have a better handle on it.

  • http://blogforthelordjesuscurrentevents.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    What your post reveals is that most churchgoers do not have faith in God. Rather, they have faith in each other. Therefore, when they “deconvert,” they are simply moving from one congregation (a church) to another (a secular group, whether a formal one or informal one). Of course, this is how they were “converted” in the first place (by putting their faith in a group of people), unless they were born and raised in the church.

    The church – especially the evangelical church – does preach Christ. But as soon as someone accepts Him, that person is immediately told – in effect – to transfer that faith to church. That is, they are taught after praying the sinner’s prayer to attend church when they ought to be taught to walk with God (Col 2:6).

    If, on the other hand, we preached Jesus and the kingdom of God, then people would “deconvert” far less often because God doesn’t disappoint like humanity does (Jer 17:5-8).

    I hope you will seriously consider what I am saying. The majority of churchgoers has been led astray from Christ (2 Cor 11:3), being taught that churchgoing is what He is after. He is not. What He is after is that we have open hearts toward Him at every moment, and that we demonstrate His righteousness in all our thinking and behavior.

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      I don’t know if you’ve had the chance to read it, but the second post in this series regards hard feelings toward God & Jesus.

  • http://www.edward-t-babinski.blogspot.com Ed Babinski

    Bradley In today’s Christianity doubt is quickly becoming the new faith. Influential Christian bloggers and writers are helping to make it so, including yourself. Apologetics is not “the answer.” There is no “answer” to the barage of intelligent questions and open discussions these days in the realm of religion.

  • http://snowbrush.blogspot.com/ Snowbrush

    I’m a former committed Christian who left the church, and I would say that you’re spot on with this segment of your series, at least–I haven’t read the other two. I’m now an atheist who enjoys the company of other atheists, and I find that, although atheists are generally open to friendships with Christians (the opposite is less likely to be true), they are appalled by the tremendous gap between what Christian beliefs are said to be versus how Christians behave. For example, here in the US, the groups that are most supportive of “enhanced interrogation” and most opposed to any healthcare reform are the fundamentalists and evangelicals, the same groups that, when compared to atheists, know very little about their own religion. Such things destroy what little respect atheists might have had for Christianity, although I, for one, try very hard to see every individual Christian as an individual. It’s really not fair to lump every Christian–or every atheist–into the same boat.

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Thank you for the comment. If you get bored someday, you might check out my book “Christians are hate-filled hypocrites… and other lies you’ve been told.” Turns out that many Christians are doing the right thing (using statistical data to analyze).

  • ash

    I gave my life to God when I was 16, but I have had a love for God my whole life. My family occasionally would take me to church, meaning once a year maybe, and I had never read the bible until I was 16 so before then I just had a love for God that really could not be explained. The bible tells us that there will be two types of christians basically, those that will be called but fall away, and those that were chosen before birth. I prayed to God asking which one was I because this worried me naturally upon reading it. God had given me only one memory that I could remember of my love for him. Shortly after I prayed this my great grandmother died and I was sent all the letters she had saved from me since all the way back when I first started to write. To my surprise each letter spoke of how much I loved God. That was a revelation for me, imagine a little girl writing to her great grandmother without barely ever going to church or ever reading her bible to tell her how much she loved God.

    I believe I was chosen by God before birth because I was just created with this love of God naturally. Now there is free will, but God knows everything so those that were chosen he knew would be life long children of faith. Knowing that I still have doubts, I think it is simply a struggle of flesh and spirit. In our flesh we naturally have questions which sometimes produce doubts because after all we were born in to sin and we will struggle with our flesh until we die. God promises us though to ask and seek and he will answer us, he actually encourages us to never quit seeking and asking, it grows our faith and makes us stronger in him. Lately, I have had the question, why does it seem every prayer of mine is answered through another person, not some unexplainable divine intervention that can not be explained. This is the critic in me, I want some miraculous unexplainable event to happen when I pray, like the bible talks about in many different gospels. For me I honestly sometimes question whether my prayer was answered by God or just another person overheard something or saw something and decided to do something. There are prayers I have had that I can not explain how a person knew, but the flesh in me asks well did they know somehow or was this God. This type of question I admit is horrible, I feel bad for wondering, but the truth is I do. I hear all these stories of divine interventions, but have never experienced anything myself. I have many questions like these and I pray about them.

    For me though, even when I have doubts there is something deep within me that I can not explain that says no it’s God. All my questions that I have had in the past similar to the one above, God has revealed an answer for me and I have had some tough and unfaithful questions but he never fails to answer them. This has actually made my faith grow, I feel like with each doubt or question I bring to God I gain a deeper understanding. Let’s be honest every body has questions and doubts sometimes even people of faith. You can either let them fester in you and hurt your faith or you can bring them to God and let him tell or show you the answer. Who knows maybe the reason why I have never had some unexplainable divine intervention like an angel appearing to me or speaking in tongues or why I have so many questions and some doubts is because God wants me to know him without it and maybe one day I will have the answers for others who have these same questions, because after all I do believe there is a reason for everything.

    The bible tells us we reap what we sow. It’s true from brusing your teeth in the morning to the time we go to sleep in our beds. Every decision we make there is a consequence, good or bad. If we choose not to brush our teeth, well then we most likely, lose our teeth, hence taking care of our bodies. Every single choice we make effects our lives one way or the other. The bible tells us how to live our lives and has a verse for every situation you could ever go through on how to deal with it, everytime I do the opposite of what it says I reap a negative consequence. The bible encourages asking questions so you will gain wisdom, it does say not to doubt and everytime I do I am missing out, but our God is a God of mercy. He knows that we are battling our flesh and that doubts will come and he will help you get through it if you ask and you will be stronger for it. Sorry for the looooooong message, but I was thinking about this exact subject tonight and was trying to do research and came across this blog and decided to write what I have found after reading all the messages.

    • http://www.brewright.com Bradley Wright

      Thank you for your very thoughtful post, Ash.

  • DEL

    A religion that fears its doubters and dissenters is not one I want to participate. I began voicing my doubts and asking hard questions. I received trite answers, no anwers, or rejection. I was told that I was going to hell. Seriously, have doubts and asking questions is NORMAL. That’s what humans do. Oh, except in church. Always blindly accept what the church leaders tell you. Always accept the fireside stories of Bronze Age tribesmen as absolute truth. Always believe that a relationship with invisible beings is more important than the relationships you have with your family and friends.

  • Tom Sartwell

    Doubt is something I have struggled with my entire life. I kinda think it’s (at least for me) part of being faith-full. It goes beyond Christianity, humans doubt. Look at how many believe going to the moon is a hoax. As many have stated above, doubt is, or at least can be a strengthening part of faith. As with everything we make assumptions, as a Christian my first is that God is bigger then me. As with every faith (athiesm included) there are things we won’t understand. God has a bigger and more in depth viewpoint than I CAN have (kinda the deffinition of God). There have been too many events in my life that are beyond my reasoning capability (it seems most people simple ignore these) within the context of God or outside it. These go in a huge mental file marked “unanswered – yet”. God, working through many tools, has helped me resolve many doubts while others I keep working on, realizing these may be too big for my human perspective. The process of working through doubts and lack of understanding has strengthened my faith. For me, being Christian means sharing my faith and experiences with Christ. It seems that most Christians shy away from serious conversations about God, Christ and faith, almost like they are afraid. Non-Christians seem more willing (and suprisingly more knowladgable about Christianity) to talk about the hard questions. Sorry, I’m wondering. The conversations I’ve had with those who seem to be de-converting have been dificult. Some have continued for a very long time, others have ended with one encounter. Some of these people have left the faith and others still remain. Examined faith isn’t easy and I think unexamined faith is probably weak. In these conversations I am open and honest, “I don’t know” and “I haven’t been able to answer that yet” being said often, and accepted better that pat “Christian” answers. Thanks for the articles, they, and the responses, while not surprizing, are thought prevoking.

  • http://www.elainejordan.com Elaine Greensmith Jordan

    Your comments on ‘examined faith’ make complete sense. That is enough for me, a woman in ministry. Walking the walk in the church took me into faith, around faith, through faith and doubt, a fascinating excursion. It never ends as we think about time and love and death. I’ve written of my journey in a memoir, ‘Mrs. Ogg Played the Harp: Memories of Church and Love in the High Desert,’ and that process helped me understand the walk and its adventures.

  • http://www.plumbbobblog.com philwynk

    I have my doubts.

    It’s not that I’m any more sanguine about pat answers than anyone else here. I detest them. Always have. I detest them so much that I wrote a book offering better answers.

    But the thing is, I started noticing something about other peoples’ doubts back when I was a young believer, in my late teens. I noticed that folks reached the tipping point on their doubts right about the time they started having sex with their girlfriend or boyfriend.

    I saw it so often, in fact, that I stopped trying to answer the doubts when I heard them, and simply started asking “Have you recently started having sex with your [bf, gf]?” In short order, I had talked three different people into delaying their exit from the faith until they got their moral conduct in order. Now, not all of them remained Christian; one that I recall got pregnant and stopped showing up for fellowship. But I knew I was on to something.

    This is a phenomenon that will never show up in a simple survey, because hardly anybody will admit, even anonymously, that they’re entertaining doubts explicitly because believing makes them feel guilty about behavior they really ought to feel guilty about. Every now and again, I’ll hear an atheist admit that they reject religion because they want the liberty to sleep around. I admitted this to myself once or twice back when I was an atheist, during those rare, quiet moments when I was alone with myself. But I never would have answered a survey that way.

    If you want to do some useful research, try controlling for common, behavioral failures — sex, drug use, stealing, cheating on tests, etc. Try to correlate the date the conscience was offended to the onset of the doubts. I’ve got some good money that I’ll lay on the prediction that your research will turn up a remarkably strong correlation if you construct it properly. It’s a sure bet, because that’s what Jesus said: men love the darkness because their deeds are evil.

  • Lyonet

    This too some degree explains why I am comfortable in a mainline denomination: virtually all these questions have been answered deeply and repeatedly.

  • Neil

    Mother Teresa, according to her letters, actually lost her faith soon after arriving in India but that’s just detail. I think the lady from your previous essay hit the nail on the head. Modern methods of investigation both Scientific, historical, Textual Criticism now conducted with an objective approach and without the fear of torture or death has made serious headway. Proving the OT stories did not happen and the NT is just as fictitious and fabricated. many of the great thinkers of the enlightenment thought religion would just fade away quickly, it has not done so but is on the retreat in the first world where better education and information is available, even the brainwashing and shielding from rational discourse by fundamentalists has limited effect now and in a lot of cases contributing to the end of religious faiths. Once they get even a brief glimpse from the outside of the claims made and creationist propaganda the house of cards comes tumbling down.

  • Samuel

    Born and raised in the church; family has been Christians for many generations. I was sold out for Jesus from the ages of 13-17. When I turned 18, I began having serious doubts regarding biblical themes that I saw as moral and logical inconsistencies. 2 years later, I could no longer attend church. I was led away from Christianity simply by conviction. No Christians could answer the questions that I proposed because those answers did not exist. It was hard, but apostasy was inevitable for me. I still love my family and lifelong Christian friends, but I simply cannot embrace their faith.

    I did not leave because of hypocrisy. People are flawed, even Christians, and I recognized that. I left because my brain did not allow me to embrace a belief system that collapsed upon itself when analyzed objectively. I felt that this was the case with Christianity.

    This series has been very interesting! Thank you for posting.


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