Bruce Miller, a pastor, writes of an encounter he had with a young man. “I don’t believe in God,” he told me confidently. “Oh?” I responded. “Why is that?”
“There’s no evidence that God exists. No proof that God is anything more than something people made up to make themselves feel better,” he said. “And I’m sick of my parents pushing church on me. Even if there was a God, he doesn’t deserve my worship. Have you looked around lately? How could there be a good God in control of the world when terrible things happen every day?”
“That’s fair,” I said. “You’re right—the world is full of pain and suffering. It doesn’t make any sense.”
He paused, briefly surprised to hear something like that coming from a pastor. Then he turned toward me more directly and looked me straight in the eyes. “Then why do you believe in God?” he asked.
I could sense that this young man’s question was sincere; he really wanted to know my answer. The conversation wasn’t a debate, a game, or an argument. There was a tinge of hopeful longing in the tone of his voice, as if to communicate his desire to see something that might point to God’s reality. He listened quietly to my response and then asked a follow-up question: How long will it take me to figure out if God is real or not?
Honestly, I don’t know the answer to that question for him—or for anyone. Here’s what I do know: exploring God is a worthy endeavor. Questions like these are worth asking; their answers, worth seeking.
It’s vitally important that each person takes ownership of their own faith. It’s not enough to believe in something simply because someone told you; there’s no depth to that. We must be critical and intentional in pursuing truth and letting the answers we discover inform our beliefs. It’s the realizations we uncover on our own terms that have the potential to transform our lives.
Russian novelist Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “I believe in Christ and confess him not like some schoolboy; but my hosanna has passed through a great furnace of doubt.” It’s from the refining fire of doubt that strong convictions can emerge, forged by the act of pursuing answers to our hard questions.
Doubt often gets a bad reputation, especially within Christian settings, but doubt can actually be hugely productive. It can paralyze us, yes, but it can also propel us to seek out truth.
Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
Mystery abounds in this life, and there are spiritual realities that exceed our understanding. But I agree with theologian Peter Abelard when he said, “Constant and frequent questioning is the first key to wisdom. . . . For through doubting we are led to inquire, and by inquiry we perceive the truth.”