Doubt, Belief, and Wonder: My Thoughts on God

Over at Eidos, my former professor and current friend John Mark Reynolds wrote a bit about the term ‘doubt.’ The word and concept hasn’t been far from my mind in the last few years, especially as I’ve pursued a degree in philosophy. Epistemology led me to an extended consideration of doubt and knowledge as such; likewise, a discussion of what it means to believe something in the face of evidence against it suggested some sort of switch one could flip to ‘stop believing.’ John Mark argues that we should not treat doubt as proof of the secularization of society.

And he’s right. Well, mostly. Regardless, his best line, is this:

[Rising doubts in polls] is taken as a sign of secularism, but I take it more as sign of linguistic change and of the advance of Christian philosophy. In some parts of America saying you “doubted” a thing was equivalent to saying you did not believe it. That wasn’t true of my social circle, but I discovered it was true of other friends when I went to college.

That ‘mostly’ bit of his correctness arises here: the question of what it means that people say they sometimes doubt God’s existence is answered by their definition of doubt. If they take doubt as “non-belief,” then of course this has signaled a rise of secularism. What John Mark correctly suggests, however, is that doubt is a healthy part of the Christian life. This would be difficult to refute, partially because it is right.

If we are honest, we’re all familiar with doubt in our Christian walks. Sometimes we question God’s goodness, or perhaps His faithfulness to what we took to be promises, and some even doubt whether He is there at all. These are all natural, of course, though growth should occur. To be stuck in doubt as much this year as every year past strikes me as unhealthy, though the faith of others is difficult to speak about so generally.

My interaction with Christianity has taken a number of terms as appropriate frames: I’ve landed at places I’d call doubtful, in full belief, and I am often simply in wonder. My doubt may be negative, as when the worst of things happens to me; my wonder is often a sort of positive doubt, as when the best of things happens to me. Belief, regardless of how substantiated at any particular moment–that is, regardless of the evidence immediately available and admissible to me–was always present. Sometimes evidence felt contrary to my belief, but it was never enough to convince me to abandon that faith.

Therein lies the rub, at least for many. In an age where “‘doubting’ a thing [is] equivalent to saying you [do] not believe it,” we forget that we often set aside certain pieces of evidence in light of some other reason for belief. Conspiracy theories prove this true, as they all have some sort of evidence for them (often bad, of course, but the point remains); we set this evidence aside in favor of the better belief.

I may not always have an answer for my doubts. In fact, I may rarely have answers, and I may never be granted them this side of paradise. But my faith survives my doubt, even when they coexist.

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J.F. Arnold

James received his MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology in 2013. He holds a BA in Biblical Studies from Biola University, and is a graduate and perpetual member of the Torrey Honors Institute. James blogs on a number of subjects, including technology, theology, and hip-hop. He has written for Biola’s Center for Christianity, Culture, & the Arts, The Gospel Coalition, and he is an editor for Mere Orthodoxy. You can also keep up with him on Twitter (@jamesfarnold).