Two kinds of doubts

It’s been said that doubt is just having more faith in something else. And, as Tim Keller says in the video interview below, when looking at doubts about God there are honest doubts and there are dishonest doubts. The trouble is, we’re not always sure ourselves about which doubts we’re expressing. It’s very difficult to assess our own heart. 

And this is what we need to know about ourselves. We rarely make important decisions based totally on logic and reason.  Every salesperson and marketing company knows this. We buy with our emotions and justify our decision with logic. The Bible agrees.

10 For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation. (Rom.10:10 NKJV, emphasis added)

Keller is a pastor in Manhattan. He speaks to a highly-educated culture where the arguments for God are more important to people who wrestle with doubts. Keller himself wrestled with these issues in college. While his religious upbringing gave him doctrines he had not had a personal encounter with Jesus, so the arguments gave him doubts.

But here’s the point. Keller goes on to say that it was his doubting that brought him into an encounter with Jesus.

“I think if I had never gone through the doubting in college, I think I probably would’ve never met Christ.”

He goes on to say, as long as we deal with doubts honestly they are not an enemy to faith, but can actually propel us toward God in a new way. Of course, there is dishonest doubt where we won’t believe in God no matter what anybody tells us.

For instance, Keller mentions the famous author, Aldous Huxley, who admitted that the reason he didn’t want to believe in God was because he wanted to have sex and wasn’t sure he could have both. He said he wanted his doubts to help him say, “Who knows…” so I can live any way I want.” This particular response is popular today, even if it’s not excusing a promiscuous lifestyle.

Of course, there are many other reasons people choose to disbelieve or walk away from God. We may have prayed for someone and they died, or we suffered some other tragedy and blame God for not intervening. It could be we want to be free from some oppressive version of religion that we experienced, so we look for reasons not to believe.

It seems to me it usually comes down to either being angry with God or not wanting to be accountable to anyone but ourselves.

And that’s the irony of an argument. No amount of logic and reason is going to change a heart set against something. I wrote about this in “Faith Matters.”

We can even use the Bible to either believe or not believe. There were the Pharisees who searched the Scriptures to deny Jesus (John 5:39), and there were the Bereans who searched the Scriptures to find out whether these things were so (Acts 17:11). Nothing has changed there.

There are doubts that destroy your relationship with God and there are doubts that can propel you into one. This is especially important to know if you grew up in a Christian environment. You must go from the faith of their parents and church to your own faith in Christ. And this usually means first going through the valley of doubts.

I also thought this was an interesting point. Keller says that the questions and nature of doubts have changed over time. For instance, a big issue 20-30 years ago was that people couldn’t believe in miracles, but younger people today don’t go there. For them, the question is, if I’m a Christian, how do I live in a pluralistic world?  He said it’s much like in the Roman world of the first century when it was asked, “Can I be a Christian and be a good Roman citizen?”

Wherever you’re at with God, doubts are not the issue as much as having an honest assessment of your heart. That’s why I think it’s important to question your doubts and your motives for having them.We cannot prove or disprove God with science or our physical senses. Yet, for me, the works of God are clearly seen in the world we live in, if you’re open to it (Rom.1:20). As C.S. Lewis said, “To some, God is discoverable everywhere; to others, nowhere.” Science cannot tell us why we exist. In the end, it’s a leap of faith, whether you choose to believe or disbelieve. My advice…choose wisely.

Here’s the interview with Keller.

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About Mel Wild

God's favorite (and so are you), a son and a father, happily married to the same beautiful woman for 38 years. We have three incredible adult children. My passion is pursuing the Father's heart in Christ and giving it away to others. My favorite pastime is being iconoclastic and trailblazing the depths of God's grace. I'm also senior pastor of Cornerstone Church in Wisconsin.
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24 Responses to Two kinds of doubts

  1. tildeb says:

    “It seems to me it (doubt) usually comes down to either being angry with God or not wanting to be accountable to anyone but ourselves.”

    It seems to me you absolutely refuse to allow the best reasons to play spoiler for this tendentious and tired PRATT you continue to peddle. What you present is a false dichotomy… over and over and over. There really are excellent reasons for not believing in your god and there are moral, mature, rational, and responsible reasons for not doing so. You never give any of these the time of day, so busy are you building and maintaining your false dichotomies and repainting doubt to be a way to further faith-based belief.

    As for the role of doubt, you can get away with pretending only certain kinds of doubt are useful to the theist and try to bolster these. Of course, this mandates that you pretend any other kind of doubt has little virtue. That in itself is dishonest of you even though it’s understandable. It’s your bias at work and you do so by misrepresenting what is true. But don’t for one second think you are promoting honest and reasonable and unbiased skepticism or addressing its strengths regarding your faith-based belief. Real skepticism is toxic to this kind of apologetics you use so it’s no wonder you will not accept its application in any honest, truth-seeking way when it comes to your religious beliefs. That’s a clue about the inherent virtue of your faith, by the way, when you have to stoop to such antithetical tactics to defend them. It’s like bombing the village to save it; it draws into question how you define ‘saving’ your faith-based believes from legitimate doubt.

    • Mel Wild says:

      Thank you for your dogmatic opinion, Tildeb. I would expect no less from you and am under no illusion that you would ever be open to such a discussion. But I am puzzled by your response. Are you saying that there are other kinds of doubts than honest ones and dishonest ones? Because that’s the only dichotomy I’m presenting here.

      • tildeb says:

        You’re omitting the honest ones based on legitimate skepticism. Your version of doubt is based on faith that your god is real, that scripture is truthful, and that some people may have questions about how parts don;t fit with others. Enter the apologist to make the square pegs of scripture magically fit the round holes of what’s true.

        Look, a good thesis lays out the opponents strongest arguments and accounts for the discrepancies successfully. You don’t do this, Mel. You lay out a false dichotomy (like you’ve done here) and/or a straw man and/or distortions and misrepresentations, and then argue against these. I’m calling this tactic dishonest because you’ve been made aware of why what you describe as the counter argument(s) are not true, are not the case, are of your own creation and substitution, but do not account for the actual ones contrary to your own. That makes your thesis the weakest possible kind. And yet that is what apologetics is at its very best: deceit!

        You are trying to recruit, trying to sell, trying to maintain, trying to present your faith-based beliefs dishonestly by comparing and contrasting them with what is NOT true, NOT the case, NOT the opponents strongest arguments. And you do this all the time. What I’m saying is that by using and relying on these tactics of deception to pretend your thesis has more virtue than the arguments against it is itself a demonstration – a clue, if you will – of just how little virtue, how little truth value, how little respect for what is the case, your faith-based beliefs possess when you have to rely on deceiving others with dishonest and weak tactics to try to make them look good. If your thesis were strong in and of itself, you wouldn’t have to try to fool others this way.

        • Mel Wild says:

          You’re omitting the honest ones based on legitimate skepticism. Your version of doubt is based on faith that your god is real, that scripture is truthful, and that some people may have questions about how parts don;t fit with others.

          First, I said there was honest doubt, so I have no idea why you keep saying that I don’t admit this.

          Look, a good thesis lays out the opponents strongest arguments and accounts for the discrepancies successfully. You don’t do this, Mel.

          This post is not meant to be a thesis or an exhaustive argument for faith or doubt, but simply my own observations based on what Keller said in the interview. I obviously can’t do what you said in under 800 words.

          “You lay out a false dichotomy (like you’ve done here) and/or a straw man and/or distortions and misrepresentations, and then argue against these. I’m calling this tactic dishonest….”

          Haha! That’s rich coming from an anti-theist! Your New Atheist ideologues (Dawkins, Hitchens, etc.) made millions of dollars writing books without ever making the opponent’s arguments fairly. They’ve only proven that they’re either ignorant of the arguments or they are dishonest charlatans. It was nothing but a HUGE straw man that any thinking person who understands theology would see through. Besides, there are thousands of blogs, videos, and comments on the Internet by angry anti-theists that do exactly what you say I’m doing. So, I think the pot is calling the kettle black here. I’ve seen nothing but dishonesty and ignorance from these people.

          And as far as false dichotomy, I’ve read blogs by atheists and have heard them say to me themselves that no argument would ever convince them to believe in God, so I don’t think my observations are too far off base here. And if you say that our emotions play no role in our decisions, you are just being mulishly obstinate. A multi-Billion dollar marketing industry would empirically prove you wrong.

          Look, I trust that people who come here are already overloaded with the arguments from angry deconverts and skeptics on the Internet. My posts are brief observations from the side of faith in God. Take it however you want.

        • I don’t think Mel is talking about your specific “legitimate skepticism” but, more the reasons you choose to put so much effort and energy into your “legitimate skepticism”. These reasons more than likely fall under one of the two sides of the dichotomy Mel highlights.

        • tildeb says:

          Not even in the same ballpark as close, misterkiddo456…. unless you’re either angry at Xochitlicue or not wanting to be accountable to anyone but yourself.

          Is that an accurate description of your non belief? Is this description by Mel even in the same ballpark that accurately describes the reasons for your honest skepticism in the existence of and interaction with Xochitlicue?

          Of course not.

          You and I know perfectly well that neither of these accounts for your disbelief in Xochitlicue. What accounts for you not believing in this god is that you have no good reasons to do so. That’s honest. That’s the PRIMARY reason for your disbelief. It’s not this oft repeated mantra by dishonest apologists who claim the false dichotomy Mel continues to peddle here, who go out of their way to paint you, to frame your non belief as either irrationally emotional or immoral. That’s simply not true. So pretending it is true, that people don’t believe in his god because they are either angry or immoral is an intentionally dishonest description. It’s intentionally dishonest because Mel knows – as do you outside the exception you make for Christianity – the dichotomy to be a distortion. You don’t believe in other gods for good reasons in exactly the same way I do not believe in Mel’s god for good reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with either anger or some wish to be unaccountable for my actions. And these are the reasons that fortify reasonable skepticism and reasons Mel will not honestly engage.

        • John Branyan says:

          “You are trying to recruit, trying to sell, trying to maintain, trying to present your faith-based beliefs dishonestly by comparing and contrasting them with what is NOT true, NOT the case, NOT the opponents strongest arguments.”

          I’d love to hear one of those “strongest arguments”, Dear Leader!
          Do you know one or are you just expressing blind faith that they exist?

        • tildeb says:

          JB, you have demonstrated absolutely no reason for me to spend any time or effort explaining anything to you because you couldn’t care less. You are simply a toxic personality.

        • John Branyan says:

          Tildeb, you have demonstrated absolutely no support for your accusations. It is you who is toxic.

          If you’re not going to offer a “strong argument” in favor of atheism, at least be quiet.

  2. Nan says:

    It seems to me it usually comes down to either being angry with God or not wanting to be accountable to anyone but ourselves.

    My answer is much shorter than tildeb’s, but I think it sums it up — HOGWASH!

  3. Cindy Powell says:

    “To some, God is discoverable everywhere; to others, nowhere.” Love this quote. Sums up a lot. I remember hearing something on this topic years ago that has always stuck with me. Since it was so long ago, I’m paraphrasing at this point, but it was along these lines: “My faith isn’t based on the absence of doubt, it is based on the presence of certainties I cannot deny.” To that I say amen and it is why I have always been able to securely wrestle with doubt. I’ve yet to meet a doubt that was able to wrestle me out of the certainty of ongoing encounters with Love that I cannot deny. Blessings to you Mel!

    • Mel Wild says:

      “I’ve yet to meet a doubt that was able to wrestle me out of the certainty of ongoing encounters with Love that I cannot deny.”

      That pretty much says it all, right there! Probably why Paul said that faith, hope, and love abide, but the greatest of these is love (1 Cor.13:13). We won’t need faith and hope when we see Him as He is one day; but we will always have love. And wrestling with doubt is what strengthens our faith in the meantime. Otherwise, our faith is untested and, therefore, not reliable. It’s fickle, driven by the popular wind of opinions. But love answers all arguments! Blessings to you as well, Cindy.

  4. John Branyan says:

    I doubt that genuine doubt exists. Atheists prefer the term “skeptical” to the more appropriate “rebellious”.

    Atheists are children throwing tantrums.

    • Mel Wild says:

      They prefer “skeptical” because it sounds more honest and knowledgeable, even though we know and they know they have no intention whatsoever of making any honest consideration of anything that disagrees with their scientistic dogma.

      • tildeb says:

        Doubling down on rubbish, I see. Well, that’s your call but the rubbish is of your own making. Trying to smear others with it is also your call but it doesn’t reflect well on what you say you are trying to portray.

        • John Branyan says:

          Offer a “strong argument” and watch Mel implode.
          This ought to be a walk in the park for you.
          Just pick any one of the many, many, arguments for atheism.
          (FYI: So far, you’ve only used “Condescending Mockery”. Please use something with more substance.)

  5. Great post, Mel! I totally confess all my doubts and struggles with God have always revolved around being angry with Him, sometimes even denying that truth to myself. Rather then admitting I am angry at God, I’ll just pretend He doesn’t exist and stop speaking to Him. Once as a teen ager, I totally explained God’s non existence to Him, and it was quite an elegant speech too, very sound and well reasoned. And the Lord simply said, “so who do you suppose you have you been talking to?” He had me there.

    I was thinking of marriage while reading your post. Often it is in the struggle, the hard times,the doubt, that relationships grow stronger and people bond with one another. I think it is often the same with the Lord. I never tell anyone to have doubts or to get angry with Him, but for me if was like, the best thing I ever did, because He made His presence known to me, He got real. There is “believing in God” and then there is Believing and Knowing Him.

    • Mel Wild says:

      “Often it is in the struggle, the hard times, the doubt, that relationships grow stronger and people bond with one another.”

      I totally agree with you there! It was during my deepest struggle with God that totally transformed my life. Once I was done with my narcissistic tantrum, God’s amazing grace healed my fickle heart and I’ve never been the same since. I actually found out what it means to follow Christ instead of trying to invite Him into “my” life! LOL! Yes, that’s where it gets very real. No more self-indulgent superficial faith, keeping Him at a distance and on my own terms. It really is knowing Him and experiencing His life instead of just believing in Him.

      I think a lot of the psalms are just that: cathartic spilling all over God, followed by stunning revelation, ending with praise for His absolute brilliance.

  6. Thank you for this message! This is honestly coming as an encouragement in a season where I am struggling to encourage a close friend to connect with God. Thank you for this post 😊

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