Some of you have a lot of questions about the Christian faith. I am especially talking to those of you who are “seekers,” who, according to your own testimony, would become a Christian so long as you get past all the hurdles. But there is also those of you who are Christians but your commitment has been placed on hold until you get some answers. Many of you have been on this quest for years but no one can answer all your questions sufficiently. Therefore, you remain content in your agnosticism or your nominal faith.
“How did the first sin come into being?”
“How can God be sovereign and humans remain free?”
“Where was God during the Holocaust?”
“If God is so intentional, what about all the waste in the world (miscarraiges, extent species, unneeded body parts, etc)”
“Why does Paul seem to have a different view of faith, works, and salvation than James?”
And a thousand other questions that never get answered. Sure, you have heard the options, but none of them are sufficient for you to say you have found “the” answer.
I get this. I empathize with this way of thinking. After all, I live in a western world. I am a child of rationalism. I was fed from the milk of Descartes and his modernistic idealism. Because of this, I am not naturally comfortable with mystery, unanswered questions, tension, things I don’t know. This is especially the case when it comes to questions about things that affect the direction of my life.
However, my basic thesis here is that thinking that you need to have all the questions answered before you make a commitment is not only unhealthy, but it is wrong.
Not too long ago I sat on an airplane waiting to fly out of Orlando back to Dallas. The plane was delayed for quite some time as, for some reason, the preflight checks were taking longer than normal. Unfortunately, it gave me time to think about all the things that could go wrong with the plane. I wondered how many components they had to check. Think about it. Do they really check those things well enough to put more than two hundred people thirty thousand feet in the air? “What if they missed something?” I thought to myself. There are just so many things to miss! I worked myself into a panic and then had to calm myself by attempting to reintroduce common sense.
When it comes to faith, many of us have the same types of questions that keep us from ever really relaxing. All the things we fail to check. All those things we could be wrong about. These possibilities cause us to lose our joy and replace it with doubt and spiritual panic or just make us perpetually indecisive.
Though we need to be diligent, informed, skeptical, and wise in our faith, we need to be careful that we don’t work ourselves into an impossible situation. I don’t know how many people I have talked to who are always one fact, one verification, or one piece of evidence away from belief. Often, no matter how many reasons we have to believe, we simply cannot trust. “Yeah, but what about _______?” is the most common thought in our head. It goes on and on. There are always other possibilities to explain the evidence. Even if the other possibilities are highly unlikely (“well, maybe there is some explanation for the resurrection that we don’t know about”), with this mindset in the driver’s seat, these doubts serve as legitimate reasons for us to suspend our faith commitment.
When it comes to essential Christianity, what I have found is that these “Yeah, but what about ____?”s normally don’t have any bearing on the truthfulness of Christianity, but on the validity of some interpretation of a non-essential aspect of the faith.
“What about evolution?”
“How did Noah get all those animals on the ark?”
“Why did God allow all those kids to die in the Arkansas flood?”
“Why does God allow so much evil?”
“What words did Christ really use in this passage? Matthew says this, but Mark says this.”
“Why do the Catholics include the Apocrypha and Protestants don’t?”
“Why is there so much disagreement among Christians about the details?”
“What about the Inquisition?”
On and on it goes. Now to be sure, sometimes the questions are not ancillary to essential Christianity, but so many times they are. However, the types of questions listed above (and a thousand others like them) should not prevent anyone from accepting the central belief of Christianity – that Jesus Christ, the son of God, died for our sins and rose from the grave and that we must repent and trust in him to be saved.
Another problem with this line of thinking is that it unconsciously commits to non-belief while waiting to have everything we think we might have missed answered. However, the methodology carries an inherent double standard. Why doesn’t our non-belief have to have all the questions answered? Why are we not suspended in a state of belief until all of the reasons why we could be wrong about believing are answered? If the evidence is sufficient, why does non-belief enjoy the benefit of the doubt?
It is most certain that we have all missed some things. We will never have all our questions answered (on earth). This is impossible. Like with the airplane, we must be willing to rely on and trust in the evidence, even if there is something we could have missed. There is a sufficiency in probability that we must be willing to live with. If we are not, we will forever be in a perpetual state of doubt. We will always be one answer away from faith and assurance.
One more illustration we could use is that of marriage. There is arguably not a more life altering commitment we will ever make in this life outside of our commitment to God. But who really has all their questions answered about their spouse before they take the plunge? No one. If they are of that mentality, they will never get married. But we know enough to make a commitment. We know enough to create probability that makes our decision not only justified but warranted.
I believe that the Christian faith is the most probable explanation to everything, even though I could come up with a thousand objections and possible alternatives. There is a point when the evidence is sufficient, even if we missed something. There are some basic checks that we do before the flight of faith or before we stand at the alter with Christ, and I encourage everyone to concern themselves with these. But when you start checking the aisle lights of the plane, the stability of the tray holders, the on-board telephone, and the possibility that a boa constrictor could have been maliciously planted in the cockpit to kill the pilots mid-flight, you have turned your quest for truth into an excuse for non-belief. This methodology does not work in any area of life, including your religious faith. There comes a time when you must relax and cease giving your doubts control that their substance does not demand.
C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger.
Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I’m a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. He can be contacted at [email protected]