The third installment of the best blog posts of 2009:
Doubt and Our Limitations [April 14, 2009, Andy Patton]
Doubt is part of the human condition. Christianity puts forth clear, understandable truths about God, ourselves, and reality, but that doesn’t mean real Christians don’t doubt. The word doubt has a bad rap and all sorts of negative connotations. But I think we do Christianity a disservice if we hold up as the model believer one who acts as though he or she has God’s mysteries completely ironed out and treats questioning as if it were the same as unbelief. Of course it is not. Faith involves knowledge and belief, but if our salvation hung upon cracking the nut of the universe so that it yielded answers to every question and put to rest every doubt, then who would be saved?
The truth is, we are all doubters. It is built into the very fabric of the way God made us. If you are not (by that I mean, if you do not feel your doubts currently) it may be a good thing or it may be a bad thing. It may be coming from a settled confidence in the goodness of what the Lord has revealed about the world, and the fact that it is still good even though he has not revealed it all. Or it could be coming from an over-estimation of your knowledge, an over-confidence in your own grasp. You might believe, deep down, that you have cracked the nut, and had enough.
I say we are all doubters for 2 reasons:
1. We are finite
2. We are fallen
God has given humanity a great grace in the ability to reason, but still we are surrounded by mysteries larger than ourselves. If you will, that is all science is; peering into the mysteries. Astronomy, biology, geology, psychology. Science is in the business of extending our finitude. But we are finite, and so our knowledge always come to us from the bottom-up. We piece bits together gradually. We do not have the top-down knowledge that God does. This is especially true when we are talking about the knowledge of God and the world he has made. Here we are dealing with the workings of an infinite being, which means, by definition, there will always be more that we do not understand than we do. We are always in the position of children. There is always “adult” business going on around us that we are too young for. We are sitting in a poorly lit corner of a vast darkness.Our finitude puts us in the position of need. We are in need of the voice from outside to speak into creation. We are in need of the knowledge that does not come pieces together in a confused mosaic. The Christian worldview says that this is exactly what has happened. The maker of the world has spoken into it and continues to speak into it.
Not only are we finite, but we are fallen. Our first parents walked in the garden with God in the cool of the day, but it is not so anymore. They could ask him questions. They could touch him and see him. They could experience his care for them easily and without confusion. But we have difficulty. The Enlightenment said that our reason is not fallen, but the fall didn’t leave reason untainted. Nor did it leave anything untainted. Our will, our emotions, our ability to see the world clearly and judge it well are all fallen. We have lost our reference point and now our compass spins in all directions. What does this mean for our discussion of doubt? It means that not only are we in a poorly lit corner of a vast darkness but our eyes are rheumy and fogged. Doubt comes with the territory. We are doubly in need. We need help in finding the pieces of the mosaic, and we need help arranging them in the right way and understanding them rightly. Left to our own we would, and do, make a terrible mess of it.
The demand for “proof” for the Christians faith breaks down on these two problems. Certainly there is much that can be confidently understood and believed it. God is committed to us and he has spoken in languages we can understand. There is not a drought of God’s voice in the world. I would say, on the contrary, that there is a flood. What if God (as the Bible seems to say) is always speaking into the world, only we are too small to hear it, or are not willing to listen? “Proof” that may come from an infinite God may simply be too big for us to understand. There are certainly things that he might say that we would be confusing, like learning calculus when you have only just mastered multiplication. We are without the intervening knowledge needed for God to speak plainly to us. There are certainly also things that God might say, in answer to our questioning, that would seem awful to us, but it would not be his answers that are awful and broken. It would ourselves. If it comes from God it comes from a country that is very, very different from anything that we have ever experienced in that it is unfallen. We may not be able to eat it, like a child simply cannot eat solid food.
We ought to have a realistic idea of our own limitations. This means neither that we can know nothing with a certainty, nor that we can know it all. Our best knowing will happen when we try to know with a firm grasp on these limitations.