Recently an article over at Desiring God, a blog hosted by John Piper, took aim at Christians who wrestle with doubts.
The article was shockingly uncharitable towards Christians such as myself– far more uncharitable than I had even expected from the arrogant wing of Calvinism. The premise of the article was that “doubt dishonors God” and that it’s a hallmark of “weak faith,” as if those of us who struggle with doubts on our faith journey are either second class citizens who haven’t gotten with the program yet, or worse, that our doubts are somehow an intentional act of rebellion against God.
Well, I have a newsflash for all the Calvinist out there who agree with the premise of that article:
We’re not doubting because this is our idea of a good time.
Nor are we doubting because it’s trendy or cool.
Our doubts are none of those things.
But if you’d really like to understand Christians whose faith includes elements and seasons of doubts– If you’d really like to understand Christians like me– I’ll break it down for you. While doubts can be caused by a variety of things, I believe many of us experience this for two distinct reasons.
First, Christians who doubt are often intensely curious people, and this isn’t a bad thing.
Even the word to “doubt” ultimately means to “question,” and those of us who doubt often do so because we are always curiously asking questions. We take in answers and mull them over, usually ending up with even more questions as we attempt to figure out the “inner workings” of life and faith and everything else in the world around us.
Christians who doubt are Christians who are busy asking questions and wrestling with answers. Instead of dishonoring God, I believe we actually deeply honor him, because when we ask questions it means one thing:
We’re using that big ole brain God gave us.
For the first 20 years of my Christian life, I didn’t ask many questions– I just memorized the answers I was handed. Outwardly, I would have appeared as a mature, solid Christian, but inwardly I was dishonoring God by limiting what I allowed my brain to ask, seek, and explore. Thus, repenting of certainty and embracing doubt became one of the most God-honoring, spiritually mature things I have ever done in my life.
Secondly, many Christians who doubt often do so because what we were taught doesn’t seem to line up with real-life experience.
Since the article I’m responding to came from among the 872 point Calvinists, I’ll give an actual example:
Calvinism of course, teaches that everything that happens in life and the world, good or bad, was all directly orchestrated by God. Now, when life is good this kind of idea feels great, but when life goes bad? Not so much.
I’m the guy who had a vasectomy as an act of worship in order to give my life to raising kids who needed a family– it was an invitation I was sure came from God himself. However, after completing 4 adoptions where 3 of them ultimately failed for various reasons after the fact, my “act of worship” cost me the deepest dream my heart ever held: having lots of children and ultimately grandchildren.
Being told on one hand that everything that happens in life is from God and therefore good, while also laying in bed at night unable to get the memories of your last goodbye with your own children out of your head, is the kind of thing that naturally prompts you-know-what.
We wrestle with reality and wonder how everything could really be a divine plan from God. We question whether or not everything that happens to us is actually good and wonderful when it feels so hellish and painful.
When life happens, and when that doesn’t line up with what we were told about God, we naturally are faced with some really, really hard questions– questions that don’t have easy answers.
Asking those questions, having a curious mind that wants to understand, and struggling to figure out why real-life suffering doesn’t line up with what people like Calvinists teach us about God, isn’t a sign of weak faith. It’s not a sign of rebellion or dishonoring God.
It is a sign that we are human– a sign that our hearts and brains are functioning as intended, and that life experience has left us wrestling with some difficult questions.
On one hand, I grieve that Calvinists such as the author of that piece don’t seem to know us– that they don’t know we’re simply curious people who have often experienced tremendous doses of pain and hardship that caused us to spend long seasons asking hard questions.
What I grieve even more is that out of all the verses the article quoted on doubting, there was one verse conspicuously left out:
“Have mercy on those who doubt.” – Jude 1:22
Because if you really knew me and those like me, if knew how we long to reconcile our painful experiences with the things that we were taught, and if you knew how desperately we long to cling to a solid answer that makes sense to us…
You’d have far more mercy on us than what you have shown.
Doubt is healthy but when used as a euphemism for unbelief then the following verse is applicable,
…always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. 2 Timothy 3:7
Fear and guilt are two things Calvinists like Piper excel at. Power and control are two more. I used to idolize Piper back when I was a Calvinist, and still Christian. The man could do no wrong except possibly stub his toe. Now I am not even a Christian, and it is easy now for me to see right through tactics like his. People like you, who have honest doubts, should be encouraged and comforted as well as you can be, both by your fellow members of your religion, and compassionate humans outside of your religion. But empathy is not the driving force behind Piper’s words (have not read his article for myself, but I am not sure it is worth my time to even skim it). No, power and control are, by the wonderful weapons of fear and guilt and shame and condemnation. Calvinism apparently thrives on the stuff.
Lol this is so true.
Calvinists confuse God with Megatron
The next to last line is magic: “This teaching will last forever especially on internet message boards where five-point Calvinist grad students will fire off condescending 4000-word responses to seventh grade Methodist girls who just wanted to to say how much they enjoyed their youth group lock-in.”
But the last line is win: “I’m a Calvinist; I’m certain about everything. Except if Jesus died for me.”
John Piper probably isn’t even saved. Calvinism is a joke.
I used to be uncertain…but now I’m not so sure..
Morgan Guyton has blogged on this as well.
Worthwhile read, Corey. But here’s a hint: Calvinists do not like the word “otherwise.” It throws them off because that word introduces freedom, whereas they want everything determined.
I say this as a Calvinist: Thank you. My tribe is far too often guilty of a sense of theological superiority that in this instance led one of us completely to ignore the command of Jude 22. May I ask that you forgive us?
The only thing I will say in our defense is that, just as it was wrong for the Desiring God author to write so unsympathetically about “weak faith,” it’s also wrong for Christians who doubt to wear their doubt as if it’s some badge of honor—as if they are surely more profound and spiritual than I am because they’re wrestling with their faith while I (at least at the moment) am experiencing relative peace about mine. (Lest you fear I’m referring to you, you didn’t come across like this at all in your post; I’m referring to other Christians who tend to take pride in their constant doubting.) I say this as someone who experienced doubts for many years—I was no “more spiritual” then than I am now as someone who’s more settled in his convictions. But, looking back, I am grateful for the doubts God gave me because I arrived where I am today only through walking that path (spoken like a true Calvinist, I know).
I grew up Calvinist, absolutely certain that I was counted among “The Elect” — and that worked until I realized I was gay at age 13, and came out at age 15. I was kicked out of the church — and formally shunned, within two weeks after being excommunicated (and damned). 48 years later, people from that church are still shunning me: walking down different aisles if they see me at the grocery, walking to the opposite side of the street if they see me outside, etc.
Here’s the thing: I kept my faith, found a new church where there were four other guys there who were also gay (and Christian — what a concept: being gay *and* Christian!) and that started me down the road to becoming an Episcopalian.
Fast forward 48 years: I have an a partner of 28 years and a degree from an Episcopal seminary. My Calvinist family accepts my partner. I’m still officially “apostate” — but now because I’m Episcopalian.
Life among the exclusive country club of the self-sanctified “Elect”…
I get so sick and tired of the false certitude of Calvinists like Piper and Grudem. When you spend 19 years raising an OCD child with Tourette’s Syndrome, pleading with God to help your child cope and fit in, going to dozens of IEP meetings, navigating the mental health system’s labyrinth, doing everything possible to keep him safe…only to have him die in an arson fire at age 19…you ask questions of God…you experience doubt.
Thank God my faith wasn’t built on their rickety foundation of inerrancy, that my God wasn’t the monster Calvinists worship. Rather than having to rely on TULIP to comfort me, my pain and sorrow, and yes my doubt, eventually drew me closer to God and the Son, a man well acquainted with sorrow.
Where is “faith” when you are required to have all the answers? When your theology has to have it all worked out? What kind of faith requires everything to fit into a box? I have news for you Mr. Piper. You know nothing of “faith.” Your faith is built on a system of your own design, not God.
This is a common psychological tool used by many religions. When you have a story-line that is both extraordinary and non-verifiable, one way to keep people obedient to the belief is to make any questioning or challenges completely taboo. Put blame and shame on the challenger as to
a) get them to stop, and
b) discourage others from applying any critical thinking.
Another tool is teaching the carrot and stick (like heaven and hell) around obedience. Then there is the extremely cruel practice of shunning (or disfellowshipped) where leaving the faith may cost you your family relationships. It is all sick tricks needed to keep people gullible.
Gathering knowledge about St. Thomas I came here, and thought I’d remind us what a great teacher Jesus was – he understood that not all people learn and believe in the same way. He had no problem showing the doubting Thomas his wounds, to see and to touch. Our curiosity is natural from the time we are born, its how we develop. I’ve found the popularity of Thomas in early modern East London was because he was a labourer like them, (shipwrights etc). It would have been a survival instinct to want to have proof of anything. King Charles 1 was peeved at their Independent spirit, dissenting nature.
Thus I endorse Richard Dawkins view of Thomas as a Patron Saint of Scientists.
I’m wrestling with how I should approach this to share what I am certain of. I have my doubts. On one hand if I quote what is written verbatim, directly from a version, this will be too long for those I love, who need this the most, to read through. On the other hand, if I give only the directive to the quotes, those I love, who have faith in my words to be of good intention, may not read the significance for themselves. What I am certain of in my heart and mind, in the image of God, is that I cannot remain silent.
Genesis 32:22-32 (NIV2011)
The Israelites do not eat one special tendon in sacred commemoration to their unquestioned faith in God. The crowd vote for the death of the Son of Man/Son of God, in God’s name, was founded on their certainty of faith in the highest and most respected authorities in the nation of Israel. None of the responsible power of Israel knew God before them.
>>>>> This is titled “WHAT IS IT LIKE TO ENJOY GOD?” by John Piper <<<<< Is God in this picture? Can we see Them to enjoy; as in the Father, the Son, the Holy Spirit, the mother and all the children? … or do we see only John Piper, a most respected authority in the nation of Christianity? https://www.desiringgod.org/
John 12:42-43 (NIV2011)
Whose praise do we seek when we fear so much God’s wrath that we kill God in God’s name while embracing certain faith in our church and family authorities because we don’t want to be put out?
Luke 14:25-27 (NIV2011)
Honestly, with neither pride nor shame, I once had the conviction of heart and mind to scream, face to face, toe to toe, at God, “you can’t possibly f***ing exist”.
I had my son (at 17 years of age, 20 years ago) stand face to face, toe to toe, and scream at me, “I buffed up to kick your little ass in the ground”.
Both sons wrestled with their father. Two sons doubting their fathers then and neither does today, because each of us knows the active love, tolerance and forgiveness of our fathers. Neither father left his son orphaned in time of doubt.
I testify, by my own experience, that when the day, spoken of in John 14:15-21 and 16:12-15, hopefully, comes for each of us, each who responsibly risks doubting by expressing our uncertainties face to face, toe to toe, in search of truth, at God, we will know for certain the only source for truth, always available, as we can bear in each moment, throughout the remainder of eternity.
Good productive and constructive loving parents never expect their children to take the lessons offered them at face value.
An example; when did you find out that your parents were learning, what they did not know before, as you were learning from them and their example?
How much less would you love God, or doubt God’s love, if you found out that They were learning, what they did not know before, as you were learning from Them and Their example?
What happens to your faith if you found out that the law that Christ has shared with us was not an authoritarian edict laid down for you to follow, or you would die? I mean, God is equally as subject to the law as is Their students, as a professor is just as subject to the law of our earth’s physics as are her/his students.
What happens to your certainty of faith in God when you find that They want to share the remaining eternity of ever expanding awareness and influence with you, not as a subject, or puppet, but as an equally loved and respected member of Their family, as any other who loves to share in everything as they would have others share with them. We all have doubts. We all, including all of God, approach as cautiously as is allowed in the moment what is just around the next bend, that none of us has ever experienced before.
Don’t trust what I say, for I am, at best, a well nurtured infant child in training hoping to eventually be able to make mature, responsible and constructive decisions as does my Rabbi Brother. Really, ask Him with all authority in heaven and on earth today!!!
Thank you for this.
The Calvinist god is evil……just like the inventor of their nonsense….I suppose Calvin is one of the Elect even though he had people burned alive…it’s not like he did something really bad like have gay sex….He was just a man of his time….unlike us….
I believe the saying “just drink the kool aid” started with the people’s temple church in the 1970s when over 600 church members willingly drank cianide laced kool aid at their pastor’s direction and died.
Many churches I have attended since then appear to treat questions/doubt the same way. One is shamed, belittled, dismissed, for questioning the pastor, the church, or the interpretation of scripture. As others here have said, I’m not questioning Jesus, I’m trying to understand and know Him better.
And this attitude is not exclusive to calvinists – many other churches/denominations practice this attitude too.
It appears to me that Jesus himself struggled with doubt on the cross. The usual dodge that he was just quoting the first line of a psalm in his death throes has never rung true and minimizes the totality of the sacrifice he made…yes, at the very end, the sacrifice even of his bedrock faith in Abba. No follower of Jesus is immune to experiencing what he went through, although we each bear the cross in our own way.
The issue I take with the Desiring God article is that when I doubt, I don’t distrust God, as they imply. I don’t always understand God. I sometimes express my anger and frustration to God – as did many prophets and psalm writers! But through it all, I still trust God. My doubts are about other elements of my faith, but I do not doubt God, nor his love, nor his willingness to work things out for good.
I know the frustration and confusion and pain of being one that encountered those questions early in life. What I thought of them then hasn’t changed much, except observations and experiences in life, and actually reading and studying the bible myself, strong reinforced it.
To see the “doubt” as being not “doubt” and “lack of faith” as in truth, being to doubt an question Them and their beliefs and opinions, rather than God. Or even just the way they apply a few cherry picked verses from the Bible.
If any need more evidence of Jesus’ view of having doubts, consider His response to Thomas when the disciple did not believe he was talking with the flesh and bone body of Jesus. Reach forth your hand… check it out yourself.
Calvinism is what you believe in when you are to scared and/or embarrassed to admit you have doubts.
My work in a Level One Trauma Center drives me to doubt. The reality that I, as a white, educated and privileged male, am “blessed” far beyond so many people of color with whom I work drives me to doubt.
I deeply love a quote from Oliver Wendell Holmes which I will paraphrase: “For the simplicity that lies on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give a fig [plug nickel?}; but for the simplicity on the other side of complexity I would give everything I own.”
Piper (and his ilk) want “simple Christians,” i.e., simple-minded Christians. When those people bump up against the complexities of life, they are indoctrinated to say: “But the Bible says…,” “But my pastor says…,” and so on. They hit complexity and it scares the shit out of them, so they retreat to “the Bible says,” and “my pastor says,” and “Jon Piper says….”
Man, that article is all over the map. I have no idea what the author’s actual point is.
Sometimes, it appears that he’s trying to say that Christians should be actively trying to grow and strengthen their faith as opposed to just being ok with minimal vital signs all their life. I don’t have much of a problem with that except to point out he repeatedly chalks this up to laziness or deliberate rebellion. While I’m sure that can be the case, it’s a lazy and vindictive stereotype.
Sometimes, it appears that he’s trying to say that doubting and having faith are two, opposite ends of a continuum, which is a little like saying that being brave and being afraid are at two, opposite ends of a continuum. People who exhibit bravery in the face of their fear are braver than people who never feel fear. People who trust God even when they have doubts display greater trust than people who have no doubts.
Sometimes, it appears that he’s saying that doubts are directly offensive to God because they call His trustworthiness into question. Well, if that’s true, the biblical data reveals that God can take this in stride. In Jeremiah 20, the prophet flat out accuses God of deceiving him into his prophetic calling and blames Him for his present bad circumstances. But God just keeps talking to him as if nothing ever happened. John the Baptist publicly questions whether or not Jesus is the Messiah or if they should look for another (because JtB is in jail about to be executed), and Jesus follows up on this by giving a speech about how John is the greatest person who has ever lived.
This article has no clear thesis and no clear supporting arguments. It’s an extended demonstration of equivocation sprinkled with a flurry of proof-texts that may or may not be addressing the subject at hand. I appreciate a desire to share with brothers and sisters who struggle deeply with their faith that they are not alone and that there are resources and provisions they can turn to and encourage them to do so, but this whole “y’all just lazy and it makes God mad at you” viewpoint of the article is just unhelpful and does not take into account a fully-scoped view of either the lived out phenomena of faith and doubt nor all the biblical data on the subject.
If doubt dishonors God, then God should be dishonored.
I looked into Calvinism as a teenager. And it it seemed to make God to be evil. I could not see how Christianity made sense under Calvinist predestination doctrines.