Thursday, 28 August 2014

Walking With Those Who Doubt

Source: Photopin

I have a problem.

I’m a guy.

This means when someone comes to me with a problem my first instinct is to fly into problem-solving mode. I want to give people five easy steps to fix their problem so they can stop worrying about the problem rather than being particularly sympathetic.[1]

Case in point: The reason I’m very open about my struggles with doubt is so that I can be more approachable for those dealing with doubt. I want to help them through what I went through. So when a fellow student mentioned some doubts he was having I sprang into action. You see he had asked a theology lecturer what he thought of Adam and Eve in context of the creation/evolution debate. The lecturer, being a former biologist, gave him a very different answer to the one he was used to. This, understandably, lead the student to become very confused as to what to believe. This is where I sprang into action with my vast library of books on the subject. I immediately went through a list of books he could read on the subject. I told him to read chapters nine and ten of Denis Alexander’s Creation or Evolution: Do We Have to Choose?, Francis Collins’ The Language of God, and John Walton’s The Lost World of Genesis One.[2]

But I’ve recently come to wonder if that was really the right way to handle the situation. The student’s problem wasn’t that he hadn’t been given answers, it was that he had experienced a whole paradigm shift where what he thought was true wasn’t lining up with new information. He had to rethink his metanarrative.

Perhaps my latest episode with doubt illustrates this better.
Those who know me well will know that I particularly have a heart for the Palestinian people, a people loved by God but often marginalised by the evangelical church.[3] Within the past few days a long-term ceasefire was announced to end seven weeks of fighting between the IDF and Hamas, a conflict that has cost the lives 64 Israeli soldiers, six Israeli civilians, and 2,139 Gazans, with an estimated 71-76.8% of those Gazans being innocent civilians.[4] Of the Gazan dead 504 are children with a further 3,000 wounded, and many more homeless, orphaned, or in need of trauma counselling.[5]

How can one’s heart not be broken at the suffering of the children in a war they never asked to be a part of? But surely the Western world, the champions of freedom and justice, will address these war crimes? Nope. Many Western countries are trying to block an investigation by the International Criminal Court, and Israel are blocking Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch investigators from entering Gaza and have indicated that they will not cooperate with a UN Human Rights Council investigation, despite the fact that all three of these organisations would be investigating war crimes committed by Hamas just as much as those by Israel.[6]

And the real sucker punch is that factions within the evangelical church have been defending war crimes committed by both sides. How do reconcile this with the charge to seek justice, love compassion, and be humble before God (Micah 6:8), or to let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream (Amos 5:24), or Christ’s declaration that it is the peacemakers, not the warmakers, that are blessed in the Kingdom of God (Matthew 5:9)? No matter who you think was in the right or the wrong (or if you think both are wrong), we are called to be a people who thirst for God’s love and justice in the world above all other political aspirations.

And don’t get me started on the rest of the suffering in the world.
This lead me to call out to God in prayer recently “Why is there no justice in the world? Why do wicked people who care more about power than people prosper? In the Bible you intervened when this stuff happened so where are you now?”

Of course I know all the theological reasons for why there is evil in the world: we live in a sinful, fallen world, and like the Parable of the Wheat and the Weeds the Kingdom of Evil and the Kingdom of God will grow together until Christ comes back and defeats evil and death. I know the apologetic answers to the problem of evil.
But somehow that doesn’t bring me any comfort.

My favourite Christian blogger, Randall Hardman, wrote a brilliant post recently on the problem of the knowledge of evil and it’s been weighing heavily on my mind. He writes:
“There is a reason why, I think, so many of the philosophers, theologians, poets, and novelists who have attempted to treat the topic of evil through the centuries have found themselves in logical, existential, and emotional nihilism. It’s because this is where evil leads. There is no comprehension of The Shoah; there is no sufficient rationalization for genocide of any group of individuals (including those spoken about in the Bible); God’s glory is a terrible reason for tsunamis that take out entire nations or planes that fly into buildings. There is no logical theory as to why a child loses a parent or why a three year old develops incurable cancer.
And this, I think, is the failure of modern Christian apologetics. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not against apologetics. I believe we should have answers to tough questions, and I have even taught apologetics workshops. But the problem with apologetics is that the intellectual arguments will ultimately fail you when your doubts are emotional. No argument is going to convince you when your doubts are born out of the pain and anguish of losing a child.
And that’s what my doubts are. Emotional. They’re born out of heartbrokenness and anger and rage against the injustice and suffering in the world.

And this is where I think the experience of hotus comes in.
Don’t try to Google the term, it’s a made-up term. I heard it at a recent youth ministry conference in a talk about relational youth ministry. The speaker said it was a word his three year old had made up to describe that experience when you’re all alone and crying and there’s no one there to be with you. And while the context of this talk was about ministering to people who are hurting, I think it’s also applicable to those who doubt.
In the spoken word poem, Saturday, Rachel Held Evans says the following words:

“But you won't know how to explain that there is nothing nominal or lukewarm or indifferent about standing in this hurricane of questions every day and staring each one down until you've mustered all the bravery and fortitude and trust it takes to whisper just one of them out loud on the car ride home:

"What if we made this up because we're afraid of death?"

And you won't know how to explain why, in that moment when the whisper rose out of your mouth like Jesus from the grave, you felt more alive and awake and resurrected than you have in ages because at least it was out, at least it was said, at least it wasn't buried in your chest anymore, clawing for freedom.

And, if you're lucky, someone in the car will recognize the bravery of the act. If you're lucky, there will be a moment of holy silence before someone wonders out loud if such a question might put a damper on Easter brunch.

But if you're not—if the question gets answered too quickly or if the silence goes on too long—please know you are not alone.”

And maybe this is what it means to walk with those who doubt. Just as our job is not so much to fix the hurting as it is to support them, maybe sometimes the best thing we can do for those who doubt is not to give them easy answers but to simply sit with them in their doubt.

[1] I’ve been told I should work on this before I get married.
[2] Seriously, John Walton’s book is amazing. It completely changed how I read Genesis 1.
[3] I do have hope for change though. A recent issue of ICEJ’s Word From Jerusalem lamented that “For many decades, Evangelical support for Israel seemed rock solid. Today, however, many younger Christians in Western churches are hesitant to give Israel the same unconditional support which their parents did. Stories of Palestinian suffering have attracted the sympathy of young Evangelicals, rather than the struggles and triumphs of Israel. They appear to be motivated more by the cause of social justice for the ‘oppressed’ Palestinians than a prophecy-driven backing of the restored Jewish state. Many Christian youngsters have sided with the Palestinians as the perceived underdog.” (Jurgen Buhler, “Jesus and the Palestinians,” Word From Jerusalem, May 2014.) This move away from the idolatrous notion of giving a nation unconditional support to a focus on biblical justice can only be a good thing.
[4] Source for casualty numbers: Nidal al-Mughrabi and Jeffrey Heller, “Gaza Truce Holding but Israel's Netanyahu under Fire at Home,” Reuters U.S., August 27, 2014, accessed August 27, 2014,
Source for percentage of civilians killed: Amira Hass, “How Many Palestinian Civilians Is a Single Militant Worth?,” Haaretz, August 22, 2014, accessed August 27, 2014,
[5] “Gaza: Un Says Over 370,000 Palestinian Children in Need of 'psycho-Social First Aid',” UN News Centre, 21 August 2014, accessed August 27, 2014,
[6] “Expert Q,” Institute for Middle East Understanding, August 27, 2014, accessed August 27, 2014, Yifa Yaakov, “Netanyahu Indicates Israel Won’t Cooperate with Un Probe,” Times of Israel, August 13, 2014, accessed August 27, 2014,

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