Dealing with Doubts (i)

17 06 2010
Better Unanswered?

Better Unanswered - CarbonNYC

Last summer I spoke at a seminar entitled ‘Young, Leading and Dealing with Doubts.’ It wasn’t the greatest seminar I’ve ever given, due in part to the fact it was in a cowshed and I could hear the seminars in the rooms either side of me louder than I could my own voice! Recently I’ve been reflecting on some of the material I taught, and so the next few blog-posts will be a slightly expanded version of my thoughts on how to responsibly deal with doubts.

We’re all different. We have different temperaments, different personality types and we all face very different types of doubt. For some, our doubts come from studying subjects that challenge our faith. For others, an experience, perhaps an instance of suffering, might provoke us to question long-held beliefs. It’s not possible to offer a one-size-fits-all solution for dealing with our doubts, but I hope what follows will help to provide a few basic principles.

Why deal with our doubts?

Some people don’t think.

Well… they do. But they don’t make a habit of it.

I want you to make a habit of it.

Some people have an incredible ability to never feel the need to wrestle with big questions about life or faith. They’re just happy to drift along and trust God, with questions about history, or theology, or evolution or whatever completely unanswered. I’m not naturally one of those people, but even if I were, I think I would want to make a habit of thinking through difficult issues for one very simple reason: Jonathan Edwards.

Not the American, Sinners in the hands of an Angry God, Calvinist Edwards, but the Songs of Praise, hop skip and a jump version.

Jonathan Edwards was a world record holding Olympic triple-jumper. He famously refused to compete on Sundays, saying:

‘My relationship with Jesus and God is fundamental to everything I do. I have made a commitment and dedication in that relationship to serve God in every area of my life.’ (1)

The Times called him ‘one of Britain’s most prominent born-again Christians’ and he presented many episodes of Songs of Praise (a sure mark of salvation!?!) until 2007 when he stopped presenting the programme, citing as his reason, a crisis of faith.

What was it that caused him to suddenly give up the faith, which had previously been so dear to him? Not an accident, or family catastrophe, or bereavement. These are Edwards’ words:

“I never doubted my belief in God for a single moment until I retired from sport […] When I retired, something happened that took me by complete surprise. I quickly realised that athletics was more important to my identity than I believed possible. I was the best in the world at what I did and suddenly that was not true any more. With one facet of my identity stripped away, I began to question the others and, from there, there was no stopping. The foundations of my world were slowly crumbling. It was as if during my 20-plus-year career in athletics, I had been suspended in time […] I was so preoccupied with training and competing that I did not have the time or emotional inclination to question my beliefs. Sport is simple, with simple goals and a simple lifestyle. I was quite happy in a world populated by my family and close friends, people who shared my belief system. Leaving that world to get involved with television and other projects gave me the freedom to question everything.” (2)

For Edwards faith was such an enormous part of his life, and genuinely so, but through his sporting career he never grappled with the questions about his beliefs. He suppressed or ignored them and it wasn’t until he retired that those questions began to bubble to the surface and engulfed him. It came completely out of the blue for him, but I can’t help but wonder: if he had developed a lifestyle, and a discipline of continually dealing with his doubts when they arose rather than suppressing them, would he still be following Jesus today?

The truth is, you don’t know what it will be that will trigger doubts in your life. It could be an unforeseen bout of suffering, or something as simple as a change of job, move of house, or incisive question from a loved one.

Tim Keller puts it like this:

‘A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenceless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart sceptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection’ (3)

Our doubts need not be stumbling blocks. If you learn to deal with them well, to find answers, and to grow from the experience, they can actually be opportunities to increase your faith.

Over the next few posts, I will unpack a few reflections on John 20. The seminar was entitled ‘Young, Leading and Dealing with Doubts.’ Underlying this title is a core, and slightly bleak, assumption, which it is worth noting from the outset:

If we don’t deal with out doubts when we are young and leading, we may never make it to be old and leading…


(1) – ‘Edwards Jumps Job After Crisis of Faith’, Daily Mail, 2 Feb 2007

(2) – ‘‘I’ve never been happier’ says the man who won gold but lost God’, The Times, 27 June 2007

(3) – ‘The Reason for God‘, Timothy Keller, xvi-xvii




One response

17 06 2010
Tom Gillett

An insightful and encouraging post fella. Its good to see you back in the blogosphere!

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