When we enter into an academic environment like university, questions can hit us faster than we can pick up a theology textbook. But Christian faith was never about having all the answers to life’s big mysteries … was it?
Starting university for the first time is a fun and exciting season. No uniform, Monday sleep-ins—sometimes?. But if you’ve grown up in a Christian home, it can also be the first time you encounter challenging questions about God and the beliefs you were raised on. But believe it or not, this could actually be the best thing that ever happened to your faith.
I grew up in the warm embrace of the church—I loved the Bible stories and never questioned the faith of my childhood. However, in my late teens, a number of years after I’d come to call myself a committed Christian, I began to ask the hard questions of the faith I was born into it. Why was my religion the ‘right’ one given the thousands of others that existed? Why do horrendous things happen to good people every day? Oh, and didn’t that Darwin guy get rid of our need for a God?
Atheists and Evangelism
I knew a guy who was a bit of an evangelist—but not the kind you’re probably thinking of. Let’s just call him Hitch (after well-known atheist Christopher Hitchens). Hitch would literally carry around a copy of Richard Dawkins’ The God Delusion, a famous atheist blueprint, in the same way we might carry a Bible (ironic much?). For him, all religion was poison. ‘We have no need for God anymore Hugh, science explains everything,’ he ranted. ‘Religion is fairy tales for adults!’
This made me feel silly and stupid, as I didn’t have the knowledge required to argue with him. But, thankfully, regardless of Hitch’s fundamentalist atheism, I still continued to be part of church and pursue my faith. I think I was at a point where I was convinced I had experienced the presence and love of God, and no atheist logic was going to eradicate that.
Looking back, it was a tad absurd that a 17-year-old boy, with no academic qualifications and minimal life experience, was confident he had the complete knowledge and logic required to disprove the existence of God. But, then again, don’t we as Christians like to act as if we know it all and that our beliefs can’t possibly be questioned?
I believe the nature of God doesn’t change, regardless of the questions we may have about him. In other words, questions and doubts are totally ok! I would even go as far to say it should be encouraged.
Wrestling Not Suppressing
University can be a challenging place for a Christian, an environment where everything is seemingly based on logic and evidence. While I’d love to be able to give you a list of answers to the kind of questions you’re going to come up against, it’s always better to seek for yourself. However, I am going to give you three thoughts to keep in mind when you start to wonder why you have a faith in the first place.
1. Don’t suppress or deny your doubts
Pretending we don’t have questions or doubts about our faith isn’t going to make them go away, or magically give us the answers we want. It’s vital to remember that doubt is not the absence of faith. To quote Catholic writer Richard Rohr, ‘The opposite of faith is not doubt; the opposite of faith is control’.
In my experience, the seasons where I’ve doubted and wrestled with my beliefs have enabled me to grow as both a Christian and a person. If you have specific questions, see it as a positive opportunity to learn more about God and theology. This isn’t to say you need to keep repeating the ‘correct’ answers you may have heard growing up in church. In the world of theology, you’ll discover all sorts of new and dynamic ideas about faith and Christianity. Exploring God’s kingdom beyond the lessons of youth group can be a profoundly positive and life changing experience. You may even find this is the very thing that revitalises your faith!
2. Talk with other Christians
In my seasons of questioning, I found chatting and engaging with other Christians helped me to feel less alone in what I was going through. You may think your Christian friends have all their beliefs sorted in a way you don’t, but chances are a majority of them have many of the questions you do. I think you’ll find there’s a strange kind of peace and encouragement that comes with embracing life’s questions in community. Also, if you feel like you’re not in a space where you can talk to God yourself, get people to pray for you.
3. God is still working
Despite the very definition of doubt implying that nothing is happening, you may be surprised to see this isn’t actually the case. Even in my darkest days of feeling like it was time to give up, I can still see that God was shaping me in ways I wasn’t aware.
I now understand that he actually transcends our intellectual ideas and concepts—in other words, faith is about being in relationship with God! Our faith journey is about an ever-deepening relationship with a loving creator that knows us and wants to be known.
After all, we’re not robots programmed to think exactly as our parents do! There have been times I could have traded in my Bible for a Richard Dawkins book. But the fact I chose to sit and wrestle with my doubts, as opposed to throwing in the towel all together, has helped me figure out what it is I actually believe (as opposed to what I don’t).
In other words, I think questions are actually what make us feel alive and human in our faith.