Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Joy in Her Doubt

It was inevitable. It was necessary. It is here.

My 13 year old daughter doubts her faith; thinks it is wrong to force her to go to church; and wishes to figure out what she believes "on her own". I am actually happy this occurred at 13; and not 17 or 18 when I really expected it to happen. However, again, it was inevitable. It was necessary.

We go to school and learn "the truth"; our parents teach us "the truth"; we open books and read "the truth" - and it doesn't take us very long to realize these are different stories. They conflict and so we started seeking authority - some way to know what to really believe. Children start to say "well, everyone believes this"; so the authority is what everyone thinks; or "we voted on this"; "the teacher says"; "I think"; or "I cannot believe in a God that would do that" *

* all quotes in this diary except the last are from "Loving God with all Your Mind" and are my paraphrase of Carl Palmer
I do not think God lets us cruise into Heaven on the faith of our parents. We have to own it ourselves. She has to own it herself in a school program for the academically gifted in a school district filled with engineers and scientists: her peers are not Christians, or believers of any sort. She is now surrounded, and hammered apparently, by agnostics and atheists intent, in a way only teenagers can model, of proving her faith irrational and anti-intellectual. She has come to doubt as a result. I sincerely thank God for that; and in this moment feel vindicated that we never put her in a Christian school in order to avoid this problem.

Many people respond to doubt with avoidance - it is hard work to anchor one's faith. After all, I blew out of my faith for 25 years and became a hard agnostic and an enemy of God - until my wife hammered at the judge long enough. It was meeting God that brought me back - my arrogance and pride was broken by the Holy Spirit. The last 11 years has been all about anchoring my faith after decades of deriding and insulting followers of Christ, and indeed any believers in any form of God, for their superstitions and metaphysics.

We live in a culture that is very opposed to critical thinking. By critical thinking, Carl means carefully examining something to see if it is true or not. We are so bombarded with lies that (since we have lived in a culture where we are told we determine what is true) now people no longer know how to think very well. That should not be true of followers of Jesus Christ. We should be leading the way in the right use of the mind.

Some Christians in America have also become anti-intellectual. They will say things like:

  • "Do not try to understand this with your mind - just believe";
  • "Faith is not really a reasonable thing";
  • "Faith is not intended to be logical";
  • "Faith is a leap in the dark";
  • "God's thoughts are above our thoughts".
What do all these mean? Does that mean God is not logical? That His logic is different from ours? That He would say 2+2=15; but we cannot understand that so we just have to believe? If you hear something like that you should hear a large warning horn going off somewhere - these things are not true
Of course, those statements are a red flag to a 13 year old intellectual; and if repeated to her 13 year old intellectual friends will have her buried in derision and ridicule. However,

The message of God - the Bible, the Cross, the blood of Christ, salvation - is logical. It is reasonable. It is coherent. It is consistent. It is sound. It is true. It is not true because someone says it is; or because you believe it - it is true because it is real. There is such a thing as an absolute objective reality. God has said He wants you to know; and He has given you a mind with which to understand the truth. Our faith is not based upon a leap in the dark - it is based on eyewitness testimony. Our faith is a reasonable, logical, coherent, consistent system of truth that is understandable.

. . .

We are in a struggle for truth and the authority of that truth . . . That is why we study the Bible . . .

How do we trust the authority of the Bible? Christians are famous for circular reasoning: we believe the Bible is the word of God and study it because in the Bible it says it is the word of God. So, how do we know it is the word of God (without circular reasoning)? This is a question we should be able to answer.
This, of course, is where my daughter is now. Will she do the work? Or simply step away from her faith because it is easier than anchoring it. Carl again:
Most people do not do the work - they just believe what they hear - and that is not the proper use of our minds.

So, if you are one of those Christians who do not know whether they can really trust the Bible - then you need to deal with that first. Do not primarily read the Bible if you do not trust it . . . this is where you need to do your work and engage your mind. If your faith is at the place where you just do not know if the Bible is true or not - that is where you need to focus.

It was here that Carl did his investigation: Has it been protected for 2000 years - is it true to what was written long ago? So he studied the ancient manuscripts and how the canon was set. There are huge, incredible books written on that. There is the internal evidence that it is the word of God; and there are great books written on that. There are books written on questions that skeptics ask - so you get and read some of those . . . When we do our own investigation, and engage our minds, we can pile up huge amounts of evidence to prove the reliability of the word of God.
Now I get to help my daughter work through this process if she will work through it. Again, I thank God for the opportunity to provide spiritual leadership to my daughter. I thank Him for preparing me for this task all of my life. And, of course, I thank Him for my daughter and her "coming to doubt" at such a good time.

This post isn't about getting advice (but I welcome it) - my whole life has pointed to this moment. It is about prayer: for my patience and wisdom; and for her to truly pursue the truth now that she has found herself doubting the truth. Hey, a Christian buddy of mine suggested that I really needed to read the Quran the other day; and last night I offered to read through it with my daughter. That brings to mind one of my wife's favorite sayings:

Coincidence is God's way of remaining anonymous

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How to debate charitably (rules are links to more description of rule):
1. The Golden Rule
2. You cannot read minds
3. People are not evil
4. Debates are not for winning
5. You make mistakes
6. Not everyone cares as much as you
7. Engaging is hard work
8. Differences can be subtle
9. Give up quietly