When in Doubt

It is part of human nature to doubt. In a world in which the prominent worldviews are contrary to Christianity, it is no surprise that many followers of Christ have doubts about their faith. I know from personal experience that doubts can often seem overwhelming, and that it is extraordinarily easy to blow them out of proportion. What should simply prompt reflection and consideration instead causes one to become anxious and defensive both internally—emotionally and intellectually—as well as externally—in one’s interactions with others. In such cases, there are two missteps that believers should beware of. Firstly, we can mistakenly perceive an objection as undermining a particular Christian belief, when in fact that belief has little or nothing to do with the objection. Secondly, we can assign far more importance to a given belief than it truly has. As a result of these two missteps, doubts and objections can appear to have implications that they do not necessarily have.  

As an example of the first misstep, take the so-called slaughter of the Canaanites. Critics often argue that God’s command to the Israelites to kill the Canaanites[i] was immoral, and therefore the God of the Bible cannot be good. Obviously, this conclusion is troubling for all who believe that God is essentially good. Must we accept it, or is there an alternative? One option would be to repudiate the argument. This, in my opinion, has been successfully done by a number of apologists[ii]. Another alternative would be to grant the argument, but deny the conclusion. Let’s see what happens if we explore this route.

Suppose that God’s command to kill the Canaanites was immoral, and that an essentially good God could not have issued such a command. Rather than inferring that God is not good, the Christian could instead conclude that the Israelites were mistaken in thinking that God had issued such a command. If we draw this conclusion, then the objection does not undermine God’s goodness, but rather biblical inerrancy, since the command is recorded in scripture. Clearly this is still a troubling conclusion for most believers. Nonetheless, it serves as an example of the first misstep that doubting Christians can fall into; namely, perceiving an objection as undermining a particular Christian belief (e.g. God’s goodness) when it actually does not necessarily do so.

This brings us to the second misstep: assigning more importance to a belief than it warrants. In the Christian worldview, some beliefs are more central—more important—than others. For example, the belief that God exists is vital, while beliefs regarding the rapture and tribulation are far less significant. Philosopher William Lane Craig offers a helpful analogy that emphasises this point. He states:

Our system of beliefs as Christians can be compared to a spider’s web which radiates out from a central point. These strands of the web represent different doctrines or affirmations that we as Christians believe. Some of these doctrines are more central to the web of belief. If one of these doctrines were plucked out, the reverberations would be felt throughout the entire web and the web might even collapse. But if one of these peripheral strands were to be removed, there would be little reverberation in one’s system of beliefs.[iii] 

If we picture Christian beliefs like a web, then the existence of God would be a core strand, along with the deity of Christ and his bodily resurrection. If these claims turned out to be false, then so would Christianity.

Returning to our earlier example, then, which belief is more central to the Christian faith—belief in God’s goodness, or in scripture’s inerrancy? Although giving up either would send colossal tremors through one’s web of beliefs, I believe that abandoning the former would do more damage than the latter. That is to say, belief in God’s goodness is more central to Christianity than belief in biblical inerrancy. The danger is that, in constructing our web of beliefs, one might place more importance on a doctrine than it warrants. Then, when that doctrine is challenged, the accompanying doubts appear to strike far closer to the heart of the Christian faith than they should. The moral of the story is that, when in doubt, we should think carefully about what belief an objection undermines, and make sure that we place that belief in its appropriate place in our ‘web of beliefs’; neither attributing more significance to it than is warranted, nor underestimating its importance.


Endnotes:

[i] See Deuteronomy 7:2; 20:16-18.

[ii] For some responses to the so-called slaughter of the Canaanites, click here and here.

[iii] https://www.reasonablefaith.org/podcasts/defenders-podcast-series-3/s3-doctrine-of-revelation/doctrine-of-revelation-part-7/

2 replies
  1. Kahimilo Junior
    Kahimilo Junior says:

    Hello, I want to share a little thinking about doubt and our faith. I believe that doubt is part of our fallen or sinful nature which plays a major role in derailing our faith.
    Doubt, I believe biblically it comes from a spirit of unbelief toward God or anything that represents the name of God, e.g creation, existence, Authority, Law and commands- Word etc. This is the result of our lack of knowledge of Him.
    Faith on the other hand come from the Spirit that enable christians to believe in the message about anything that represent God. This is come by growing in knowledge of God and of Christ. We must remember that believing in the message must also accompanying with our obedient
    toward the message this is complete faith. (works/action produced by our faith) 1Thes1:3
    We see in story of Peter when asked Jesus to tell him to walk to Him on the water (Matt 14:28-31), we can see that his faith enable him to have the power to walk on the water, the power of the one he put his faith on, but the moment he have doubt as a result of seeing and feel the other power display before him, he became powerless.
    Jesus said to Peter, ,”you of little faith, why did you doubt”.
    Therefore, Let us pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. 1Tim6:11,12.

    God bless

  2. Kahimilo Junior
    Kahimilo Junior says:

    Hello, I just want to share on the point about the “slaughter of Canaanite” in response to some critics argue that Our God cannot be good as we (christians) claimed to be, for commanding the Israelites to commit such an immoral act. First I think we should know that God not only good but He is also just, ” God will repay each person according to what they have done “…either good or bad -Romans 2:6-8
    Not that God is the source of evil, to repay people who done evil, but because this world is under the control of the evil one since the fall of mankind (Adam) 1John 5:19
    So doing bad things is what we’re incline to do not good things unless the message about Christ is heard than our conscience becomes more inclined to do good in the sight of God, who gives life to everything in His creation (Heavens and earth). We also must remember that all of His creaton must give an account of ourselves to Him Alone – Romans 14:13
    In Psalms 51:4, says “Against YOU, YOU ONLY have I sinned and done what is evil in YOUR SIGHT. Clearly say everything evil we as human has done is sin against God.
    We read that evil was so deep in the time of Noah, the Bible say in Genesis 6:5,6 ..”that every inclination of the thoughts of human heart was EVIL CONTINUOUSLY…” and it makes God’s Heart DEEPLY TROUBLE…
    and God said that He will destroy all life under heavens and all creature that has the breath of life in it. This is similar statement we read in Deuteronomy 20:16,17 regarding the command to the Israelites to destroy all the nations including the Canaanite leave nothing that breathes.
    So let hear what the Bible say about the lives of these nations which made God comes to such decision. In Leviticus 18:1-29, God instructed His children not to follow these evil practice where they do in Egypt where they used to live and where they do in Canaan where they are going to live. If you read that chapter picture yourself seeing all of these things and rate how immoral is this to you? So how much immoral is it to God who created everything? 1John 1:5 ..” God is light, in Him there is no darkness at all”. Also in Genesis 15:16-19, God said to Abram that his descendants will be in slavery for four hundred years in another country. And in the fourth generations they will come back to this land (perrizite and canaanite we’re living there at the time) because the sin of the Amorites not yet reach it full measure. We know the Amorites together with the Canaanite and others were commanded by God to be completed destroyed (All living creatures) Deut 20:17
    So God is “long-suffering” toward these people for three to four generations before their wicked and evil ways reach it full measure

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