My personal faith journey can be likened to driving in a strange place, relying only on signage and direction. I have no idea where I’m going. There is no certainty that I will make it to my destination. I only have to believe that the directions I have been given are reliable, trustworthy and that I have been following them accordingly and faithfully. I can recount several times in my life, while actually driving, when I failed to keep my attention to directions or second guessed that I had and thereby doubted that I was heading in the right direction.
Christian faith is often like that.
There’s a popular view among some that Christian faith is “believing” without a shred of doubt. This view holds that a faithful believer must have absolute certainty that God is good, just, etc. or that God will do this or that, with the commitment to purge all thoughts of the opposite.
I haven’t seen this to be effective in my life. In fact, I have found it to be rather ineffective, impossible, and detrimental to my faith.
I have always strived to be a free thinker. I don’t want to believe in something just because others do. I’m far too skeptical. If I am to put my trust in something, I have to have good cause to do so.
The fact is I tend to doubt God’s goodness, His peace, His love and kindness. I often doubt His atonement for me. I sometimes doubt God’s very existence.
Hebrew 11:1 reminds us that, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see,” (New International Version). In short, this means we believe on the basis of hope found in God’s character. This does not mean we are certain of what God will do or won’t do in any given scenario.
Hoping in God’s Character
I think the mature Christian (like the mature thinker) has to admit that one cannot fully know the will of God in every circumstance. One must admit that to be fully knowledgeable of God, even ontologically, is just as possible as it is to be certain that no such God exists. To suggest either is to say that one has spanned to the end of time and space and has gained infinite wisdom. Certainly, no one can fully know the things of God, unless they themselves are God.* Honestly, there will be chapters in one’s life that could easily provoke doubt concerning God’s character or existence. We see God-fearing people question God in Scripture, specifically in the Book of Job and in Psalms.
But doubt isn’t the same thing as unbelief, just as faith isn’t the same thing as certainty. In fact, true faith comes out of doubt. To have faith is to have a hopeful trust in something. Any courtship eventually leading to marriage is a product of faith. No one gets married with full certainty that the marriage will last until one partner passes away. There is always a hope that each will remain committed to the other. And no one invests largely in a business venture with full certainty that it will result profitably. They hope for it though. We usually hope in the outcome of our choices. We like to trust in our relationships with others.
Why would we expect faith in God to be different?
Trusting, Not Knowing
Reading through Scripture from the beginning, one should be able to see the character of God shine through. The moment the glimpse of God’s character is caught is the same moment that trust in Him can be rooted.
The problem with human faith is that it is feeble and liable to succumb to the trials of life. We are far more comfortable with certainty (a.k.a. dominion)–what we can handle, manipulate, understand, even control–than we are with something that exists outside of ourselves. However, there are certain avenues over which we have no control. Sometimes life beckons us to surrender comfort for trust in something else.
Reading further in Hebrews 11, we see a list of godly men and women that trusted in God’s character and sojourned on with the faith that God keeps His promises. Verse 13 disclaims, however, that none of them saw the outcome of their faith, but hoped into the future. One hopes into the future by trusting in what is known from the past. These characters reimagined the fulfilled promises of God in the history of their people. This motivated trust in God’s character, even though they couldn’t be certain that God was acting the way they intended.
Trusting in God’s character is akin to trusting in those with which we have an existing bond and feel love us and have our best interest at heart. Though no absolute certainty exists that he or she is benevolent toward us, we commit to trust in the bond with which we are familiar.
Taking the Plunge
Again, like marriage, faith in God is the proverbial plunge into the Unknown. Faith isn’t blind, as some might say. It is retrospectively hopeful: looking back at when God has been faithful in one’s life and committing to trust that He will be faithful again, above my understanding what the outcome of His faithfulness will be.
* Source: Ravi Zacharias
For further reading on doubt and faith, see Gregory Boyd’s Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty: