finding truth matters

I DOUBT

By Andrew Corbett

I DOUBT. (Part 1) The Nature of Doubt

We all doubtThe fact that we all doubt to some extent suggests that each of us shares in the universal human craving to not be deceived and that we all intuitively want to know the truth. Even when it comes to Biblical spirituality, rather than seeing doubt as spiritually negative, it can actually be a positive.
After all, appropriate doubt can protect us from injury and even galvanise our worthy convictions.

Doubt is not a bad thingDoubt is not incompatible with Christianity. Scripture encourages us to doubt, especially dubious claims. We are not to be nîave ‘children’ in our thinking (1Cor. 14:20). Neither are to simply accept any claim blindly – rather we are test all things.

but test everything; hold fast what is good.
First Thessalonians 5:21

Doubt is not incompatible with Christianity

¶ My dear friends, don’t believe everything you hear. Carefully weigh and examine what people tell you. Not everyone who talks about God comes from God. There are a lot of lying preachers loose in the world.
First John 4:1

The main reason that doubt is compatible with Christianity is that it is grounded in reasons for believing. Thus, sceptics doubt because they won’t believe an unverified claim. In this sense, all Christians should be genuine sceptics! All too often Christians believe things too easily. The best reason to believe any claim is because it is true! Naturally, the opposite is equally true – any claim that is demonstrably false should not be believed. This then might lead to the question: How can we test whether a claim is true or not?

The tests of truth

Down through the ages, philosophers have studied the nature of truth (this branch of Philosophy is called Epistemology).  Certain tests were progressively developed to discern the difference between the truth from the false. For any claim to be reasonably considered as true, it needs to pass these tests-

  • Does it comport (agree) with reality?
    For example, the claim, “There was a time when lions and tigers were herbivores.” This claim does not comport with reality because the digestive system of lions and tigers can not sufficiently process a vegetation-only diet.

  • Is it testable?
    For example, the claim, “There was a time when lions and tigers were herbivores.” This claim can be tested by seeing whether the fossil remains of lions and tigers from this particular era provide any evidence for them being herbivores. 

  • Is there consistent evidence supporting it?
    For example, the claim, “Anyone could win a Gold Medal in the Olympic 100 metres Men’s sprint if they work hard enough.” The consistent evidence demonstrates that there is usually only one winner of the Olympic Gold in the Men’s 100 metres sprint (with often as many 7 other finalists and thousands who tried to qualify for it – despite their incredible hard work.

  • Could this claim be proven false? (“Falsifiability”)
    For example, the claim, “There is a pink porcelain tea-cup and saucer orbiting Mars which disappears every time someone looks at it.” This claim can not be tested and therefore cannot be proven false. With no supporting evidence for the claim, and no way to test it to prove it to be either true or false, a claim like this deserves our doubt.

There is a difference between a sceptic who exercises doubt until there is sufficient evidence to believe, and a cynic who refuses to believe despite reasonable evidence to adequately appease their doubts.

There is a difference between scepticism and cynicism

When it comes to beliefs, most people have not really taken the time to consider precisely what they believe or more importantly why they believe what they believe. The art of thinking is probably more scientific than most people realise. It’s a shame that Philosophy is not generally taught in Primary/Elementary Schools so that students are helped to gain basic thinking skills. Instead, we have the vast majority of the population holding a belief because –

  • It’s a popular view to hold (truth, however is not subject to a vote or democratic testing)

  • Some high-profile / intelligent person holds it (This is known as the “Professor’s Ploy”)

  • It is morally convenient for them (Moral truth is usually unpalatable to those who live immorally!)

  • They harbour some hurt which has shaped how they believe (Perhaps a priest sexually abused them and therefore they are now an atheist.)

  • They had a very subjective experience (such as a dream

None of these ‘reasons’ are particularly good reasons for believing a claim. Often what most people consider to be a ‘reason’ for their belief is little more than an opinion, or even, an assertion. Other beliefs fall into the category of a priori beliefs. These are beliefs which are assumed to be true before any evidence has been considered. Arguably, Darwinian Evolution falls into this category (Darwinian Evolution may be true, or it may be false, but it is fair to say that many people believe it to be true for some of the reasons given above and especially in an a priori fashion).

The Bible invites and welcomes doubters

The Bible welcomes the investigation of its claims. He is famously known as “Doubting” Thomas. He wasn’t present when the resurrected Christ appeared to several of His apostolic colleagues. And when told about the post-crucifixion/resurrection appearance of Christ, he refused to believe it unless his demands for appropriate evidence were satisfied. Eight days later, Christ appeared to His disciples again – including Thomas. Jesus invited Thomas to fulfil his demands for evidence. Thomas’s doubts were then allayed. Jesus never condemned Thomas for requiring evidence. Neither did the author penning the sacred inspired account.

Some well-meaning Christians claim that faith in God is not a matter of having sufficient evidence to do so. It seems that they have accepted the false notion that a belief is based on either faith or reason. Biblical faith is not unreasonable faith – on the contrary, it is faith which results from trustworthy evidence. Jesus’ rebuke of Thomas was not brought about because of his demand for evidence, but that he actually did have sufficient evidence (the eye-witness testimony of at least seven reliable, credible, and trustworthy men). The prominent atheist of the first half of the twentieth century, Bertrand Russell, once famously said in response to a question about dying and discovering that he was wrong about there being no God, and then what would say to God- “You didn’t give me enough evidence!” But, it will be shown over this series, no one can right state this. The Apostle John winds up his Gospel by saying the accounts that he recorded as an eye-witness, were written as evidence so that people would believe and thereby willingly receive the forgiveness and eternal life which God offers.

John 20:30

Josh McDowellThere are many examples of modern “Thomas’s”. Like him, they doubted. Like him, they required adequate evidence before they would believe in God, the Bible, and Christianity.  People like, Josh McDowell who was an aggressive atheist. He was then challenged to rebut the central claim of Christianity: the resurrection of Jesus Christ. He initially believed that this would be an easy conquest. But as he investigated the evidence for the resurrection of Christ he eventually conceded that it was indeed true. He became a Christian and wrote several books giving hundreds of reasons to believe in the God of the Bible.

If you are struggling with doubt – put your doubts to the test! Even a simple prayer, “God, if you are real, please reveal Yourself to me. Amen.”

Next: “I DOUBT.” (Part 2), I Doubt God.

© January 5th 2014, Andrew Corbett, Legana, Tasmania, Australia

Impossible Faith

Some people find faith in God to be impossible. These people have reasons for their impossible faith. Their objections may be intellectual, moral, or emotional. There are three well-known figures who each exemplify each of these objections to faith in God. Charles Darwin, Thomas Hardy and Bob Hawke each respectively held these particular objections to Christianity.

The Reliability of The Bible and How Best To Interpret It

The Bible is the most influential book of all time. It’s contents have changed the course of history. It’s story has formed the pattern for all the great literary classics. It also makes the astounding claim that it is the uniquely authoritative revelation from God and therefore has the authority to command our moral behaviour. But if the Bible is not reliable, then its claims are indefensible and Christianity is without foundation! Yet despite this glaring vulnerability, the Bible has withstood rigorous scrutiny and repeated attempts to refute it. Here’s why it is indeed reliable.

What Is Heaven Like?

I honestly used to think that Christianity was all about having the assurance of going to Heaven. But as I learned more about the Gospel and the teaching of Jesus of Nazareth I became curious about the relative scarcity of references to Heaven in the Bible. Yet, while my understanding of the place of Heaven in my Gospel proclamation has been refined, some God-Channel evangelists have headed in the other direction and made Heaven central to their Gospel. Some of these evangelists now even claim to have the spiritual power to make repeated visits there!

Presumably God, the Supreme Being, has a supremely beautiful home, in a supremely magnificent neighbourhood. Amazingly, God invites mankind to move into His neighbourhood- for eternity! But what is Heaven like? Is it possible, as some are now claiming, that we can visit Heaven? While I am going to lead readers to conclude that Heaven is not the Gospel’s focus, if it is the only reason someone is motivated to convert to Christ, then we should rejoice!

The Tragedy of Suicide – And How We Can Help

Suicide hurts. It is motivated by pain, but causes much greater pain. For those affected by suicide the guilt and anguish it produces is almost unbearable. But since suicide is in the Bible, how can we know that it is wrong? How should we regard the sinfulness of suicide? Is it unforgiveable? How can we help avoid suicide? What should those affected by it know after its happened?

The funeral celebrant rang me to warn me. He was used to dealing with sensitive situations but this one had a few extra layers of complexity. He decided to get me involved. He outlined the story to me and then told me the purpose of his call. When a loved one dies there is often a measure of guilt for those left behind. But when the death is caused by suicide that guilt is compounded. Suicide hurts. The funeral celebrant told me that a young man with a diagnosed mental illness, who had professed Christianity, had taken his own life and his devout mother (who we will call “Betty”) was devastated. The celebrant told me that Betty would ring because her guilt was beyond his expertise due to her Biblical understanding of suicide.

How To Handle A Crisis

The definition of a crisis is a calamity or event which disrupts a person’s sense of well- being and lifestyle. It is generally short term and requires immediate action in order to restore balance and control in the person’s life.  The results of crisis are: anxiety, bewilderment, confusion, desperation, anger, helplessness and even apathy. There is an increased sense of dependency upon others, a sense of urgency, and decreased efficiency in decision making and performance. The account of Judah being sieged by the Assyrians in Second Chronicles 32, involves all the aspects of a crisis. The major distinctive is that it involves a nation of people rather than just one person. The “helper” in this instance was their leader – King Hezekiah.

Roman Catholicism Compared With Christianity

Any discussion about religious wars, clergy violations, or child abuse, and it won’t be long before the The Roman Catholic Church unfortunately features. But I want to have a different discussion. And unlike most of the ‘discussions’ of this nature, I’m not on a mission to attack, ridicule, or mock anyone. Rather, I want to look at what the Roman Catholic Church officially teaches and asserts and compare it with the Bible’s teaching.

I’ve been a denominational minister for over two decades, so I know that it is possible to be a part of an organisation with which you disagree on some points.  I understand that this is certainly the case with the Roman Catholic Church as there are many priests who do agree with all that their Church asserts. For the purposes of this discussion, I have chosen to take the official Catholic positions on the matters I am comparing with the Biblical data. It is my hope that my Roman Catholic audience will acknowledge that I have represented their views fairly – but it is also my hope that I can appropriately demonstrate how these core views compare with the Biblical prescriptions.

Soli Deo Gloria

The final statement in The Five Pillars of Biblical Christianity is Soli Deo Gloria – for the glory of God alone! The reason we are saved is so that we can glorify God. In one sense it is true that reason Christ died for us was to save us from our sins and the just wrath of God for our sin. But the main reason Christ died to redeem us was for the glory of God.

How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God?
John 5:44

The glory that comes from God is when we give God glory. One of Christ’s last prayers was that His disciples would see His glory (John 17:24). Therefore God’s glory, His radiant magnificence, is visible and apprehendable. God’s glory is described several times in Scripture. In this sense, God’s glory is a visible reality (a noun). God’s glory is variously described as being like a cloud (Exodus 16:10), a devouring and consuming fire (Exodus 24:17), fire and smoke-like cloud (2Chronicles 7:1), and a brightly glowing cloud (Ezekiel 10:4).

Where Are The Dead?

Sitting across from me in my office was an older middle-aged man who had just read my draft commentary on the Book of Revelation. He had come from Queensland to visit friends in Tasmania and while in the neighbourhood, dropped in to see me to have chat and get a later edition of my book. He asked a lot of theoretical questions and we discussed the implications of what we discussed. Not until he returned to Queensland did I get an email regarding the chapter on the Resurrection. It was at this point that he confided in me that he was in the advanced stages of cancer and that his query was far more than theoretical.
The ancients believed that death was merely a change of location for the soul of a person. The place of the dead was called “Sheol”. When Jacob thought his son Joseph was dead: “All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.” (Gen. 37:35 ). When the judgment of God came upon Korah and his rebellion.

TULIP, The Essence of The Reformation

Jesus Christ taught that following Him was only possible through the miracle of conversion. He taught that for someone to authentically claim to be a Christian they needed a spiritual encounter that changed their heart and mind. Without such a miracle, known Biblically as ‘regeneration’, no one could merely decide to be a Christian.
It’s important to appreciate the geo-socio-politico conditions at the time of the Reformation. This was the time when John Calvin, Martin Luther, Ulrich Zwingli, and others dared to defend the Biblical revelation against a militant Papal Church which had previously executed similar voices (Wyclif, Tyndale, Savonarola, to name a few) for daring to defy the teaching of the Papacy. One of the central claims of the Papacy was “Universalism”, the doctrine which taught that Christ’s sacrificial death was repeated over and over through the celebration of the Mass and was effective in saving all those in communion with the Roman Catholic Church (thus, universal salvation was activated by works). Since Salvation was universal (everyone is automatically saved), the Papal Church was more concerned about administering this salvation through having people in communion with it, or alternatively, disfellowshipping (or, ex-communicating) those who it disliked. Calvin on the other hand saw that Scripture did not teach universalism, but conversely- that not everyone would be saved.

Leadership Lessons From Shackleton

Sometimes when the going gets tough, you just have to keep going. In fact, success in life – no matter how you define it – can only be achieved with endurance. Surely one of the greatest examples of endurance (if not the greatest) is the story of Ernest Shackleton and his expedition to the Antarctic on the ship: The Endurance. While we ordinary mortals may never have a death defying adventure like Shackleton and his 28 men, we are already in the midst of our own great adventure called life!

Some people want to live their lives by seeking their maximum comfort and avoiding all risks. But this is not the Believer’s lot. We are called to follow Christ- who even though He is entirely consistent in character, is somewhat unpredictable in his plans for His followers. The New Testament calls this “walking by faith” (2Corinthians 5:7). This is why for the Believer, Life is the Greatest Adventure.

When was the last time you did something for Christ that required “great faith” (Matthew 15:28)?

Dr. Andrew Corbett

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