Help My Unbelief

CC BY-NC, Stefan Johansson, Flickr
CC BY-NC, Stefan Johansson, Flickr

Getting to the table on matters of faith is hard for many people, while behaving there is another for some. Sometimes I am amazed at postulation I hear when people are backed into philosophical corners. I recall myself leaving a philosophy club meeting at my Christian university fuming at peers who blamed God for creating evil simply because they could not arrive at a logical answer for it.

Since seminary I have always stated that I begin my personal study of theology—apart from my faith in God’s existence and perfect goodness—with a large dose of “I don’t know.” That stance helps me appreciate the mystery and keeps me searching for truth. Why is the deepest question about life and its most elusive. We are all spiritual seekers, and we have, at some point, found ourselves caught up in some eddy…some wave…some tide in the ebb and flow of higher truth.

I respect those people who fight to know, who wrestle with truth and seize upon the life of faith, although for them it comes in flickers and glimpses. Some people, however, give up and cease all inquests, grow intellectually antagonistic, and never recover from their lack of spiritual knowledge, something I hate to see. I would like to believe that a period of searching is not unlike a teen who goes through turbulent years only to recover his or her “sanity” and grow into a model adult. But my own doctrinal beliefs about sin and fallen humanity disallow that.

Reaching for spiritual truth—to know if God’s resume is really what he claims it is—is normal, even for Christians, and will traverse the breadth of human speculation and emotion. If you’ve read Psalms, then you know exactly what I’m talking about. Sometimes it is the only way we can be sure that the faith we possess is able to sustain us. But to overreach only does harm to the person. Overreaching means to bail out and surrender to intellectual suspicion; to give in to the mental and emotional need for stasis; to bring God up on charges; and, at worst, to walk away from faith.

Is There Purpose in Everything?

These sentiments often surface with moral topics and hot-button issues. I once watched a talk show and a question came up concerning autism. “Is there a purpose for everything, including disease?” I think everyone nodded their heads and agreed as a way of making sense of it and sympathizing with the suffering family. But something didn’t seem right to me.

Based on my spiritual convictions and the wisdom of Christian teaching, I cannot believe that disease possesses purpose and moral value. Unfortunately, sickness and disease occur, and why I don’t know; but they have never been part of God’s revelation or intent for humankind. I could never imagine anything less than goodness and goodwill in God’s character, in his Heaven, and in the original world he created. Again, to say otherwise, I feel, is to overreach.

I am not sure all things have purpose and moral value, and some things, like disease, may exist in a state of failed purpose. I don’t know, and, trust me: I’m not trying to be the philosopher here! But to assert that all things do indeed have purpose, from my Christian standpoint, may be leading to the justification of evil and sin’s existence in the world. (Research theodicy, the problem of evil, for more discussion.)

I will not bend my mind to accept something as true simply because I do not understand it. A better approach might be to realize that although some things are mysterious and without apparent purpose, and perhaps consequently evil and used (by Satan) with evil intent, they can be used purposefully, but only if one possesses the power to cause it.

Only God has the power to use all things in purpose, and here would be a good starting place in understanding his omnipotence and lofty wisdom. Thus, I cannot say it better than scripture itself has done: “And we know that in all things God works for good to those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose” (Rom. 8:28).

More on this topic: The God of All Purpose