Continuing to blog through this book: Walking Away from Faith (Unraveling the Mystery of Belief and Unbelief) by Ruth Tucker. InterVarsity Press, 2002. * part 1, part 2, part 3, part 4, part 5, part 6, part 7
In this post, we will look at ways to respond or interact with those struggling with doubts, partly by considering some who left their faith but returned to it. As already emphasized in previous posts, we need to be gracious and truly listen. Tucker suggests we keep the following factors in mind:
- The truth or falsehood of Christianity is not proven by rational arguments.
- The element of mystery in faith should be celebrated, not avoided.
- Doubt and unbelief are natural components of faith.
- Those mature in faith must be open about their own struggles with doubt.
- Faith is a collective endeavor that involves community and service.
As some of these factors point out, the doubter may possibly be demanding too much from their faith – such as expecting proofs that Christianity does not promise. Faith is faith. We may need to offer a gentle reminder on the nature of faith. This doesn’t mean there are not rational reasons to believe and apologetics may help some people, but there will never be enough evidence to bring someone who needs proof back to faith.
The attitude of our response may be more important than our actual response. Arguing is not the best approach. It may have the opposite effect and prompt them to work harder to challenge Christianity. (Yep! That’s how I would respond to an argumentative type approach!) We may need to suspend our arguments and be more vulnerable by admitting our own struggles with doubts. Humility and honesty are critical.
Tucker interacts with the works of Flannery O’Conner, a fiction writer, who struggled with doubts about her faith and corresponded with others who struggled with doubts in order to encourage them. Flannery stated that most people “think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the Cross.” She also remarked that some things are mysteries and if we could understand them, they would not be worth understanding. In the end her advice was this: “If you feel you can’t believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God.”
To someone who was struggling to believe because of disappointments with the church, Flannery said, in part: “…The church was founded on Peter who denied Christ 3 times and couldn’t walk on water by himself. You are expecting his successors to walk on the water.”
We also need Christian communities where children and teens are being educated, not indoctrinated, in the faith. There is a critical difference here! I appreciated Tucker’s summary:
Where intellectual pursuits are confined largely to the Bible and religious reading, where a dichotomy of the sacred and secular is strictly maintained, where tough questions are silenced – here faith-threatening doubts often emerge….But where a well-rounded liberal arts education is viewed as a necessary component of a Christian worldview and where hard questions are encouraged – here the Christian faith is more secure.
Tucker shares the stories of several people who walked away from faith but eventually returned. One, named Kathleen, was away from faith for 20 years. She states that her most important breakthrough was when she “learned to be as consciously skeptical and questioning of my disbelief and doubts as I was of my burgeoning faith.” - I like this advice! We need to question disbelief as much as belief! Isn’t that only fair?
Tucker also references Madeline L’Engle who found it critical to grasp God as mystery. She said that the questions worth asking are not answerable. For L’Engle the known and unknown aspects of God were juxtaposed:
The mystery is tremendous, and the fascination that keeps me returning to the questions affirms they are worth asking, and that any God worth believing in is the God not only of the immensities of the galaxies…but also the God who loves and cares about the sufferings of us human beings and is here, with us, in our pain and in our joy.
I feel this post is a bit scattered, but I wanted to highlight thoughts from the final chapters. If you have appreciated this series, consider getting your own copy of the book. I highly recommend it, especially if issues of faith and doubt concern you. While this is essentially it, there will be a brief final post to end the series. Thanks for following along with me!