Things I Doubt

Right now, it frustrates me to have people just assume that I believe, or even to be around people whom I fairly or unfairly believe just assume, the following things:

  • Adam did not have an earthly father
  • We know anything at all about the end of the world, or that this world will be physically destroyed
  • We know anything at all about Satan, devils, or angels, or anything at all about how they do or might affect the world or humans
  • There are more than, oh, 5 people in the world who are really Christians
  • Our task in the world is to make more Christians, rather than to become Christians
  • We should pray about anything other than our own inability to mature spiritually
  • We should bow our heads while praying
  • Worship music has some intrinsic value
  • We will be conscious immediately after we die, i.e., there is life immediately after death
  • Heaven is another plane of existence
  • Hell exists, and/or we know anything about it
  • God makes it so that some people do not choose him
  • “Christianity” means something useful
  • The scriptures are always supposed to be applicable to our daily life
  • We should study the book of Revelation for clues to what the end times will be like
  • The first chapters of Genesis should be taken in any way literally
  • We can regard modern “Christianity” with any attitude other than cynicism.
  • Religious leaders of today are different from the Pharisees of Jesus’ day
  • The New Testament tells us something about practical sexual morality
  • We understand the point of spiritual disciplines
  • This or that person is sinful in the eyes of God
  • We must ask Jesus for forgiveness for all the sins we committed since the last time we asked for forgiveness
  • We can improve on the Lord’s Prayer
  • God put the forbidden tree in the middle of the garden just to test humanity
  • God “knows the future”
  • Persecution is necessarily a sign of following Christ
  • The narrow door is wide open
  • We know who is blessed and who is cursed in this life
  • We should be sad that we don’t see the miracles of the New Testament nowadays
  • We know what things are of God and what things just happened
  • God audibly speaks to people
  • Spiritual growth can happen consistently in groups of more than 10 people
  • We should agree with some categorization of spiritual gifts
  • God hardens people’s hearts
  • Christ came primarily to die on the cross
  • … and more, if I spent another 10 minutes writing

I still believe some of these things, and I even act like I believe some things that I doubt the most strongly. And I’m talking about today’s doubts–tomorrow’s will be as different as yesterday’s were. Moreover, I’ll even defend some of those things if I’m in an environment where people are deriding them out of hand. But I also feel a great need, in the opposite environment, where it seems people just assume those things, to make my doubts known.

Most importantly, I don’t feel particularly bad that I doubt them. In fact, these doubts are not burning me up with the need to answer any questions. I’m quite comfortable remaining exactly here! Of course, it would be nice to know for sure one way or another, and it is likely that I am silly to doubt some things in the list, since they will turn out to be obviously true, but I’m tired of hiding the doubt, and tired of people who don’t seem to have doubted them in the same way. It feels a bit suffocating and alienating–I feel the need to go wander alone in the desert.

In sum, it is not my doubts that cause me consternation–they’re like old friends–but rather how to interact with people who do not share them.

Anyway, for the purposes of providing some small reassurance, I do not seriously doubt, nor have I ever doubted, as far as I can remember, the following things:

  • God exists
  • God created the universe
  • The Trinity is real–Christ is God incarnate, and the Spirit is God in us
  • Christ shows us the way to life and God (salvation, if you want to call it that)
  • Our hope is in the coming of the Kingdom, which has been happening for a while, but which will happen in a final sense in the future
  • Death is not the end of the story for those with that hope

Stripped-down, but real to me.

By Jonathan Lipps

Jonathan worked as a programmer in tech startups for several decades, but is also passionate about all kinds of creative pursuits and academic discussion. Jonathan has master’s degrees in philosophy and linguistics, from Stanford and Oxford respectively, and is working on another in theology. An American-Canadian, he lives in Vancouver, BC and has way too many hobbies.

5 replies on “Things I Doubt”

Lipps, that is a very comprehensive list. I could even see value in you creating a blog and expounding on each of those to more depth at some time, because you have a rare combination of facility with logic and langauge and experience growing up in many different contexts within the spectrum of evangelical life and culture. Plus, it might even be good for you to figure out how to explain why these things are in the list in a helpful way to others who do not yet understand why you would say what you’re saying.

And I would add to your second list:
– God’s “way”/”call” for a given person has aspects both universal to all and particular to the person’s unique nature and nurture

If it makes you feel any better, it was not written with the intent of being helpful, right, good, comforting, or true. It was written with the intent to express frustrations and to be honest. Maybe the frustrations are wrong or unhealthy, and if you think so I’d be glad to hear it. But I wasn’t saying anything about them so much as laying them out there.

My 2 cents on certainty. Certainty is a tough thing to come by. Many philosophers (and normal people…) think it doesn’t exist, and all we can hope for is confidence. I think we can be certain of some things, as do you, based on your 2nd list. I think though, the only way you can be certain of that second list is because God has clearly revealed these things to you through his means of revelation: Scripture, the world and your heart.

I can appreciate the upper list, especially as simply an expression of what’s on your heart. There are things that are less clear in Scipture, and there are things that are more clear. There are things that are more important in Scripture and less important, which Jesus seems to tell us in his scolding of the Pharisees and his assertion of a greatest commandment. The more clear things are in Scripture (and nature and our hearts), the more certain we can be of them.

I think that some of those things on the upper list are certain enough to be on the lower list, particularly the one’s that question his knowledge. I think God does know. And if he doesn’t, I think we’ve got bigger problems than things like authentic Christianity. If God doesn’t know, how can you possibly be sure that the kingdom will in fact come? If God doesn’t know the future, maybe he loses. Maybe evil will win. I can’t live with that, and more importantly, I think Scripture makes it clear that he does win and he does know.

Re list #1: Thanks for vocalizing some doubts that even I haven’t had, that’s no easy task! I especially like the one that emphasizes being a Christian over making more. There’s some seriously great questions in there that more Christians should be discussing.

Re list #2: I’m impressed that you were able to come up with a list of things you haven’t seriously doubted. I wish I could say the same! I probably have a spell every 3 months or so that I seriously question the existence of God. This greatly simplifies my troubles since the rest of the list of doubts suddenly becomes moot! He is the Epistem. Usually I’m brought back by some astounding facet of nature like a bug or a glance at the night sky. Sometimes the doubt simply passes like the previous meal’s indigestion.

I wonder if my doubts have their own weather system, dark clouds come and go without warning.

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