A forthright but compassionate work that examines the problem of doubt thoroughly, in a way that will respond to people's questions, settle their fears and strengthen their faith.
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About the Author
Os Guinness (DPhil, University of Oxford) is an author and social critic. He is currently a senior fellow at the Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics in Oxford and has written or edited more than thirty books. Os has spoken at dozens of the world’s major universities and political and business conferences on many issues, including religious freedom. He lives with his wife, Jenny, near Washington, DC.
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I BELIEVE IN DOUBT
The simplest things in life are often the most profound. Sometimes I feel on fire with the immensity of this: Each of us is a person — alive, growing, and relating. From the moment we wake to the moment we fall aslee p, we think, we feel, we choose, we speak, we act, not as isolated individuals but as persons among people.
And underneath everything lie dependency and trust. From a baby with its mother, to friendships of children, to neighbors in community, to agreements among nations, life depends on trust. Counting on people is trust. Enjoying people is trust. Trust is the shared silence, the exchanged look, the expressive touch. Crying for help is trust; shaking hands is trust; a kiss is trust. The highest reaches of love and life depend on trust. Are there any questions more important to each of us than, Whom do I trust? How can I be sure?
We can devise a thousand strategies — such as law — to help us flee from trust. We can summon up scores of reasons — such as suspicion — to protect us from vulnerability to trust. But we have all once known the experience of complete dependence and complete trust — with our mothers at the beginning of life. And we can all know similar dependence and trust at the summit of our lives — in our free acknowledgment of God, when we receive his gift of faith as a trust that arises out of utter dependence on him.
All of which is why when trust goes and doubt comes in such a shadow is cast, such a wound is opened, such a hole is left, such anxiety gnaws.
God is not only a person, he is the supreme person on whom all personhood depends, not to speak of life itself and our entire existence. That is why to know him is to trust him, and to trust him is to begin to know ourselves. That is why our chief end is to glorify God and enjoy him forever. It is also why trusting God in the dark is so hard, and doubting God is so devastating. For when trust and dependence turn into doubt, it is as if the sun is eclipsed, the compass needle wavers without a north, and the very earth that was so solid moves as in an earthquake.
I have met some people who are on the road to faith who doubt God because they want to believe but dare not. How would you feel if someone flew more than halfway around the world to say to you, "I am at a loss. Life has no meaning unless God is there. There is hardly anyone left whom I can trust. Will you help me in my search?" I well remember a man on our doorstep in London who had crossed the world for this very reason. It was deeply sobering because I knew that after his previous failures to find answers he had cried out louder and more often, and the scars of the razor blades were still on his wrists to show it. What would you say? How would you help him? How would you introduce him to God who would never let him down, especially since God was less certain to him than human beings who had let him down?
I have met other people who are backing away from faith in God and doubt God because they do not want to believe but still do. I will never forget a woman who sat in our living room when we lived in Switzerland. She argued; she cried; she pounded the floor. Why should she trust God? He was a monster; a hard, unyielding monarch; a Mafia boss whose power was everywhere; a merciless creditor who demanded his pound of flesh. Hadn't she tried to obey? Hadn't she given it everything? But the more she saw God the more she feared, and the more she feared the more she became angry, and the angrier she became the more she hated, and the more she hated the more afraid of God she grew.
She knew she was caught in a vicious trap, sliding down a slippery spiral. She was young; she was loved; she was successful. But none of it made any difference. She could not trust God. She could not trust with real rest and without reservations. And in the bitterness of doubt, her spirit was like darkness at noon.
The doubts of these two people were entirely different, but they were both doubting God for the same reason: They did not know God as he really is. The man, however, knew that he did not know, while the woman thought that she did. Her picture of God (which came from experiences in the past) was so distorted that, without realizing it, she was believing a grotesque caricature of God that, for sanity's sake, she was forced at the same time to doubt.
Fortunately, she is not in that position today. She has come to know God as he is; she is able to trust him, and her whole life reflects the difference. In later chapters we will examine doubts like these in depth to see how they arise and how they can be resolved. They are only two types of doubt among many others, but they introduce us directly to the heart of our problem.
Doubt is not simply intellectual, an abstract philosophical or theological question. Nor is it merely psychological, a state of morbid spiritual or psychological anxiety. Doubt is personal. Doubt is all about people — who they are and what they say. At its most basic, doubt is a matter of truth, trust, and trustworthiness. Can we trust God? Are we sure? How can we be sure? Do we trust him enough to depend on him utterly? Are we trusting him enough to enjoy him? Is the whole of living different for that trust?
THE VALUE OF UNDERSTANDING DOUBT
Part of the glory of the Christian faith is that at its heart is a God who is a person. "He who is," the father of Jesus Christ and our father, is infinite, but he is also personal. The Christian faith therefore places a premium on the absolute truthfulness and trustworthiness of God, so understanding doubt is extremely important to a Christian. Of course, faith is much more than the absence of doubt, but to understand doubt is to have a key to a quiet heart and a quiet mind. Anyone who believes anything will automatically know something about doubt. But those who know why they believe are also in a position to discover why they doubt. The follower of Christ should be such a person. Not only do Christians believe, they are those who "think in believing and believe in thinking," as Augustine expressed it. The world of Christian faith is not a fairy-tale, make-believe world, question-free and problem-proof, but a world where doubt is never far from faith's shoulder.
Consequently, a healthy understanding of doubt should go hand in hand with a healthy understanding of faith. We ourselves are called in question if we have no answer to doubt. If we constantly doubt what we believe and always believe-yet-doubt, we will be in danger of undermining our personal integrity, if not our stability. But if ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith grows stronger still. It knows God more certainly, and it can enjoy God more deeply. Faith is not doubt-free, but there is a genuine assurance of faith that is truly beyond a shadow of doubt.
Obviously then, each one of us should understand doubt for God's sake and for ours. God is to be trusted, yet we human beings are prone to doubting: That is justification enough for trying to understand doubt. But an understanding of doubt will also bring two particular benefits to followers of Christ today.
First, a healthy understanding of doubt will act as a safeguard against today's widespread and unnecessary breakdown of faith. Christians are confronted by a situation that militates openly against assured faith. In most modern countries, public life has grown more secular and private life more pluralistic. In the Western part of the modern world, the Christian foundations of Western culture have been torn up and discarded. Our Christian past is in disrepute, and the very basis for any faith, Christian or otherwise, is held to be discredited in thinking circles. At the same time the vacuum created by collapsing Christendom has been filled by a bewildering variety of alternative faiths, facing us with a jostling and anxiety-creating pluralism. Many of us are also smarting emotionally under the sting of reactions to our faith and are keenly aware of the intellectual deficiency in our response.
In such a situation, it is hardly surprising if at times we falter as believers in a disbelieving age. This state of affairs has aggravated the already serious problem of doubt among Christians. Some, in response, have abandoned the faith altogether; many more have kept the faith but abandoned all pretense of any intellectual component. The loss of faith has not been stanched, and this has suggested that the Christian faith is a fragile, vulnerable belief with little intellectual integrity. This suggestion, in its turn, lends support to the common rejection of the Christian faith among thinking people. What is most damaging is not that Christians doubt but that there seems to be so little honesty about doubt and so little understanding of how to resolve it. This must be changed.
Second, a healthy understanding of doubt helps us to prepare for the years of testing that, I believe, are to come. Faith at its truest is radical reliance on God. It is a conviction born of understanding, grounded solidly in the truth of who God is and what he has said and done. But what our faith "should be" may be far removed from what our faith "is." In practice, many of us have become Christians and are continuing to believe for less than the best reasons and clearest motives. This will have serious consequences in the critical years ahead when the civilizational conflicts deepen and the battle between God and the gods grows more intense.
For example, one person's faith may be a genuine trust in God but also a trust in certain Christian friends, while another person has truly committed to God and also to the care of a strong local church or Christian community. Or again, others may honestly put themselves under the Lordship of Christ, yet at the same time adhere passionately to some aspect of the Christian way of life that by temperament or nationality they would be likely to espouse anyway.
In each specific case it is impossible to determine the exact line of distinction between faith and faith plus, between our faith in God and our faith in other people and things. Where faith is not as strong or as pure as it should be, it is not illegitimate. If our motives had to be spring-water pure, which of us would pass the test? But impure faith that is weak or wrongly based is always vulnerable in a crisis. To the degree that other motives are also at work, faith is not radical reliance on God alone. Seen in this light, every test that shows us what we are really relying on can be constructive. If testing shows that our attachment to Christian friends or to a particular lifestyle or culture is stronger than our attachment to God himself, we must ask whether these supports for faith are in danger of becoming substitutes. What we need, then, is to be stopped short before the process of substitution is complete and faith becomes altogether empty.
THE SQUARE ONE PRINCIPLE
Jesus challenged the Jews of his day with a searching question: "How can you have faith so long as you receive honor from one another, and care nothing for the honor that comes from him who alone is God?"
Ostensibly their faith was solely in God, but that faith was only nominal. In reality, their faith was in each other. More precisely, their nominal faith in God was supported and accredited by a closed system of mutual human honoring that made the need for any honor from God superfluous.
We should ask similar questions of ourselves, particularly those of us who are Western Christians. What sort of faith do we have? How can we know how strong our faith really is so long as we are comparatively untroubled in a world of material affluence, social ease, and spiritual privilege? Or to reverse it, could it be that in the deepening turbulence of our generation God is not only judging a culture that has abandoned him but also, as it were, shaking up the bag and testing the foundations to see if we Christians are as ready as we think for the critical years ahead?
The coin has two sides. Much of the weakening and breakdown of faith we are witnessing is a logical consequence, pure and simple, of the deep deficiency of faith today. On the other hand, it may also be a sign of God's hidden sovereignty and wisdom preparing us for a tougher future.
Long-standing supports are crumbling, and many of the accepted assumptions of normal Western life are being shaken — such as social stability and a reasonable prosperity.
We are forced to see the true foundations of our faith (that is, our practical rather than professed faith, our day-to-day trust, our matter-of-fact belief, our down-to-earth reliance). Far better to be tested today and have the chance to put right what is shown to be wrong than to be tested tomorrow and be found wanting.
The issues we are facing in the present crisis of faith touch on what I call the Square One Principle. Life can proceed with deceptive ease on the basis of a faith that was once vital but has become so taken for granted that it is no longer authentic. At that stage any pressure may be such a test for faith that the believer is faced with a choice: Give up or go back to square one. If we give up, then we abandon faith altogether. But if we go back to square one (and so back to our roots, back to our foundations, back to our beginning), we will find a faith that is solid and secure. The lesson of the Square One Principle is this: The person who has the courage to go back when necessary is the one who goes on in the end.
Richard Sibbes, the Puritan writer, put it this way: "Christ's work, both in the church and in the hearts of Christians, often goeth backward that it may go the better forward. As seed roots in the ground in the winter time, but after comes better up, and the harder the winter the more flourishing the spring, so we learn to stand by falls, and get strength by weakness discovered — virtutis custos infirmitas — we take deeper root by shaking."
Seen this way, the collapse of Christendom is a blessing for the Christian faith, and the present crisis of faith may be the best opportunity for the gospel in centuries, at least for Christians in the West. But to use this opportunity fully we must stop the severe hemorrhaging of faith among believers; we must provide decisive answers to the questions and objections of our contemporaries; and we must work toward a clearly discernible Christian response to the crises of civilization. Developing a fresh understanding of the old problem of doubt is a key contribution to this.
GOAL AND APPROACH
What is faith? What is an assured, understanding faith that is strong, true, and beyond a shadow of doubt? And what is the misunderstanding or mistreatment of faith that causes doubt, and how can it be avoided? And, above all, what does it mean to let faith be faith to such an extent that it will, in turn, let God be God? These are the questions we will examine, and that is our goal — to let God be God.
What will be our approach in this book? In Part One (the first two chapters) we will examine the nature of doubt, setting it off clearly from common misconceptions that cloud the issue today.
Part Two (Chapters 3 to 9) is the heart of our discussion. Here we will examine the seven most common categories of doubt and develop a framework in which we can understand and analyze all our specific doubts.
In Part Three (the last two chapters) we will look at two doubts that are probably the supreme doubts of all believers in all times: the doubts that come from two torturous questions, "Why, O Lord?" and "How long, O Lord?"
Getting to the heart of doubt is rather like peeling a chestnut: It's worthwhile in the end, but it entails getting through a prickly layer. The prickles surrounding doubt are the layers of misunderstanding that obscure what doubt is — and one misunderstanding above all: the common idea that doubt is wrong and we should feel guilty about doubting because doubt is another word for unbelief.
Once we have torn away these layers of misunderstanding we can get to the kernel of doubt and see not only its dangers but its value. Then, since we find there is no believing without some doubting and since believing is all the stronger for understanding and resolving doubt, we can say as Christians that if we doubt in believing it is also true that we believe in doubting. René Descartes got things exactly the wrong way round. The truth is not that "I doubt, therefore I am" but "I am, therefore I doubt."(Continues…)
Excerpted from "God in the Dark"
Copyright © 1996 Os Guinness.
Excerpted by permission of Good News Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
PART ONE: I AM, THEREFORE I DOUBT,
1 I Believe in Doubt, 11,
2 Dare to Doubt, 21,
PART TWO: SEVEN FAMILIES OF DOUBT,
3 Forgetting to Remember Doubt from Ingratitude, 39,
4 Faith out of Focus Doubt from a Faulty View of God, 57,
5 No Reason Why NotDoubt from Weak Foundations, 75,
6 An Unsigned Contract Doubt from Lack of Commitment, 95,
7 No Sign of Life Doubt from Lack of Growth, 113,
8 Coup d'État from Within Doubt from Unruly Emotions, 125,
9 Scars from an Old Wound Doubt from Hidden Conflicts, 145,
PART THREE: TWO TORTURING QUESTIONS,
10 Why, O Lord? Doubt from Inquisitiveness, 165,
11 How Long, O Lord? Doubt from Impatience, 197,
Most Helpful Customer Reviews
This book should be read more than once by anyone who is in or aspires to be in ministry for the Lord, whether in a local church, or as a missionary.
This is an updated version of "In Two Minds". The book starts with a discussion about the role of doubt in the life of faith. Doubt isn't the enemy of faith, unbelief is. Doubt relationship to faith/unbelief is like fear in relationship to courage/cowardice. The rest of the book examines seven common roots of doubt.
I read this book years ago when it was published under the title, 'In Two Minds.' An intelligent book and one that was a tremendous boost to my faith. It's not just a book for those who are plagued with doubts about their faith. Guinness offers insight into the foundations for building a solid faith. I highly recommend this book to people at all levels of spiritual maturity.