Overcoming Intellectual Obstacles to Faith
One of our favorite things about working in the church is helping people share their faith. Lori is one of those people. Recently she said to us, "I'm really excited about my neighbor's interest in Jesus," she started, "but now she's asking all these questions!" Lori's experience is a common one. We start off energized to share our faith, but we are easily discouraged by questions we can't answer or doubts that we ourselves face. And that uncomfortable territory can cause us to shy away from trying to help people come to know Jesus.
Questions of faith and obstacles in the journey are a normal part of people's experiences. So how do we equip ourselves with helpful words that can point people in the right direction? We've found that there are some common intellectual obstacles that often present themselves in a journey to faith. Here's how we try to address them:
Obstacle #1: "If God is good, why is there evil in the world?"
As people seek help with big questions, like why is there evil, superficial answers won't do. A person's life experience is full of their own brushes with darkness—from the tragedy of 9/11 to abuse and trials in their personal lives. So we address this question with gentleness and sensitivity. The question of evil in the world is also, surprisingly, a question of freedom. The Bible teaches that humans are given freedom to make choices about their lives (Deuteronomy 30:19-20). With the freedom to choose how we want to live, we have to reckon with the truth that people make selfish choices, and they make choices that show a contempt for the dignity and respect of humans, in small ways and in world-altering ways. In the context of that freedom, Christianity is the religion that directly addresses the truth of sin.
Christianity teaches about a world fallen away from God, not operating as he intended—and then that God himself takes the price of evil upon himself in his own son's death. No other religion comes close to explaining the problem and providing a solution—with a personal, "in the flesh" God who suffered himself to take suffering from us (Hebrews 2:9). Yes, evil exists and that is a hard reality, but God's love and eternity are comforting truths that remind us that there will come a day with "no more death or sorrow or crying or pain" (Revelation 21:4).
Obstacle #2: "Is Jesus really the only way to God?"
This obstacle is really a question about the exclusivity of God. But the word "exclusive" implies that there are those that have what it takes to get in, and there are those who don't. In reality, Jesus categorically abolished every obstacle that would separate people from him—gender, religion, education, and social class. For Jesus, no one is "good enough" in their own strength. This levels the playing field—according to Jesus, we are all in the same category. But when we receive Christ, we are offered a completely new category of life—and it's offered to everyone. In some ways, Christianity is the most "inclusive" religion there is!
The inclusive nature of Christianity is found in Christ's offer to us. Yes, Jesus does say he is "the way, the truth, and the life" (John 14:6), but his way is a way that invites everyone to experience the kingdom through him. This is grace. Grace is about "God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to understand the truth" (1 Timothy 2:3-4).
Obstacle #3: "What about evolution?"
The question of origins is a fascinating one. When we ask "where did we come from?" or "where did the world begin?" we are truly asking God questions! Many Christians are flummoxed by these questions, believing they have to have the answers or their faith must not be real. But the debate on evolution and creation won't be solved by providing a 12-point treatise on string theory. A conversation on evolution is an opportunity to cast light on the truth: there are many, many things that humans don't know.
As much as a biblical understanding of creation takes faith, believing in evolution also takes faith. Perhaps a more interesting train of questions is about the concept of matter. Where did it all really begin? This is a question that no one can fully answer, which brings us back to the truth, that we are all, Christian or not, operating on some kind of belief system. There have been raging debates on origins for thousands of years, and there will be for many years to come. Perhaps this is just another example that supports the truth: knowledge alone is never sufficient.
We must be diligent about learning and understanding, and we should encourage honest seekers to do the same, but we should not be worried or defensive about these types of questions. We will not have all the answers, and the answers themselves aren't usually enough to help someone cross the line of faith. The best thing we can do is ask good questions, listen well, and perhaps present some lines of reasoning that open up our friend to the possibility of God's existence, the remarkable intricacy and complexity of creation, and the origin of humanity as uniquely distinct from the rest of creation.
Obstacle #4: "The Bible is so old. How can it be reliable?"
The Bible is truly a remarkable work. Written over 1500 years with approximately 40 different authors, the Bible is a collection of books that tell one story—about the loving relationship of God with people and the eternity-altering work of Jesus Christ. From an objective standpoint, the consistency, historical accuracy, and preservation of the Bible through generations is amazing. As compared to any other historic work, from The Iliad to the writings of Greek philosophers, the Bible has the most manuscripts with the most internal accuracy of text—by far. This alone should make a skeptic take note.
Why would this book be the one to be copied so many times with such accuracy? Why would so many people be willing to die for the truth and accuracy of what's written in the book? The Bible is unique as well in its treatment of people. There's a remarkable humanness about it. You get a sense when you read the stories in the Old Testament and the Gospels that the writers had a desire to just tell the truth—from the character failings of those who are supposed to be heroes of faith, to the inclusion of details that point to historical places and times. There are stories that ring true about human nature and apply directly to modern life. Is it sometimes confusing? Yes. Are there mysteries within it? Sure. Are there things we need to wrestle with? Definitely. But all of these real matters aren't reasons to not trust its reliability, its accuracy, and its continued relevance and power in our lives today.
What's the real question?
When it comes to knowing God, faith is required. We can never answer every question or doubt by reason alone. But we can try to provide some good insights. We can honor our friends who ask us these questions. We can treat their own journey with respect and patience, not talking down to them or trying to push them to "just believe." We can trust in the sovereignty of God, who is always working to draw people to himself and is patient with us, desiring for all to come to a knowledge of the truth (2 Peter 3:9). We also can be patient with ourselves and with our friends as we all seek together to come to the understanding that brings us to believe that God is real, that he really loves us, and that he offers us what our hearts are truly seeking: belonging, worth, forgiveness, and eternity.
Nicole Unice is on the ministry staff at Hope Church in Richmond, VA. She's the author of She's Got Issues and a regular contributor to Today's Christian Woman. David Dwight is the co-founding pastor of Hope Church. Together they've written Start Here: Beginning a Relationship with Jesus.
Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women
Overcoming Intellectual Obstacles to Faith
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