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The Benefit of Doubt

The following is an excerpt from the new book, Answering the Toughest Questions About God and the Bible by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz.

God isn’t surprised when people doubt him. It doesn’t even bother him. How do we know this? Because of the way Jesus treated one of his disciples, famously (or infamously) known as Doubting Thomas. Jesus had been crucified, was dead and buried. But he rose again and appeared to more then five hundred people, including his disciples—except for one.

It seems Thomas was missing when Jesus first appeared to his followers, and even though his colleagues told Thomas about the risen Lord, he refused to believe. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe” (John 20:25). Talk about a tough sell!

A week later, Jesus appeared before his disciples again, and this time Thomas was with them. Rather than scold the doubting disciple, Jesus invited him to examine the nail holes in his hands and the wound in his side. “Stop doubting and believe,” Jesus told Thomas (verse 27).

Thomas did indeed believe (who wouldn’t at that point?), which prompted Jesus to make a profound observation. “Because you have seen me, you have believed,” he said to Thomas. “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (verse 29).

That’s us, folks. We have not seen, yet Jesus says if we believe, we are blessed. In effect, Jesus is saying that our doubts are useful because they guide us to a truth that is as much subjective and mysterious as it is objective and empirical. There are facts concerning the historicity of Jesus, but we weren’t there like Thomas was. We can know Jesus is risen, and we can believe God is real, but it’s not with 100 percent certainty because we haven’t actually seen him.

And that’s just where God wants us.

You see, believing in God is more than believing objective facts about God. It’s great that there are plenty of clues in the universe and throughout history that point to the existence of God. But clues and facts alone don’t tell the whole story. Belief is more than coming to conclusions. Even the devils of hell have concluded that God exists (see James 2:19). True belief happens only when it leads to trust, and trust is valid only when the object of your trust is worthy of your belief.

You Won’t Believe What You Don’t Trust

You can believe all you want that an airplane is going to fly. But unless the airplane has fuel and a trained and trustworthy pilot in the cockpit, no amount of belief is going to get that airplane off the ground. The same principle (only on a much grander scale) applies to God. If you can’t trust him, you won’t believe.

At its core, trust is directly related to truth. You don’t trust something because it’s false. You trust something—whether an object such as an airplane, or a scientific theory, or another human being—if it’s rooted in truth. At the first sign that truth has been compromised, your trust goes away. The same principle (only on a much grander scale) applies to God. If he isn’t true, if he’s just made up, then there’s no reason at all to trust him. By the same token, the only reason to become a Christian is to believe that the Christian story is true.

With the exception of the Bible, C. S. Lewis is arguably the world’s most quoted Christian writer. That’s because he always seems to get to the heart of the matter when it comes to believing in God and the Christian story. Here is one of his better-known statements about Christianity, and why you should believe or disbelieve it:

Christianity claims to give an account of the facts—to tell you what the real universe is like. Its account of the universe may be true, or it may not, and once that question is really before you, then your natural inquisitiveness must make you want to know the answer. If Christianity is untrue, then no honest man will want to believe it, however helpful it may be: if it is true, every honest man will want to believe it, even if it gives him no help at all.[1]

[1] C. S. Lewis, God in the Dock (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 1972), 108–109.

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Christianity 101 is a collection of books and digital resources by Bruce Bickel and Stan Jantz that talk about God in a way that encourages people to grow in their faith.