Why Studying Apologetics Will Help You Suffer Well

In philosopher Douglas Groothuis’s book Walking through Twilight, a memoir of his struggles through the descent of his wife into primary progressive aphasia (dementia), he reflects on the story in John 6:41–69 where Jesus claims to be “the living bread that came down out of heaven” and “if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever.” Many of Jesus’ disciples walk away at this point, saying, “This is a difficult statement; who can listen to it?” But not Peter.

There is no evidence that Peter quite understood this “hard saying.” Perhaps he did. But despite the departure of “many of his disciples,” Peter remained. He had to stay because he knew Jesus, who had shown himself to be true and reliable. Peter accompanied Jesus and beheld his teachings, his miracles, and his loving and just character. Where else could Peter go? This, of course, was Peter at his best. He is known for some wide faith fluctuations, at least before Pentecost. But his testimony tells us this: we can live wisely within ignorance if it is bracketed by knowledge. [Emphasis added.]

Groothuis compares this to the temptation we face when we suffer—the temptation to walk away from Jesus in anger. But, like Peter, when we know that Jesus is truly the way, and the truth, and the life, when we’re confident that Christianity is a description of reality, we will remain as Peter did.

If we are tempted to look elsewhere for meaning and hope in this suffering, we must return to the earnest confession of Peter: “Where else can we go?” Like Peter, I know too much to go back. I cannot become an atheist, a Buddhist, a Hindu, a new ager, a Muslim, a misotheist, or even an agnostic. I know too much to go back. As the simple gospel song says, “I have decided to follow Jesus. No turning back. No turning back.”

We study apologetics for many reasons—to see God more clearly, to aid in evangelism, to address doubts, to equip ourselves to answer to our friends’ questions, because we enjoy the intellectual challenges, etc. But here is a reason that strikes right to the heart of life: We study apologetics because suffering will find us in this life—painful suffering we can’t understand, suffering for which we can discover no reason, suffering that could make a person doubt God’s love or even His existence.

This is when our feelings will deceive us. Unanswerable questions will tempt us toward doubt and anger, and we, like many of Jesus’ disciples, will be tempted to walk away. But if we have been fully convinced, beyond mere feeling, of the truth of Jesus and His work, if we can solidly stand with Peter and say, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have words of eternal life. We have believed and have come to know that You are the Holy One of God,” then the inevitable uncertainties and difficulties of life will not overcome us. “We can live wisely within ignorance if it is bracketed by knowledge.”

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Amy K. Hall

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