Greg shares the areas in Christianity that raise questions for him personally.
Every once in a while, I get asked the question that cuts really close to me personally. It’s not abstract, it’s not merely academic, but it relates to my own personal journey with God. That’s what I want to address right now. It’s not that I’ve never talked about this before, but I don’t talk about it too often. I do think about it. That is: “Where do I have doubts, personally, as a Christian? What are the things that I struggle with as a Christian?” And I need to qualify this a little bit.
First, I’m not afraid to talk about the things that trouble me. I’m reading a book by C.S. Lewis right now that was written at the end of his life, Letters to Malcolm, chiefly on prayer. Here he is, towards the end of his life—given the incredible history that he has with the Lord and all that he’s written, and all of his insight—and he’s still struggling on this issue of prayer. He’s candid about his struggles, at least in this letter.
I don’t have trouble being candid about my own concerns and questions because I think we all have these questions. We all have doubts of different types. Sometimes, when Christian leaders are not candid about the things that are going through their own minds, the rank-and-file think that they’re the only ones that have doubts while their Christian leaders are in this perfect place. It’s not the case. I have said constantly that theology is messy. The Bible is messy. Christianity is messy. The reason is that life is messy.
I don’t have doubts in the sense that I think that I might be mistaken with regards to Christianity versus other worldviews. I don’t think that I am. Is it possible? Yes. Do I ever wonder if I am? Sure I do. Do I think that I am? No! Every time I go back over the rationale and the reasons, I come up the same way. There’s nothing close to the evidential support and impact—the satisfaction in our souls with regards to meaning and significance—and all kinds of other things, and I could run all down the list. There’s nothing that comes close to answering the issues like the Christian view of reality answers them. It isn’t like I’m tottering regarding the foundation of my own convictions. However, there are foundational issues that, to me, are very untidy, and I wonder about them.
According to orthodoxy, we are born fallen, yet we are culpable for the behaviors, that is, blame-worthy for the behaviors that we perform as a result of our fallenness. Do we have the libertarian freedom to be good all the time? Adam did. We don’t. Adam could not have sinned. Posse non peccare: “it’s possible for him not to sin.” But now fallen? Non posse non peccare: “it is not possible for us not to sin.” We are in a fallen nature.
By the way, it doesn’t matter whether you’re Arminian or Calvinist—that’s orthodoxy. You want to go off the reservation and say there is no original sin or anything like that? Well then, you can be Pelagian if you want to, but that’s off the reservation; that’s a fourth-century heresy. Orthodoxy requires this.
Now, how am I going to make sense of this?—that I am genuinely responsible, even though I’m born into sin? That troubles me. Now that’s the second thing—Hell.
I am sympathetic when non-Christians say, “You know this hell thing? I can understand punishment for sins but the hell thing is a little bit much.” I believe that hell is forever and ever because God says it is and it’s is clear in the text. But, emotionally, from the position of a fallen man, this makes me lose sleep at night. I think how easily it would have been for me to miss the salvation that God freely offers in Jesus—without which I would be going there. But I only get that salvation because God turned my heart away from my rebellion to Him that is native to my nature after the fall. Are those hard issues? Yea!—hard.
Let me tell you the last thing—the first thing being the guilt given the fall, the second thing being hell for ever and ever (and probably most people are going there) and the third thing is what I mentioned earlier with C.S. Lewis: prayer.
Prayer is a real mystery to me. I pray, and I pray a lot. I pray more than I ever have before, and I mean more of the moment-by-moment kind of always walkin’ with the Lord—and talkin’, and yellin’, and complainin’, and thanking, and the whole mixture of things you do in relationship. This is more on-going for me. But it’s difficult for me to have confidence that any of my own prayers are going to be answered. In the way that I am requesting them to be answered, yes, there are promises to that effect. Jesus makes these promises. We see other promises in the Scriptures that are very aggressive: ‘ask, seek, knock’; ‘ask, you receive’; ‘seek, you will find’; ‘knock, the door shall be opened.’ That’s Jesus. So there you have it.
But I also know that a lot of prayers are not answered. I understand that momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory—that’s 2 Corinthians, 4. I know the affliction is producing, and so I can take comfort in the idea that whatever I’m not getting prayed out of, God is helping me through, and He’s got some good purpose for it in the long run.
But what that means is that whenever I pray any given prayer, I don’t know that God is going to say, “Okay, I’m going to answer that,” and I can [pray] with confidence, believing [my prayers will be answered], or God is going to say, “I’m not going to answer that. I’m going to use that to increase your weight of glory for the future.” Those are all legitimate, biblical concepts. But, in the middle, subjectively, it makes it difficult for me to know how to pray and to know what to expect in prayer.
Those are a few of my conundrums. Maybe you have some of your own. Those are ones I’ve been thinking about lately. They don’t cause me to doubt my deepest convictions about reality, but they keep me wondering about what’s going on. Maybe that’s a good place to be.
But I also know that a lot prayers are not answered. So I understand that stuff is going on and that momentary light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory—that’s 2 Corinthians, 4! I know that! I know the affliction is producing and so I can take comfort in the idea that whatever I’m not getting prayed out of God is helping me through and He’s got some good purpose for it in the long run. But what that means is that whenever I pray any given prayer, I don’t know that God is going to say, “Okay, I’m going to answer that,” and I can [pray] with confidence, believing [my prayers will be answered], or God is going to say, “I’m not going to answer that. I’m going to use that to increase your weight of glory for the future.” Those are all legitimate, biblical concepts. But, in the middle, subjectively, it makes it difficult for me to know how to pray and to know what to expect in prayer.
So those are a few of my conundrums. Maybe you have some of your own. Those are ones I’ve been thinking about lately. They don’t cause me to doubt my deepest convictions about reality but they keep me wondering about what’s going on. Maybe that’s a good place to be.