Christian Living

Pockets of Agnosticism

Author Greg Koukl Published on 09/11/1994

I mentioned a little while ago that I was challenged by a thought made by a professor of mine, and the thought had to do with the notion of pockets of agnosticism in our lives. He simply made the observation that all Christians have pockets of agnosticism in their lives.

Now agnosticism simply is uncertainty, lack of knowledge. Technically speaking, an agnostic when expressing his world view says, “I don’t really know whether God exists or not. I don’t know what the structure of the world is. I am withholding judgment.” In a broader sense it is simply, in people’s lives, uncertainty about those things which are true. And the point that he was making is that all of us as Christians, and you can expand that to all of us as human beings, regardless of what it is that we happen to believe in, have pockets of agnosticism in our lives. We have times of uncertainty. We may have a conviction about a particular thing—about God’s existence or about His non-existence, for that matter, but we have times when we are pressed, and we get to reflecting, and we are just not quite sure.

First of all, I want to say I think if we are honest we would all acknowledge that that’s true. No matter what it is that we happen to believe in or disbelieve in, we’d all have to acknowledge that that’s true. That one has pockets of agnosticism is not necessarily a negative reflection on his belief, whatever it happens to be. This is not a reflection on any particular belief that there are problems with it, or uncertainties associated with it. This is a problem of knowledge in general. There is no system of belief that you will ever have that is going to answer all of the questions all of the time in a way that is coherent and satisfies all of your thinking. It seems that the nature of reality and the limitations of knowledge are such that there are going to be things that we’re just not certain about. And so in a sense, we have to place our bets with the best hand.

I have spoken in the past here on the air and there is also a talk that I do called “Hell, Yes, the Terrifying Truth” in which I talk about the reality of hell. To put it in a thumbnail fashion, my greatest fear is that maybe I am right about God’s judgment, and wrong about His mercy. In other words, maybe I’m one of those people who is going to go to hell and suffer eternity with God’s punishment. Now, I don’t think that I am, but occasionally this issue confronts me and I wake up in the middle of the night sometimes and I think about this. I think the nighttime is important because you are half asleep and you’ve got your normal defenses down and you are kind of more in touch with your core self. Then some things begin to pop up that you don’t always take the time to observe about your feelings or beliefs, although I am well aware of this particular one, that I could be wrong. I am aware that at some fundamental level, some deep level, that I have some agnosticism with regards to the issue of the truthfulness of Christianity.

Now, I don’t want you to hear that and get all worried. I am not going to bend in my faith and don’t get worried for me. Don’t get worried for yourself. Someone might get worried for themselves in this fashion: “Well, look, Koukl is the professional apologist. He’s the one that has studied this. He should be more certain than anyone else about the truthfulness of Christianity. And if he is uncertain then where does that leave the average Joe?”

Keep in mind what I’m asserting here. I’m asserting that every view, no matter how well you know something, has a level of uncertainty. I’m saying that’s okay because you don’t have to be perfectly certain in some things to justify a belief in that thing. As I mentioned earlier, you kind of go with the odds and the odds are greatly in our favor. This was part of what I detailed in the talk “You Bet Your Life” this morning when I confronted the issue of atheism vs. some form of theism.

There is a way to respond to this and I will tell you how I respond to it. What I don’t try to do is to conjure up some kind of feeling of confidence because it is precisely at these times that the feelings are lacking. And you’ve gone through those times as well, which points out, by the way, if your Christian faith is principally feeling, then you’re going to be victimized by those moments when the feelings aren’t there. When you don’t feel like God is with you, and He is not walking by your side, and you don’t have the peace that passes all understanding and you’re going to say where did God go? Not only that, even if you did have the feeling, I’m not sure that helps much because there are a lot of people who have good feelings about beliefs they have that are patently false. So, feelings have a place, but you must be careful in letting those feelings ground or act as the foundation to what you believe because when they do, sooner or later, they are going to fail you. You have to have more than that.

Here I am laying in the middle of the night wondering, and where do I go? Well, I go back to the basics, frankly. I start thinking about my basic truths for the existence of God. It’s my knowledge of the divine that makes the difference to me.

Now, this plays a very, very important part in my faith. Here’s the part that it plays: I mentioned before that we all have levels of agnosticism, even you, and I can prove that. If Jesus were standing right by your side, physically—robes, beard, sandals and all—and He could do for you everything that He could do for the apostles when He was there, if He was standing right next to you, do you think you would have more confidence? Do you think you would be more obedient? Would you share your faith more effectively or more aggressively? Would you pray with more fervor? I’m sure the answer to all those things is yes, which makes the point that without Jesus standing right next to you, you have less confidence, though you believe. Part of your faith statement is that Jesus is not only in fact right here with you, but He lives inside of you. The difference is the sense of conviction and deep belief. At some level we’re not really sure He’s inside of us or we would act as if He were beside us, is my point.

Here’s a very important point, and I will end on this. The point that it makes is that there is a direct relationship between our confidence in the evidence and our exercise of faith and consistency of our Christian life. Some people say, well, if I had more evidence that Christianity was true, that would work against my faith. That’s ludicrous because that would mean it would be a good thing if the bones of Jesus were found in a grave somewhere. That would prove rationally that Christianity was false and so then we could go believing it with tremendous spiritual faith because all the facts were against it. That, of course, is idiocy and no one, not even the apostle Paul or Jesus for that matter, would have accepted that notion of faith. The fact is, as we get more evidence to ground our faith and encourage us we can exercise a more effective and consistent faith, as I pointed out before, as if Jesus were right next to us. And that’s what strengthens me in those times when I face my own agnosticism.