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Dear Doubting Christian, God Is Not Afraid of Your Questions

Written By Dan Paterson, Australia

Dan Paterson is an itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and based in Brisbane, Australia. An ordained pastor, Dan speaks regularly to audiences on how the gospel connects to life’s biggest questions and on the popular objections to the Christian faith, particularly on the question of suffering. Dan is married to Erin, and they have three young sons, Josiah, Zachariah, and Seth.

Dear Doubting Christian,

I am filled with grief when I see how Christians treat doubt and doubters. For whatever my words are worth, I want to offer a profound apology for any time you’ve been written off easily by Christians in your circle—maybe even made to feel as though you’re “not really one of us” because you struggle to believe what others claim comes so naturally to them.

I know that behind every believer is a doubter. Whether we’re confronted with intellectual challenges to the Christian story, or experience dark nights of the soul when our lives are falling apart (or both), we all have questions for God. And annoyingly, so often, God isn’t as real to us in those moments as we want Him to be. He doesn’t act in line with our expectations.

What I find fascinating about the Bible is how Jesus seems far more comfortable with doubt than the Church has become. Think about how many of the Psalms ask some pretty raw questions that stem from disappointments with God. Consider King David’s plea, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1). What a scandalous time in history it must have been as Jesus echoed this heart cry on the cross: Even God questioning God is in the Bible (Matthew 27:46).

And after His resurrection, Jesus seems okay with doubters being amongst His followers. Matthew’s Gospel records how even after seeing Jesus resurrected from the dead, some of His first followers doubted whilst others worshipped (Matthew 28:17). Or, take Thomas. The night of Jesus’ resurrection, while Thomas was out for some unknown reason (perhaps getting the unleavened pizza), Jesus appears and convinces the others He is alive (John 20:19-23). Does Thomas believe their story? No. And John records that for a whole week, Jesus left one of His apostles in the fog of doubt (John 20:24-29).

Through these stories of doubt that are filled with raw questions, the Bible gives us the emotional register and permission to voice our own. God is not afraid of your questions, even if you have experienced some Christians to be. Perhaps your voice will challenge any cultural winds within the Church that treat doubt as an enemy to faith—something we can all benefit from.

My own story is one where doubt was a doorway to Christian faith. Why? Because I was challenged to explore whether the Christian story could make sense of my objections. To my surprise, upon investigation, I found far more than I was looking for. I was then nurtured in a Christian community where doubt and critical questions were expected as part of a maturing faith. And as someone for whom tough questions once kept me away from God, I’ve now devoted my life to helping others ask away at the Christian story.

There are some substantial (not always complete) answers to many of the questions swirling in your mind, even if you feel no one is talking about it. And there is an entire sub-discipline known as “apologetics” devoted to helping Christians wrestle with whether the gospel is good and true news. It spans various lines of evidence from the fields of philosophy, history, science, and psychology. After critical scrutiny for centuries, it isn’t a rhetorical hyperbole to say that, academically speaking, the case for God and the Christian story is stronger now than ever.

But embarking on your own journey to answer your questions may require a complete deconstruction of your faith in order to build again on a new foundation—one that can survive the storms of doubt and suffering that Jesus promised would come (Matthew 7:24-27). You may discover, like me, that the Christian story is far more nuanced and exciting in making sense of reality than you now believe it to be, and that it really is good news for every area of human life.

I hope you are able to think about what lies behind your questions. Our stated reasons are rarely the reason we distance ourselves from God, as often they are merely an avenue to articulate a deeper distrust we have with the whole “God” thing. I don’t know your story or the events that have brought you to this place of doubt, but I’m curious as to whether there isn’t a mountain of disappointment with God upon which you’re asking these questions. Because if there is, the Bible’s prescription for doubts of the heart is different to how it deals with doubts of the mind. The mind needs answers, but the heart needs mercy, presence, friendship, and healing. So rightly diagnosing the doubt matters.

But let me close with a word of hope. The Apostle Peter once thought his faith impervious to doubt. He promised Jesus he would stand where others fell, only to hours later lose his faith. He doubted everything. He denied Jesus. Thrice. But this is what Jesus said to him:

Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-33, ESV)

Right now, know that Jesus is bound by His love to pray that your faith may not fail. Standing before the Father, Jesus is perpetually animated with a passion to intercede for you (Hebrews 7:25). And this is a hopeful posture and picture of God that has often warmed my doubting heart.

I am no prophet, nor the son of a prophet. I only hope that one day you return to worship Jesus—but with the whole of your rational mind and heart convinced of the goodness, truth, and beauty of the gospel. In so doing, no doubt, you will strengthen other doubters like me.

If God Is Real, Why Doesn’t He Make Himself More Obvious?

Written By Dan Paterson, Australia

Dan Paterson is an itinerant speaker with Ravi Zacharias International Ministries and based in Brisbane, Australia. An ordained pastor, Dan speaks regularly to audiences on how the gospel connects to life’s biggest questions and on the popular objections to the Christian faith, particularly on the question of suffering. Dan is married to Erin, and they have two young sons, Josiah and Zachariah.

Anyone who has believed in God for any extended period of time shares something in common. Disappointment. At some point we ask ourselves: Why don’t I feel my faith anymore? Why do I feel so lonely if God with me? Why hasn’t my life turned out how I hoped? Even King David cries to God, “Why, Lord, do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble? (Psalm 10:1)

It seems having a relationship with an all-powerful and all-good God isn’t always what we imagined it would be. Why can’t we feel God when we seem to need Him most? Why does He hide from us?

In search of answers to this question, let’s explore just three biblical scenes: The Garden of Eden in Genesis, Gethsemane and Golgotha in the Gospels, and the Garden City in Revelation. In looking at these scenes, perhaps we will see that God’s hiddenness isn’t a sign that He doesn’t love us. Instead, God hides precisely because He loves us. His presence and His absence are intentional acts of a God who is so big and so good that only He knows when and how we need to experience His presence.

 

Scene 1: The Garden of Eden in Genesis

The Bible begins with a powerful friendship between God and humans. Our first parents Adam and Eve were said to have walked with God in Eden’s garden. We were made for God’s presence. For intimacy. To talk with God face to face.

But in Genesis chapter 3, humans sinned. We traded our friendship with God for an illicit pleasure. We fell from our high calling as God’s image bearers and became broken. Where once humans could be completely open before God and each other without feeling shame, now the story describes how we began to hide behind fig leaves and ferns.

Humanity started hiding long before God ever felt distant.

And in reaction to human sin, God hides as well. No longer would He walk with us in the cool of the evening. But why? The complex answer is that it is both for our punishment and protection.

Separation from God’s light and life and love is part of sin’s penalty. And it’s a penalty that leads to death.

But God hiding is also an act of protection, mercy, and hope.

God’s holiness is like the sun. A ball of raw energy. Anything that isn’t already like the sun and tries to approach, is destroyed. Which is precisely why the Bible speaks of God as a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29), or as living in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16). No one can, in sinful flesh, stand in God’s actual presence without being killed.

Heaven would be as Hell for anyone who stands before God without becoming a New Creation.

 

Scene 2: Gethsemane and Golgotha in the Gospels

For centuries God had kept humanity at arms’ length, with hotspots of His presence reserved for mountain tops and temples. Then Jesus came. He was the promise of God’s actual presence once again being with us, but even He was subject to dark nights of the soul.

At Gethsemane’s garden, Jesus prayed to avoid the agony of the cross. He was overcome with the weight of what He was about to experience—as so many of us so often feel in life—yet His prayer seemed to bounce off the sky. Instead of being delivered from excruciating death, Jesus endured divine distance at His most painful moment. On the cross He cries out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34).

God knows what it is like to question God.

Surely, God the Father loves Jesus the Son in a way we cannot comprehend, and yet from our earthly perspective Jesus is seemingly abandoned—until Easter Sunday, where what looks like defeat is reversed at the resurrection. Things unfold precisely as God planned. And we see the picture of why God remained silent.

Through Jesus’ death, God purchases atonement for whoever believes. And through Jesus’ resurrection, God offers eternal life to whoever believes. And we can now be filled with God’s relational presence. God can come to dwell within us now by His spirit.

God hides to achieve some greater good through the distance and the darkness.

 

Scene 3: The Garden City of Revelation

The final three chapters of the Bible describe Jesus’ return and the beginning of forever. And the scene is pictured twofold. As a final judgment, and as a wedding. The question is, who will we come as?

You see, at the judgment, all those who cling to their evil rather than to Jesus are exiled from God’s future world.

God is coming close, to make all things new, and the glory of His actual presence is set to replace the sun itself. In its power, nothing sinful can stand. And so the end of God’s hiddenness spells the end of the corruption of evil.

But for Christians, for those who have come clean with their evil, been forgiven, and made a new creation through Jesus, God’s coming heralds a great celebration. From then on, we get to enjoy the intimacy of being face to face with God, living the lives we were designed for, with every atom of our resurrection bodies flooded with God’s goodness.

And if the future is Jesus coming back for a bride made ready, then our present is the engagement period: a time marked by intense longing. For as we draw closer to God relationally, we desire ever more to see Him face to face. And since love is our final goal, God is hiding now to teach us to be better lovers.

God hides to help us become the seekers we were always meant to be.

That is the 30,000 foot overview of God’s presence and absence from Genesis to Revelation. And we need it. For while it is often hard to navigate in the shadows of a dark night of the soul, a sense of what God is doing in the BIG picture can help ground us, and be the guiding light in how we can move forward. So let’s recap a few of the reasons God may seem distant.

 

Reason #1: God seems hidden because you’re hiding, not Him

Sin obscures our sense of God, and even Christians can experience God’s absence because of it. Sometimes God gives us over to our sin for a time to help us realize that trying to find happiness in anything other than Him is like trying to satiate hunger with a grain of sand.

If God seems hidden because you’re hiding from Him, you are still loved by God. He doesn’t hide because He doesn’t want you. He hides to guard you from his holy presence, and because He refuses to share your devotion with dumb idols.

 

Reason #2: God hides in order that we become heavenly rather than hellish beings

God doesn’t answer all our prayers or immediate desires. Why? Because God is committed to giving us what we need, not what we want. To making us ready to enjoy His presence and to fulfil our eternal vocation, which is to steward all creation as gardeners and governors of God’s garden city and planet.

When I parent my boys, I’m struck by the thought that the endgame is that I’m raising adults, not kids. Which means I don’t always jump when they cry. I watch from a distance, making sure they are okay, in order for them to learn to shake off the small stuff, learn independence, and build resilience. My hiddenness serves a purpose. And if my hiddenness or distance can be intentional and driven by love, how much more so an all-wise Heavenly Father?

The dark nights of the soul, the unanswered prayers, the divine silence—all of these are part of our preparation. To make us more like Jesus, as far as finite beings can reflect infinite love, wisdom, power, and knowledge.

 

Reason #3: God hides because He wants you to seek

Even the demons believe that God exists, but it only hardens them towards Him. God has no interest in simply proving His existence to people who don’t care. Instead, He wants to build deep and meaningful relationships with those who do.

God is interested in making us better lovers.

Since seeking out the other is a huge part of love, God has ordered the universe as a cosmic game of hide and seek (Proverbs 25:2). And God promises that to those who seek with all their heart, He will be found (Jeremiah 29:13). And in the meantime, He is building in us an eternal hunger for His presence.

 

So how are we to respond? In the dark nights of the soul, what is the way forward? Well, it’s to change our perspective on God’s hiddenness. God’s hiddenness is not a sign of His non-existence; nor is it a telltale sign that He doesn’t love us. He hides precisely because He loves us. He is committed to helping us grow up. And the invitation of the Bible is clear for everyone who believes in God: draw near to God, and He will draw near to you (James 4:8).

And so, like King David in Psalm 22, the very psalm Jesus quoted on the cross, the way forward is to speak to our soul. To remind ourselves of the story we’re in. And to turn the sense of God’s absence into a hungering after His presence.

Here is the promise of the Bible: God will eventually be found by those who seek. The dark night will eventually dawn. And the eternal day will be brighter than you ever dared imagine.