Are You Skeptical of Your Faith?

It’s one thing to believe in Christ when you are healthy and everything is going well; it is quite another when you believe death is imminent.

Almost ten years ago I experienced a life-threatening illness when a bacterial infection invaded my lungs and brain. Early on, my doctors thought I might have stage IV brain cancer. Since most patients in that condition die quickly, the diagnosis led me to do some soul searching. Though multiple abscessed brain lesions made thinking difficult, I lay in my hospital bed late at night, alone, and asked myself whether I really believed that Christianity was indeed true.

iStock_000002775921SmallThis introspective mood was challenging and, frankly speaking, is an experience I will never forget. I asked myself whether it was a mistake to believe Jesus Christ is the Son of God and Savior. I wondered what my fate would be if another religion, such as Islam or Hinduism, were true. I also considered the possibility of atheistic naturalism being true where physical death is the final end. This existential reflection was brief, blurred by both the lesions and heavy pain medications.

In more lucid moments I refocused on my deepest Christian convictions. Lines from the Apostles’ Creed, this historic Christian statement of faith I’ve known and recited most of my life, came to mind. I concentrated as best I could on the middle section of the creed, which summarizes the great events Jesus Christ’s life.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his [God’s] only son our Lord, who was conceived by the Holy Spirit born of the virgin Mary. He suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, died, and was buried; he descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead.

Slowly, the objective reasons that supported my belief in Jesus Christ’s historical resurrection from the dead came back to me. These reasons include seven points of evidence for the Resurrection that I lecture about, time and time again, in my apologetics ministry:

  1. Jesus’s Empty Tomb
  2. Jesus’s Postmortem Appearances
  3. Short Time Frame between Actual Events and Eyewitness Claims
  4. Extraordinary Transformation of the Apostles
  5. Great Conversion of Saul of Tarsus (to the Apostle Paul)
  6. Emergence of the Historic Christian Church
  7. Emergence of Sunday as a Day of Worship

Recalling and reflecting upon the facts concerning Jesus’s resurrection, even though my head was often spinning, genuinely helped me to face my life-threatening illness with strength and with courage.

I went through a long and painful recovery—experiencing significant ups and downs—but thanks be to the Triune God I did recover fully. At Easter time I often think of that difficult period of my life and the existential introspection I experienced.

Atheists and Introspective Moods

When I was teaching philosophy at a local community college many years ago I once asked a skeptical student whether he was skeptical of his skepticism. I asked him specifically, “Do you ever have doubts about your unbelief?” His immediate response was an unequivocal—“No!” I informed him that I was skeptical concerning the certainty of his response.

Former atheist C. S. Lewis reveals a different response upon reflecting back on his earlier days in unbelief. In his classic apologetics work Mere Christianity Lewis wrote:1

Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable: but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.

Does this mean that in their quiet, reflective moments, when the voice of Dawkins and Harris has faded, even some atheists have doubts about their faith in atheism? It appears so.

From a biblical point of view, maybe in C. S. Lewis’s case it was a type of divine prevenient grace (a grace that precedes the human decision in salvation). But for the late, hardened atheist Christopher Hitchens, it may have consisted of an intuition of pending and inevitable divine justice.

Christians and atheists sometimes accuse each other of engaging in wishful thinking (assuming that a position is true based upon one’s desires)—yet it appears that those darn introspective moods can strike both believers and nonbelievers alike. It’s in those sober and candid moments that the objective historical facts appear to better support the truth of Jesus Christ’s resurrection other than not.

Something for both camps to think about at Easter time.

References:
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1980), 125.

9 responses to “Are You Skeptical of Your Faith?

  1. Thank you for your interesting post.
    So you are arguing that skeptics claim to be skeptical but you are skeptical of skepticism, making you the true skeptic? And then you claim that skeptics also have doubts, which shows that they are logically week? This seems to be addressing the failings of skeptics rather than any fault in skepticism.
    So your points seem a little contradictory, and also a little unfair, as I don’t believe any skeptics are claiming perfection, but for many it just seems the most useful world view, based as it is on critical thinking, rationality, logic and empirical evidence.
    kind regards!

  2. Adam:

    I’m saying three things:

    1. Both thoughtful believers and thoughtful nonbelievers seem to experience moods of doubt.
    2. Both believers and nonbelievers carry an intellectual burden to reasonably question their beliefs.
    3. I view the evidence for the historical resurrection of Jesus as being probative.

    Best regards.

  3. 1. agreed
    2. agreed
    3. aaah… are you suggesting that no leap of faith is necessary to believe that a man became reanimated after death?
    I do hope you don’t take my questions to be disrespectful. I realize that this is an important time in the Christian calendar, and the only reason I’m cheeky enough to challenge you on any of this is because you tagged your post with “skepticism”, a post that goes on to challenge my world view, which is something I always welcome, incidentally.

  4. Adam:

    Believing in the resurrection of Jesus does involve faith but historic Christianity defines faith as “confident trust in a reasonable and reliable source” (i.e. trusting reliable testimony). Thus Christians exercise a “reasonable faith.”

    I think the New Testament claim that Jesus actually rose from the dead, as amazing as it seems, is the best explanation of this event in light of the six points I made in the article:

    1. Jesus’s Empty Tomb
    2. Jesus’s Postmortem Appearances
    3. Short Time Frame between Actual Events and Eyewitness Claims
    4. Extraordinary Transformation of the Apostles
    5. Great Conversion of Saul of Tarsus (to the Apostle Paul)
    6. Emergence of the Historic Christian Church
    7. Emergence of Sunday as a Day of Worship

    Granted a resurrection isn’t possible given naturalism, but if theism is true a bodily resurrection is quite possible.

    I appreciate your thoughtful comments and charitable approach.

  5. Adam, I’m sure Dr. Samples does not mean that it is on par with a mathematical proof if that is what you are asking. My guess is that he means the resurrection is the best explanation for the given evidence. Consider:
    http://triablogue.blogspot.com/2013/03/the-multi-faceted-evidence-for-jesus.html

  6. Well, thank you for your reply and a very Happy Easter to you!
    I must admit I’m more than a little baffled by your explanation of the resurrection but I think that’s okay. I’m quite sure that much of my world view is equally baffling to others.

  7. Adam:

    Appreciate the kind Easter wishes.

  8. My Dear! Don’t thank the unknown god(Triune god).God is not Triune He said I Am ‘One’.U Have to believe Him not The Creed’s!.The creed’s created three gods.
    So Thank Jesus the one True God.Jesus is our Father(God The Father who manifested in flesh),HE Created All things Alone!

  9. Robsan:

    All of Christendom (Catholics, Orthodox, and Protestants) disagrees with you. The doctrine of the Trinity was derived from Scripture and is summarized in the ancient creeds (see below).

    Summarizing the Trinity’s Biblical Basis:

    Some people challenge the idea that the Bible supports God’s Triune nature. However, six simple statements show how this doctrine is indeed derived from Scripture:

    1. There is only one true God (Deuteronomy 6:4; Isaiah 43:10; John 17:3; Galatians 3:20).

    2. The Father is called or referred to as God (Psalm 89:26; Ephesians 4:6; Colossians 1:2–3; 2 Peter 1:17).

    3. The Son (Jesus Christ) is called or referred to as God (John 1:1; Philippians 2:6; Colossians 2:9; Titus 2:13).

    4. The Holy Spirit is called or referred to (or granted the status) as God (Genesis 1:2; John 14:26; Acts 13:2, 4; Romans 8:11).

    5. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct persons and can be distinguished from one another (the Father is not the Son; the Father is not the Holy Spirit; and the Son is not the Holy Spirit) (Matthew 28:19; Luke 3:22; John 15:26; 16:13–15; 2 Corinthians 13:14).

    6. The three persons (Father or God; and Son or Christ or Lord; and Holy Spirit or Spirit) are frequently listed together in a triadic pattern of unity and equality (Romans 15:16, 30; 1 Corinthians 12:4-6; 2 Corinthians 1:21–22; Galatians 4:6).

    My friend and colleague Robert M. Bowman Jr. provides over 1,000 biblical references for the doctrine of the Trinity at http://www.irr.org/trinity-outline.html.

    For more on the historic Christian doctrine of the Trinity, see my book A World of Difference: Putting Christian Truth-Claims to the Worldview Test.

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