A JOURNAL on DOUBT

* PART ONE *

Go back to Prefaces


ENTRY TOPICS in PART ONE

1. One Doubt Leads to More

10. The Evidence of the Gospels

19. Am I a Christian?

2. Doubting Jesus's Resurrection

11. Outlandish Stories of the Bible

20. Christianity Seems Untrue, Yet Still I Believe

3. More on the Resurrection

12. The Arrogance of Doubting

21. Faith and Doubt Inextricable

4. The Credibility of the Story of the Resurrection

13. One Can Only As One Thinks

22. Endless Debates on Truth: The Problem of Disagreement

5. Doubt Causes "Paralysis"

14. Clinging to a Doubtful Faith

23. Complete Skepticism Appears Unworkable

6. Faith Can Be Persistent

15. A Need for Certainty

24. God's Power and Invention in Personal Lives

7. Under the Spell of Doubt

16. Finding Fault

25. The Desire for Untroubled, Undoubting Faith

8. The Isolation of the Doubter

17. The Stakes of Finding the Truth

26. The Desire to Believe and the Lack of Faith

9. Telling Believers about Doubts

18. Uncertainty Fuels Doubt

27. The Attractiveness of the Resurrection

 

1. One Doubt Leads to More

TODAY THE THOUGHT occurred to me, for the hundredth time I'd guess, that God would never have commanded anyone to slaughter thousands of Canaanites -- men, women, children, even infants -- and then several thousand years later send His Son to die on a cross to save the same kind of pagans He long before had wanted massacred. It wasn't long, perhaps a minute, before doubt had paralyzed my mind. I was, for the thousandth time, unable to believe that Christianity is true, and deeply suspicious that it's false. My mind has gone this route before: If God would not do as it's fancied in the Bible He did, then the Old Testament is false. If the Old Testament is false, Jesus was in error in believing it true. If Jesus Christ erred, He was not God. If He wasn't God, orthodox Christianity is wrong about Him. If Christianity is wrong about its supposed Savior, it's false. If it's false, why do I believe it true? Why does anyone believe it true?

How quickly these thoughts rifled through me!

Doubt is seldom satisfied with getting me to question just one doctrine, in this case the truth of the Old Testament; it wants me to question every related doctrine. But doubt doesn't want me to reject Christianity in order to make way for the glorious new truth it's preparing for me. It wants me to believe nothing. It wants my mind paralyzed, unable to decide on the truth, unable to overcome skepticism, unable to answer questions. And when I agree with doubt that I can know nothing for certain, it's still not satisfied. It doesn't want me to take any leaps of faith either. Doubt's goal is an empty mind -- a mind considering and weighing, but always arguing and refuting, never assenting, never knowing, never resting. I hide my faith when doubt visits me. Doubt revels in its successes; it sees no faith here. Still, faith is in me. For some reason, even though I celebrate with doubt its triumphs, I keep faith hidden and safe. I can't give up on Christianity yet, though I don't know why.

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2. Doubting Jesus's Resurrection

IT IS WITH THE RESURRECTION that my most serious doubts begin. It is a doctrine almost impossible for me to believe true. 99 out of 100 days I am deeply suspicious of this event, that a man rose in body and soul from the dead. Millions of people consider it a fact; I can't see how. Jesus was crucified, died, and was left to rot in a sepulchre. Three days later men and women saw Him walking the roads of Palestine, talking with His disciples, supping with His friends, and then rising to Heaven through the clouds. What an incredible story! Would I not, I most often think, have to be an idiot or a fool to believe, to hold true, that a man rose from the dead? It is no surprise to me that so many unbelievers nowadays are incredulous, even flabbergasted, that people believe Jesus of Nazareth was resurrected. The resurrection seems impossible. It's so nearly impossible (to my mind), or so highly improbable, that an unbeliever must think that in order to believe in the resurrection he must abandon his common sense, all his knowledge, all his sanity.

I, too, find the resurrection that hard to accept as a historical fact. I am a Christian, and Christianity without a real resurrection is, I know, not Christianity at all. Hence, make no mistake, I do yet believe it happened that Jesus' body rose from death. But I must at most times keep this belief well hidden from my mind. Occasionally, a feeling runs through me, a feeling of sureness and security that the resurrection is true. It appears to me as a reality. But when I think about this feeling, I shrink from it, embarrassed, ashamed, and humiliated. I feel as though I had failed a literacy test, or been certified insane. "How can you be so credulous?" I demand of myself. "How can you keep believing in this event when you know it's nonsense -- a legend, a myth, a fairy tale? Are you nuts?" I look to myself like a fool, the equal of someone who thinks the stars are painted on a dome above a flat earth. aintaining that the resurrection happened vexes my soul, and pulls and twist my mind. I'm troubled when I remember that, to be a Christian, I must believe it happened as surely as I believe the coffee in my cup has gone cold this morning. I imagine that I'd choke on my words if I had to admit to an unbeliever that I consider the resurrection a historical fact. I would sound, even to me, about as sensible and rational as the person knowing for a fact that the earth is flat and telling me all about it with unshaken confidence in his steadfast faith.

A man rose from the dead -- it's an absurdity. If it is absurd, Christianity is false.

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3. More on the Resurrection

I WILL GO on record that I think it's hardly reprehensible that unbelievers find it almost impossible, even ridiculous, to accept the resurrection and, hence, Christianity. It's almost impossible to believe not because, as some theologians say, unbelievers want to disbelieve the truth so that they can keep sinning against God, but because the resurrection makes little sense. On the face of it, and to its core, it appears a myth, like the story or Zeus' becoming a swan and raping Leda.

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4. The Credibility of the Story of the Resurrection

I SOMETIMES imagine myself a person who has never met a Christian or heard of Christianity. What happens when I hear for the first time of men who believe that a man rose from the dead three days after he was buried in a tomb? I'm flabbergasted. "No," I say, "it can't be. No one would believe such a story." I laugh when the news is confirmed for me that there are such men. All I can do is shake my head and shrug my shoulders in disbelief and bewilderment. Even Christians laugh when we read about the miracles of other religions -- the mysticisms of the Buddhists, the sagas of the Hindus, the animism of the Confucians, the divination of the Taoists, the prophetic revelation of the Muslims, the rescues and visions of Jewish and Catholic history. We even secretly wonder about the truth of miraculous events in Protestant history. Who, we think, other than the superstitious and the simple, could believe such miracles happened? Certainly, we boast, we aren't so easily duped. And yet we believe, first and foremost, in this resurrection.

Most Christians, including me as a child, have heard the story of Jesus' rising from the dead told so often as a fact that we have lost any feelings of foolishness or stupidity or unsophistication for regarding it as history. The event's truth is a commonplace, a custom, a norm. Repetition has made us acquiescent and credulous. The longer a story or an idea is drummed into someone, we've seen again and again, the more likely he'll believe it, the easier it becomes for him to give credence to it.

When I scrutinize the resurrection now, however, weigh it without prejudice, consider it for what it is -- a spectacular miracle -- I'm incredulous that I have ever been tempted to accept it as history. I seem to myself an odd person, guilty of the same credulity and folly and superstition and wishful thinking that I'm so willing to deride in people who believe in the miracles of other religions.

Before proofs are brought out, before interpretations are devised, the truth of the resurrection comes down to credibility, and little more. No matter how convincing a theologian or a historian can make his case that the accounts of the four Gospels are historically accurate, only one question is open -- it is credible that a man rose from the dead? The miracles of Hinduism, Buddhism, Islam, and Catholicism have so little credibility with me that I don't bother to give them a hearing. The miracles, and the religions they are part of and support, I summarily dismiss. And, immediately, when I imagine myself an unbeliever, perhaps a man from India and influenced by the traditions of the Hindus, I dismiss the resurrection without a hearing, because it also has little credibility. Why bother to hear the case for it? After I ask this question I feel in my mind a stinging pain, as if an electrode on my brain had fired. That electrode fires every time I hold true and believe a doctrine I can't prove or my mind finds inconceivable.

Whenever it sees I believe in the resurrection, my mind suffers a painful spasm. Resurrections, it shouts at me, do not happen. Why believe? If I must accept this miracle, must I not also, to be consistent, accept the miracles of other religions? But if I accept them all, I'm forced by logic to believe many contradictory religions at once. Because there are no grounds for separating true miracles from false, the most important miracle of the Christian faith can't be proved. If I can't prove the resurrection, why should I believe in Christianity?

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5. Doubt Causes "Paralysis"

I CONSIDER MYSELF a Christian. Doubt comes to me so often, however, and stays so long that I wonder whether I'm deceiving myself. I can't read more than a few verses of the Bible without questioning their truth and the truth of the whole book. Listening to a sermon, I can't let one statement pass without finding fault in it. Listening to my friends (all Christians) talk about Gods's working in their lives, I can't hear one comment without, to myself, scorning their opinions. Why? Because the Bible and sermons and Christian talk are all filled with references to Jesus' resurrection, which I can't unreservedly accept because it can't be proved. Most of the time doubt seems to let me believe in Christianity only because it needs a straw religion. Nonetheless, I call myself a Christian, someone supposedly believing in the Bible, believing that sermons are mostly good and true, believing that God is at work for His people. Actually, I doubt these beliefs and many more.

It's not clear to me what I believe. And it's even less clear why I believe it. But doubt has shown me that I do believe something. I do believe, for some reason, in some kind of Christianity. I'm always aware of this, even when I'm skeptical of every doctrine of the Christian faith. Doubting makes me want to know my beliefs and to make sure I believe the truth. Doubting does paralyze me, and is almost insatiable, yes; but it also pushes me to find what it can have no part in: the truth.

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6. Faith Can Be Persistent

CHRISTIANS think doubt very dangerous. One doubt leads to many doubts and many doubts to disbelief. Doubt is like a virus, spreading until it overwhelms the soul. But though this virus has been in my mind for a decade, it has not yet killed Christianity in me.

It's hard for me to see that I believe when I'm doubting; I see it later. I see that despite the strength and confidence of doubt, I was believing while it held sway in my mind. I was still unable, for reasons unknown to me, to declare Christianity false. I've suffered long periods of doubt -- hours, days, weeks, months. I've watched doubt come and go. I've welcomed it, and turned on it. And though doubt seems so dangerous because it is so insatiable, I now think it's not so dangerous as Christians may suppose and fear. Faith, I've seen, lives on. Doubt forces it into hiding, but can't find and kill it. Though I know doubt's goal is disbelief, it has never, after years of trying, achieved its goal in me. Perhaps, doubt is doing more good than harm. Perhaps, doubt is making it possible for me to believe Christianity with the wavering faith I have. Perhaps, if I did not doubt I would not believe, for doubt has always goaded me to curse the faith I still have reasons, though I don't know or understand them well, for believing.

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7. Under the Spell of Doubt

HOW DOUBT paralyzes the mind is quite simple. This evening, I had the urge to pray about my failing business. But when I began to pray, I heard doubt laugh and call out to me, with merry snickering, "Why are you praying? Prayer does no good. Do you think God will do as "you• ask? Do you even know that there is a God to listen to your requests? So why pray, you silly man? You can't decide to pray when you're not even sure there is a God you can pray to. You've prayed hundreds of times in the past. Have you ever heard a response? Have you ever had one of your prayers answered, ever "knew" that God, rather then chance or coincidence, answered your prayer? Why, of course you haven't. You've never had a single prayer answered." Doubt pauses to laugh at me. It can hardly control itself, it is so amused with my praying. And it knows I'm beginning to question myself; it grows confident: "You've heard that other people's prayers are answered. They tell all sorts of stories, these Christians, who you think you're one of. But do you believe any of their testimonies? Their stories of answered prayer seem naive and superstitious to you. I know you're always wondering whether God had anything to do with someone's getting a job, or someone's getting over the flu, or someone's reading the Bible more, or someone's being born again. And I know you usually decide that God probably had nothing at all to do with any of the 'answers'. So why are you going to pray?"

Doubt knows just how to persuade me. How could I pray after this speech? I was paralyzed. I wanted to pray; I even thought I should. But my mind was cold and numb, trying to keep from thinking and, as a result, having to listen to doubt. If I had prayed, I would have heard it again, preaching to me, scolding me, mocking me, laughing at me, ridiculing me, never letting me forget how often I've agreed with it. I couldn't pray and didn't.

I don't like doubt, make no mistake. I don't like its harangues and its jeering. I don't like its dismissing my objections or its reminding me of all I've been skeptical of. Doubt is not welcome here, but it's not a courteous guest. It pays no attention to my protests; it rudely takes a seat across from me and starts harping on its refutations of my faith. I can't get rid of it. Sometimes, I've shouted at it to leave me. I've even struck it. But it talks on, and I've soon fallen under its spell. I've agreed with its points and come up with no arguments to shut it up. I will not pray.

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8. The Isolation of the Doubter

I FEEL isolated. No Christian I know has given me the slightest sign that he thinks as I think. No Christian I know has ever admitted to facing the painful and frequent passage of this kind of doubt, doubt of the truth of Christianity. If I were to talk honestly about my skepticism, I would have to tell my friends that I don't worry that God hasn't saved me, which is a common fear. I question that there is a God Who saves and that anyone knows how He saves. Do my friends, I ask myself, want to hear about this? It's my guess that they have no desire to hear the divinity of Jesus, the atonement, and His resurrection called into question. Do they want to consider the possibility that salvation through Jesus Christ and everlasting life are myths? Christians seem, unsurprisingly, neither eager nor willing to listen to a doubter contest every doctrine of their faith -- every teaching essential and saving and divine. The look in their eyes when I merely mention that I have a few doubts about the truth of our religion tells me they don't. And so I'm not soon going to say anything more specific about my doubts. I must alone hope to defeat them or live with a surrender to them.

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9. Telling Believers about Doubts

I'VE BEEN often tempted to tell my Christian friends all about my skepticism. There are times when I almost blurt out that I am mistrustful of many of the articles of faith they hold incontestably true. Janet, a friend from church, was talking to me today about a group of people she's been helping. She told me that she has prayed for them frequently, and that God has answered her prayers. I couldn't reply. I wanted to say no one can prove God answered her prayers, but I couldn't bring myself to challenge her. I seemed to be afraid of something. I spent some time thinking on this after I saw Janet. I believe that there's nothing mysterious about my fears. I was afraid of Janet's knowing something about me that would change her opinion of me (she believes I'm a Christian just like her, as convinced as she is that God answers prayers in the way she fancies) and cause our friendship to fade. Why should I have to hide my doubts in order to keep a Christian friend? Why does a doubter suddenly appear to most Christians to be an unbeliever? Not all doubters are unbelievers. I believe and I doubt. I don't like that I have to hide my doubts to keep my friends.

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10. The Evidence of the Gospels

THE ONLY EVIDENCE we have for the resurrection of Jesus is the testimony of four men. It is obvious, I'll admit, that millions more men and women have, since the first century, believed in it with the same confidence those four did. But it's on the four accounts, the Gospels, that any proof rests. If I had to accept as true any religion that had millions of followers, I'd have to accept a big bunch of them, each contradicting the others. The growth of a religion, if it's advanced as a proof for "one• religion, proves them all.

To the Gospel writers, then, Christians have had to grant a singular status: they are the most truthful writers ever. The authors of the Gospels tell the whole and accurate historical truth. To my mind, granting the Gospels, as historical records, such a status seems indefensible. Should I not question these men and their writings, especially because they have recorded so many fabulous and fantastic events? Should I not be a great deal more cautious with their stories? Should I not take into account their motivations? Their superstitions? Their longings, hopes, psychologies, culture, philosophies, theologies? Their fears and failures and uncertainties and stupidity and ignorance and credulity? Their partisanship and their prejudices? I must take all these into account, at every turn, when I read any other history by any other author. Even if I can't identify a writer's motives or prejudices, I must never discount that they were present when he wrote. I've been well taught, and rightly so, to question every story's accuracy. It is a commonplace that the simplest facts and the most banal events of history are garbled in the telling.

Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John are free, Christians must suppose, from stupidity and ignorance, from superstition and culture, from hopes and credulity. They, alone among men, did not garble the story in any way. They are not to be questioned. They have written the most accurate histories (to leave out for now "Kings• or "Genesis•) of all time. I feel foolish for not reading these men with the same scrutiny with which I read all other histories, histories which tell of much less miraculous events. I try to compensate for a historian's prejudices as though I were compensating for current on a trans-Atlantic voyage. But these four disciples of Jesus, Christianity teaches, had no prejudices that distorted their histories. These writers are not to be taken with a grain of salt in the same way every writer is taken, despite the Gospel writers' having told us that a man rose from the dead -- a story incredible then and now.

When I read histories, I learn that people have believed all kinds of nonsense for thousands of years. No matter what the truth might turn out to be, it will yet be true that endless is the supply of errors and absurdities people will think true. (Here's an example: If one religion, say Hinduism, were true, then millions of Christians have believed in an absurdity for two thousand years.) Believers in nonsense stake their lives on their beliefs. And yet Christians do not for a moment give credence to anything they rely on. We know how witless they were. We know they were fools. We know -- it's as plain as day -- that they were credulous and ignorant and irrational. Such are people of all ages. But these disciples of Jesus were not infected with the same feeblemindedness that has infected other men. The authors of the Gospels were made immune to superstitions and ignorance and prejudices. But how can it be proved that these men were immune? When I see that there is no proof, I can't stop the feeling that Christianity, because Jesus is believed to have risen from the dead, does not make much sense and is, therefore, probably false.

My argument comes down to this: There is no way I know to prove that the authors of the Gospels told the truth. If I accept their stories, why don't I accept the stories of other religions? Since I can't prove the Gospels true, and must be as suspicious and wary of them as all other histories, there are no reasons for believing Christianity.

As a result, Christianity has begun to look like animism, much more like a religion of spirits that inhabit rocks and trees and rivers, than like, for example, the disciplined investigations and experiments of science. It appears to be bunk. Who would be silly enough to believe it? I mean believe it not because it's comforting or satisfying or helpful, but because it's true, a fact, proved and verified. I know I shouldn't. And yet I do.

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11. Outlandish Stories of the Bible

THE RESURRECTION, of course, isn't the only absurd story being passed off as history by the Christian religion. Its list of preposterous tales is long -- Noah and the flood, the creation story, the parting of the Red Sea, the ten plagues of Egypt, Samson and his hair, Elijah's departure for heaven, and Jesus's turning water into wine, walking on water, and cursing the fig tree. Those are a few random examples. It wouldn't take long to list a dozen more off the top of my head and then find a thousand more in the Bible.

One of the most ridiculous of these stories in the Bible has got to be the incarnation, God's coming to earth through the Holy Spirit's impregnation of a virgin named Mary. Here we have the Virgin Birth, a story declared as historic in the commonest statement of Christian faith, the Apostles' Creed. What a lot of nonsense! Who could force himself to believe in this far-fetched story. I just didn't know what to do about history like this. Was I really expected to believe it? Believing in such a miracles seemed to require self-brainwashing, a colossal effort to deceive oneself that an obvious absurdity, a pure myth, is true.

I see no way for Christianity to get past objections to this story, in particular because it's so manifestly clear that it's a myth. The Holy Spirit didn't impregnate Mary with a fetus occupied by God; that's simply poppycock. The story, held by Christians to be history -- supposedly the same kind of event as Washington's crossing of the Delaware -- reads much like every other myth of all the ancient, primitive, superstitious traditions and religions. It read to me on a par with the story of Leda and the Swan. I can't accept the incarnation as history. If I can't, and if I must accept it to be a Christian -- if Christianity maintains that it must be believed as part of the purported revelation of God, which is what the Apostles' Creed implies ("I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, born of the Virgin Mary...") -- then is there any reason to believe in Christianity at all, to believe that Jesus was divine, that the Bible is the Word of God, that Jesus died for sins, that he rose from the dead, or that all the other legends, from the time of Moses to the time of the prophets, are history? Clearly, no!

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12. The Arrogance of Doubting

MY DOUBTS have not only isolated me, I now see, but have made me arrogant. Though I'm dubious of nearly every tenet of the orthodox Christian faith, I'm not at all skeptical of my reasons, which I consider perfectly sound, for doubting each tenet. I even consider my reasoning incontrovertible: once I have shown, my thinking goes, that a doctrine can't be proved with one of my arguments (though I won't tell anyone about it), there is little hope that anyone will prove me wrong. Christians must try a new argument to prove a doctrine I've already made suspect. The trustworthiness of the Gospel writers must never again be appealed to as proof. And, in the meantime, a suspicious doctrine must not be thought true until it's proved by another argument.

Do I have any reason to think that I know the truth (or, at least, know and can prove falsehood) and that another Christian, as certain of his opinions and proofs as I am of mine, does not know it? To think that I alone can be right is foolish. It is also blasphemous, for by declaring myself alone right I'm making myself God, the one being who can find and reveal truth. Nevertheless, I must admit, in spite of appearing arrogant and blasphemous, there is no one else but me to discern the truth for me. Can I think as another person thinks, as though I were putting on a coat to keep myself warm in a winter of doubts? Can I put aside my reason, however unsound, and take up that of another, perhaps the reason of a brilliant thinker? If so, which brilliant thinker's mind should I adopt? With whom should I agree? Whose faith should I endorse point by point? Should I choose the theologian whom "most• people have considered more brilliant than all the other brilliant theologians (there are a lot of them with a lot of differing theologies)? If so, why should I trust the judgement of the majority? Many brilliant philosophers, whom I can't choose between and who are each more brilliant than I, confidently assert that the one brilliant thinker with the majority behind him is wrong on most points. If I should cull the best -- the truest -- ideas from each brilliant theologian and thinker and philosopher, which ideas should I choose from whom? With this mind, less intelligent than every one of them, I must still do the choosing. Arrogant as I may appear, I have no one else but me whom I am equipped to trust.

I can't even trust God. For how will I trust Him unless I am able to judge with my reason that He is God and is telling me the truth? How will I be able to judge the truth except through my intellect? And even if I decide that I know Who God is and know where to find His words, I still have to trust my mind to interpret them.

If I do not trust my reason, whose will I choose to trust? Which thinker's? They disagree with each other. We all face agnostics and dualists and Hegelians, nominalists and rationalists and Stoics, Christians and Buddhists and Mormons, all disagreeing on nearly every idea of every other creed. Millions upon millions of ideas and doctrines and philosophies and opinions and "truths" are out there to choose from, all proposed and defended by people of much greater intelligence. How will I choose the theologian or philosopher or poet to trust except with my feeble and untrustworthy powers of reason? It turns out that I am burdened with me. You are burdened with you. I have to find the truth with my mind; I was made with no other means. You must find it with yours. However much I might dislike how I think, however much I might want to reason more cogently or have greater insight and sagacity, however much I might feel arrogant for trusting my wits alone, there is no other way to the truth except through the mind I've been given. I have access to no other mind. Yes, I can consider everyone's opinion. But it is me who determines whether any opinion is true.

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13. One Can Only As One Thinks

I'M STUCK with me. I can't throw off my skin, untie my muscles, clip out my heart, scoop out my brains, and then trowel in some new, smarter brains, hook up a new, improved heart, lay in and tie up new sinews, and slip into a new sheet of skin. I can't escape me. I would love to think as other Christians seem to think©© trusting in Christ without reservation, believing Christianity without question, knowing its doctrines to be true without skepticism, and acting according to firm beliefs without hesitation or uncertainty. But I have to live with me. And that means that I have to think as I do, with this deficient reason, with this mind brewing in doubts. I have no choice at all. I have to trust and use my mind or not think. The same is true for everyone.

It's not arrogance; it's unavoidable. My mind thinks as it does without my will. I can't force it to think true what it holds false. No mind can see as proof an argument it sees as unsupported or unsettled.

My gnawing problem is that this mind, so prone to doubts, finds so much falsehood and uncertainty, but so little truth. No faith can be built on what the mind holds false. Only a wary faith can be built on what is undemonstrated. I must have the truth, ideas settled and irrefutable. And I can only trust my mind, though I might despise its tendency to discredit every proof, to find it. There is no hope in trusting someone else, for his thinking, his powers of reason, are not, and will never, be available to me. If I cannot prove the resurrection, and proof is all that should satisfy me, should I not set aside Christianity and begin to look elsewhere for the truth?

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14. Clinging to a Doubtful Faith

I'M TIRED OF this journal already. My ranting about Christianity has finally begun to irritate even me. Why am I so audaciously confident that Christianity can't be proved? Why do I think so highly of my judgement? Why do I trust so completely and presumptuously that the truth will make sense to me? Obviously, ideas and arguments that don't make much sense to me make sense to the people who use them. What makes me so sure that they're in error? To trust my mind so unguardedly seems a foolish and perilous mistake. And I'm tired of making it.

Nevertheless, I haven't yet declared in my mind that Christianity's false. I haven't yet established finally whether it is a myth, a dream, a vain hope, or not (though I admit that I almost daily become more suspicious that it is a myth). Billions of people are willing to think of Christianity as bunk. To them, a great cloud of unbelievers, holding the Bible true is much like believing in Venus or in the dangers of black cats. Why am I not yet willing to join with them? I rant about Christianity, feel quite sure most of the time that it can't be proved and makes little sense, but I can't spurn it either. Why am I finding it so hard to renounce this religion of nonsense? I can't give a good explanation, much as I'm embarrassed that I can't. I hope, I suppose, that keeping this journal will uncover some answers to these questions. In the meantime, I can't deny that this journal -- what I've already written and what I know is to come -- appears arrogant, unreasonable, disputatious and unyielding, even bitter. I don't like the way I sound. I sound much too distrustful, much too eager to condemn every doctrine of Christianity and every other religion or philosophy, much too sure that I have the mind to find all the answers. Why keep believing, I ask myself, if all I want is to dispute every argument for every article of faith in every religion? My thorough skepticism has become repellent even to me.

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15. A Need for Certainty

I REALIZE that none of my objections to the resurrection of Jesus prove that it didn't happen. I know that its uniqueness and its incredibility don't make God's coming to earth, dying on a cross for the sins of the world, and rising from the dead three days later impossible. On the other hand, the possibility of the resurrection does not prove that it happened. What I want is certainty. What I've got to have is certainty. I can't live with guesswork. I can't accept the crucial doctrine of my faith on no more evidence than its possibility. The possibilities are endless. God could have sent a bunch of angels down with chocolates for everyone.

It's not enough for me, nor should it be enough for anyone, to know that the resurrection is possible to believe it true. It must be proved true, to a certainty. I don't want to hold true what I'm not certain of. I shouldn't take the risk of believing what I'm not certain of, just as I shouldn't risk eating mushrooms I can't identify.

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16. Finding Fault

DOUBTING IS A KIND of complaining, a kind of whining, I've come to see, much to my regret. I don't question the doctrines of Christianity neutrally, as if I were doubting whether the snow outside is good enough for skiing. Asking whether God is the Trinity is much more like complaining that my understanding of the Trinity is not similar enough to what I think God should be for me to believe the Trinity is God. The Trinity doesn't satisfy me. I'd like to take a look, if you please, at the rest of the selection in stock.

I'm like a temperamental and snobbish customer. Whatever my waiter brings me I sullenly pick at for a moment and send back to the kitchen. I tell the waiter that if he doesn't bring me a meal up to my standards soon I'll storm out of this establishment.

Sure, I say of most religions and philosophies, this or that idea looks good and true, but there are arguments against it. There are problems with it and unanswered questions. That's me -- always finding fault with every tentative doctrine I consider. I dismiss each one gleefully and maliciously. I chastise myself for my credulity and irrationality and stupidity for having once entertained the notion that Christianity is the truth. I complain and complain. My doubting has come to look more and more like selfish discontent. I behave as though I were throwing a tantrum every time I come across something I disagree with. I don't enjoy complaining. It's unsatisfying and embarrassing and rude. I want to put an end to it.

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17. The Stakes of Finding the Truth

ON THE OTHER HAND, would it be wise for me to stop complaining? I feel sure I should not accept any creed without first trying to disprove its every teaching. Why? Because the stakes, according to many religions, are so high. God is ready, religions such as Christianity and Islam maintain, to condemn. He has prepared places like Hell for those who do not believe in the truth. I must, then, be certain of my creed. There can be only one truth; if I choose the wrong creed I might find myself rotting in Hell. I must have all the evidence and reach an irrefutable conclusion. I must complain, because only by pointing out the arguments that disprove or challenge each faith can I find the one faith that can't be disproved, is the truth, and I must believe to be saved. If Allah has a hell, I don't want to wind up in it. If the God of the Mormons has a hell, I would just as soon not reserve a room there. I must keep complaining because the stakes are so high. I don't want to jeopardize my chance at Heaven by believing Christianity true when it seems to me false. Where is truth? Please, God, Whoever You are, reveal it to me! Please make me able to find it and know that I've found it. Please don't leave me with this awful fear that I believe falsehoods. Grant me certainty, please!

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18. Uncertainty Fuels Doubt

WHEN I'M NOT CERTAIN I doubt. Although I believe in Christianity with a wary, worried confidence that it is the truth, my lack of certainty makes me want to shunt aside my weak faith. But long before I manage to work up the courage to reject Christianity, I doubt my doubts. That's when I become so confused and uncertain that I'm almost in anguish.

As soon as I feel that I've found arguments that demonstrate that Christianity can't be proved without proving a hundred other faiths, I begin to doubt my arguments. And I then find that what all my doubting comes down to is not new conclusions, renewed faith, or greater understanding, but ever more doubts, ever greater skepticism, ever fewer certainties, ever less willingness or courage to believe. This doubting is tearing my mind and my soul to shreds. When I stop doubting, I find in my hands not faith but nothingness. I wind up with no doctrines, no conclusions, no theories, no faith, be it Christianity or another. There is nothing I feel certain of. Even induction and deduction, those two fundamental ways of reasoning, are challenged. I know I can't escape them; I know there are simply no other ways to think -- that even doubting is reasoning by induction and deduction. But if I set my mind to considering whether I can be certain they're true, I find a way to doubt them, and then to distrust them.

My mind is like a metal detector. In grassy fields of truth it finds everywhere tiny coins of doubt. I find objections to every possible idea or theory. The only idea I seldom doubt (though I do doubt this idea as well) is that every idea deserves to be doubted. The emptiness of my mind is painful and distressing and wearisome. I long to know some truth. I long to know an idea that I won't ever have to reconsider or be suspicious of. I want to find those ideas I can't doubt, and then I'll build my faith on them.

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19. Am I a Christian?

I SUSPECT THAT most Christians would conclude at this point that I'm not a Christian. I worry about my skepticism, too. I am afraid of God, Whoever He is. Have my doubts made me an unbeliever? Have they cost me eternal life? I don't like to think about the classic question of the Christian evangelists: If I died tonight would I go to Heaven? I want to believe that I'd be welcomed into Heaven to live at God's side, even though I'm so uncertain of Who God is and what He wants of me. Do I believe well enough? If I could maintain right now that Christianity was the truth I'd believe it without another argument. But I can't maintain that.

Most Christians probably feel confident that unless I change my mind and make a commitment of steadfast faith and loyalty I will find myself in Hell for eternity. I'm just glad they don't have the power to send anyone to Hell. I hope to discover, if I can, how strong faith has to be to make it effective. And more importantly, I hope to discover which faith, no matter how strong, has any effectiveness. Though I don't want to miss the boat, I don't want to board the wrong one either.

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20. Christianity Seems Untrue, Yet Still I Believe

SOME DAYS I SIMPLY can't bring myself to say that I believe in God or Christianity or salvation or hope or prayer. On those days Christianity seems, quite suddenly and inextricably, to be untrue. I can't seem to control this feeling. And it is a feeling, not a thought. Not every problem, nor even the most serious problem, in doubting is intellectual. The most difficult to solve are emotional. I don't feel that Christ is beside me, within me, waiting to hear my prayers, waiting to show me His power, waiting to change me and protect me and give me hope. He does not feel close or real, which Christianity maintains He is. He does not appear to me or speak to me. And so I avoid thinking about Him or trying to learn what He expects of me. I feel foolish for giving Him, a myth, some of my time, foolish for feeling obliged to obey and thank and worship Him, a phantom, a dream. These feelings nag at me and weigh on me. They keep me from thinking and living freely and rightly. I know I can't expect my faith to withstand these feelings. And yet I still find myself praying to God, sheepishly, that He would show me mercy and quell these feelings. Sometimes I think He has; I feel that I believe strongly and confidently. But hours later I find feelings of doubt holding sway once again, suddenly having cloaked my faith in black skepticism.

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21. Faith and Doubt Inextricable

FAITH AND DOUBT are, strangely to a skeptic, always found together. Doubt, you see, must have an object. It must have an idea to dispute. It must entertain the idea that it's always on the verge of rejecting. A doubter wants to believe. I would like the truth to be orthodox Christianity, if Christianity were the truth. I would like to know that Christ is God, that the Bible is His revelation, that Jesus died for our sins, and that we all owe Him allegiance. But, for the same reasons, if Islam were true, I want to believe in Allah and the "Koran•. I have no desire for what feels good or satisfying; I desire the truth. My quarrel with Christianity is not that it's unattractive, but that I don't know it to be the truth. I want to believe, but I keep coming up against arguments, especially those against the resurrection, that make me appear very silly for entertaining the hope that it's true.

For example, consider God's commands to the Jews to slaughter pagans in the Old Testament. These commands, I realize, are a common problem for Christian apologists, There are many explanations for the commands. I have heard most of them. The orthodox explanation that the Canaanites were so evil that God had to mete out justice to them makes sense to me occasionally. But at most times that explanation seems unjustifiable. A God Who commands the slaughter of innocents could not be the same God of mercy and hope described in the New Testament. Now, either the Old Testament is untrue, a solution undesirable to the orthodox and unprovable to the skeptic, or the faith that maintains that a God of slaughter and a God of mercy are the same God is untrue. If that's so, none of the Holy Scriptures reflect any more truth than the Iliad.

If it were true that God commanded the Jews to slaughter the Canaanites and destroy their cities, I would want to believe it, just as I would want to believe that women must wear veils if Mohammed were the prophet of God. Because, however, it does not make sense to me that Mohammed was God's last true prophet, partly because the commandments of the Koran are in my eyes unjust, I've decided, without fearing at all the punishment Mohammed says Allah has in store for me, to disbelieve Islam (for now). God's cruelty in the Old Testament calls into question the truth of the documents that recount the story and are said to be His revelation. For the same reasons I've disbelieved Islam, I'm always tempted to disbelieve Christianity. God's behavior at Jericho was unjust. Therefore, because God is not unjust, God did not command the massacre. The account in the Bible is wrong. The rest of my argument needs no summary.

It's equally true that I'm tempted to believe in Christianity because I want to believe the truth. And there are so many people who are convinced it's true. I'm also tempted, however, to believe in Islam because so many hold it true. How am I to decide? How am I to know, without reservation or fear or lingering skepticism, that what I believe is the truth? That's what I want and nothing else -- the truth. I've called Christianity into question to settle the larger question: What is the truth? Just as I question the "Koran" and the doctrines of Islam and the claims of its prophets, I call into question Christianity, the Bible, and Jesus Christ.

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22. Endless Debates on Truth: The Problem of Disagreement

ON AND ON go the debates. I've started reading a book that disputes one of the commonest beliefs my Christian friends hold -- that God is compassionately arranging events and circumstances in their lives for their spiritual, emotional, and perhaps material improvement. Here's what's happened lately with some of my friends from church: Russell and Jane believe God kept them safe in a car accident that was Russell's fault. For Howard's own good, God has so far decided to hold off on a job for him. He's given Susan a good deal on new carpeting recently, and found for her a cheap dishwasher to give to some friends of hers who couldn't afford one. Last year, God found and arranged the deal on a house Gerry and Christine loved and could afford. I could fill a book with a list of God's gifts to these friends of mine. The author of the book I've just begun (it's entitled "Circumstances and the Role of God") casts doubts on the opinion that God had anything at all directly to do with these events.

Though I'm not interested in criticizing the book, I do want to point out one thing: debates never end. Christians can't hold true, this book shows, a single doctrine or idea that every Christian holds true. It's just a fact, and a very important one for me. Every one disagrees with everyone else about almost everything (though the differences might occasionally be slight). My question is this: If an intelligent, honest, and hard-working Christian -- say, the author of that book -- can disagree with one of the most widespread beliefs about God among Christians, why shouldn't I call into question the whole faith? It seems clear to me that Christians can't agree on anything, not on Who Christ was, not on the meaning of his death, not on whether He died and rose. There are Calvinists, Arminians, and Liberals, Charismatics, Catholics, and Baptists. The disagreements are never resolved, but only discarded for new disagreements.

The challenges go on and on. One group (and each group is never large) believes one teaching, another believes a different teaching; a third group has a creed different from the first two, and a fourth group disagrees with all three others. If the truth can be found and proved, wouldn't most people know it and believe it, just as, say, everyone believes he must eat to live?

At the very least, if there is truth and Christianity is it, shouldn't those who profess the same faith agree with each other? Doesn't all the disagreement show that there is no way to prove the Christian faith? If Christians can't agree on the small matters, should anyone trust them on the large ones? Is a God Who can't keep His troops in line the true God? I don't know why this is such a radical demand, this demand for agreement. But there is no agreement among Christians. Because there isn't, I doubt everything. God, if He is there, seems not to want men to know the truth.

There is a solution to this problem: one person knows the truth. No two people on the face of the earth and across the ages agree on every article of faith or fact and idea. If everyone believes something different, however slight the differences, and there is only one truth (how can it be otherwise?), it follows that there can be only one person who has the truth. I want to find this fellow. But where and how?

Of course, there is another possibility. The truth might be spread among people. If so, however, how am I to choose between all the beliefs and creeds and ideas and systems, even if I assume that on each issue there is at least "one• person who has a grasp of the truth and has told others about it? How am I to find each person for each truth? How am I to know which person knows which truth? And before I begin searching, I have to assume that I've been either wrong about or ignorant of the truth all along. But if I assume I've been wrong, on what grounds should I trust myself to be able to discern the one truth each person has? I have no grounds for trusting me -- I've been always wrong.

I've been languishing in ignorance and stupidity. I shouldn't trust myself to recognize the truth when I see it; I've never managed to recognize it in the past. And so I realized today that my search for the truth is never going to end. I'm always going to be uncertain, because every time I'll try to determine the truth of an idea I won't be able to trust my judgement. Why try any longer to find it? I can hardly stand to think it through. I want to give up on truth. I'm condemned to guess at it. I wish I could forget Christianity (I'll never know whether it's the truth) and pursue whatever selfish pleasures I can buy in this affluent and fortunate society I've been born into. If I can't find the truth, what else have I to live for?

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23. Complete Skepticism Appears Unworkable

AN IDEA OFTEN pricks at me when I try to resolve my doubts -- whether or not I acknowledge them, I have beliefs. There is no way to live in complete skepticism. I can't trust or know nothing. If I believed or knew nothing, I would do nothing. Thus, when I say I doubt everything, I'm deceiving myself.

It's impossible to doubt everything. Though I might not choose what I believe, though I might have no proofs for my faith, I do believe some doctrines, ideas, and opinions true. In fact, many doctrines I never question: the suns rises every day, this chair is strong enough to hold me, my eyes do see what is actually in front of my face, there are words that have been typed onto this sheet of paper. These are bare facts. But what do I mean by "bare"? It's essential to understand what I mean because there is, in everyone's mind, a set of facts he can't get around, nor ever bothers to consider. There are "higher" sets of facts, on several levels, he knows in a way different from the way he knows bare facts. When I doubt, I want to hide with these bare facts, forget about speculating into the metaphysical, and hope God, if He exists, pulls me through. All of Christianity is on one of the higher levels. I find it almost impossible to believe that God expects me to be able to choose between all the speculations in the various philosophies and religions that people defend. Why doesn't He just let me live based on the bare facts, the facts it would be impossible and childish to argue against. That's the kind of faith I want, one built of nothing more than the bare facts.

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24. God's Power and Invention in Personal Lives

MY CHRISTIAN friends are always talking about God's power. They think, it's plain to me, that God is ever ready and willing to exercise His power on their behalf in some godly cause. Now I know they also think that God is not their servant, but their master. They will admit, when pressed, that they must be careful not to try to get God to use His power to achieve their goals instead of His. Their prayers are, however, bold and ambitious. Many verses in the Bible, they tell me, show that God has promised to do good deeds for His children in answer to their prayers. My friends pray often, making request after request for themselves and each other.

Their talk about prayer often causes me to doubt. It embarrasses me, too. Their requests, first of all, seem so selfish and petty. They believe in a God Who provides affordable dishwashers but In Africa leaves millions to starve. Secondly, though it can't be proved that God has done anything, they frequently maintain that He has answered their inane prayers in fantastic ways.

Take a recent case. Howard has been out of work for half a year at least. Russell and Janet, Gerry and Christine, and others from my church have spent months praying for God to give Howard a job. Howard hasn't found a job. Howard needs a job badly. He's married, has two children, and owns a small house. Howard has become frustrated and fearful and, at times, despondent. I've been with Gerry and Christine when they've taken some time to pray for a job for Howard. I was with them last night when they decided we should all pray for Howard's employment. Gerry led us in prayer. He explained to God the gravity of Howard's situation. Then he asked God to show His power, to do a miracle on Howard's behalf. Howard has stayed jobless, despite many prayers of the same drift.

Do my friends stop praying? Of course not. They must "pray without ceasing." God, on the other hand, doesn't answer without ceasing. Gerry reassured Christine and me last night that God will answer. We must be patient. But there is little talk of patience in his prayers, or in the Bible verses. Gerry talks of God's goodness and power and love. When I listen to him pray, I imagine God about to burst out of Heaven with the application form for Howard's job in His hand. But God does as He chooses, not as Gerry or anyone else prays. So why, I ask, pray?

The claim is made that God can answer "yes", "no", or "wait". That idea seems to me a concession to the real world, where God doesn't answer prayers in the way He promises to answer them in the Bible. If Christians have to think up explanations for God's not answering, why should I trust that the promises found in the Bible came from God and not the wishful thinking of a first century Jew? When God does not deliver on His promises, which, in prayer, He seldom appears to do, I doubt whether the promises are true. Why believe in a God Who will find jobs for Americans but condemns Africans to starvation? We probably should believe in neither the promises nor the book they're found in. And yet Christians keep on praying for Howard, like chickens pecking at the dust in a barnyard.

When Howard gets a job, and he most likely will, I know what Gerry will say, though he can't prove it: God answered the prayers of His people. It's a miracle! It's wonderful! Isn't God kind and loving and powerful? (Wars and poverty and evil, however, will continue their reigns, despite whatever time Christians find to pray against them.) I will conclude, to avoid the embarrassment of this kind of thinking, that God most likely ignored the prayers and let Howard find a job without His intervention. Circumstances will have given Howard a job. It seems, then, that God feels no obligation to answer the prayers of His people. Christians, as a result, pray for things that have as a good a chance of happening as not, so that they can give the credit to God when they do happen. God seems not to feel bound by the promises Christians say He has made, except when it comes to their mundane needs. The Bible, it strikes every time I hear about the prayers of my friends, is not the Word of God. It is no more than a religious book with many vain ideas and wishes, like the other religious books. Praying to God appears about as rational as praying and sacrificing to the sun.

Because of these thoughts, I doubt all of Christianity. If Christian faith has not made me right with God, what will? Am I "wrong" with God? Such questions come to me like a lake bursting through a dam. A wall of water rushes down a valley. It sweeps away forests and towns, and leaves a foot of mud and silt behind. When the swollen river returns to it banks, the land is found to have been stripped bare. This is what happens to a doubter. I want to believe in the promises in the Bible, but the way God keeps those promises in this world seems inconsistent with the promises. God's power, though my friends esteem it so highly, does not seem available to us. Maybe when I know the truth I'll know how and when to get God to act.

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25. The Desire for Untroubled, Undoubting Faith

A DESIRE IS BURNING in me. I want to be like those people who believe in Christianity without second thoughts. I want to be secure that the doctrines of evangelical Christianity are true, and that God will receive me into Heaven when I die because Christ paid the penalty for my sins. I would like never to look over my shoulder again, never to be perplexed, never to feel the pangs of uncertainty and skepticism and fear. But what I would like to be is not what I am. And I'm frustrated that I can't stick a pin in me and pop my skeptical thoughts and feelings.

I can't get rid of myself. I think as I do, and no matter how hard I try to think in other ways, think as my friends seem to think, and banish skepticism from my mind, I keep doubting, as if I were tethered to doubt. Who has tethered my mind to doubt? Why haven't I been set free to believe as assuredly as Russell believes. He never suffers doubts. He'll argue with me endlessly that God has predestined everything, including whom will and will not be saved. Russell never flinches, never fears he might be wrong, never doubts, never suffers even an inkling that he might believe in a myth, never reconsiders, never, in sum, thinks in any of the ways I always think. Why didn't God or Allah or the Great Spirit make my mind like Russell's? Why doesn't God let me see the truth -- and then let me know with certainty that I've seen it?

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26. The Desire to Believe and the Lack of Faith

I WANT TO BELIEVE that it happened, make no mistake. I want to feel certain that Jesus rose from the dead. I want to know it as a fact. That desire is deep and constant. Nevertheless, when I think about the resurrection, I deem myself foolish for wanting to believe it really happened. At these times I want to abandon my mind. I chide myself for irresponsibly indulging myself in wishful thinking. At other times, however, I feel ashamed and sinful for not believing in it strongly enough. For what if it did happen? Well, if it did, Jesus is proved to have been the Son of God, and all His words are proved true and holy. And it is proved -- this is scary -- that He died for me. In times of doubt I tell myself that God's giving Himself to death to pay the penalty for my sins did not happen. If it were true that He died to save me from the wrath of His Father, then in his eyes, I would have to appear a despicable creature, deserving, even in my judgement, of a severe punishment, perhaps even the Hell Jonathan Edwards described (as horrifyingly unjust as that Hell seems for God to condemn people to).

What if, though the proof of Christianity is right in front of me, I have refused to see it because I hate God, do not want to bow before Him, and do not want to worship and obey Him? What if I've been lying to myself that there are no proofs, that there can be no certainty? What if my doubts are rationalizations for my leading a sinful and ungodly life? I would hate myself, if it were true that Jesus rose. And yet, though I fear that I might be rejecting God's own son and His great offer of salvation, I still can't decide whether the resurrection is a fact.

Pascal held that people should wager on Christianity's being true because so much more is to be gained than lost by wagering on it. If it were true, and I wagered on it, I would gain Heaven. If it were not true, and I wagered on it, I would lose nothing more than the chance to live for selfish pleasures. If it were true, and I didn't wager on it, however, I would lose everything and earn, according to Christian doctrine, eternal punishment. But Pascal's wager doesn't tell the whole story. For there are alternatives to Christianity other than atheism (a circumstance that Pascal left out of his wager). When I choose to believe in the historical truth of the resurrection, and, hence, in Christianity, I am at the same time choosing "against• every other competing doctrine of every other idealogy, theology, philosophy, and religion, which, it turns out, millions of people over thousands of years have wagered their lives on. Those people seldom, if ever, feared the punishment Christianity proclaims God has prepared for those who disbelieve that Jesus died for their sins.

I'm caught. We're all caught. I have to believe something. I have no choice but to believe. (That's hard for a doubter to admit.) I can't reject every idea and dogma and doctrine and faith. When I choose one, I immediately, and often without intending to, reject hundreds of others. Conversely, when I reject any one faith, I affirm another (as uncertain as I may be of what I affirm). And by whatever choice I make, intended or not, thought through carefully or forced upon me, I have put my soul at risk in the hands of Allah or Yahweh or the Trinity or all the Gods I've chosen against.

What a position to be in! Doubts so destroys the soul and its hope. O, that I would have rest. I long for the truth -- and for finality and certainty. I long to be freed from these fears. I long to know the doctrines that can be proved. I long to know the right choice, to choose to believe the truth.

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27. The Attractiveness of the Resurrection

THE RESURRECTION attracts me to believe in it -- that I can't deny. I seem unable to declare it false, even though it often seems so absurd. What makes it so attractive? When I dig into my mind, I can't find a settled answer to that question. Sometimes, I think I'm attracted to believing in it only because I've heard about it for so long, from my youth in the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church to my adulthood in the Reformed Church. For my whole life I've heard people talk about Jesus' rising from the dead as though it were a fact, as though it were an event similar to the mail's having come yesterday, that I now find it nearly impossible to think otherwise, to shrug off its factualness, to decide that all those people I have known and trusted were wrong, to decide that it didn't happen just as told in the Gospels. But is this a sound reason for believing in the crucial doctrine of the Christian faith -- that other people I know believe in it? The answer is obvious, at least to me: it's not.

But there might be more to the resurrection's attractiveness than that I've heard it spoken of all my life as a fact. I often think that it is a good idea, if there were a God, for Him to die for us to save us from our sins. I can't keep His moral law (assuming the Bible lays out His moral law). Absolute right and wrong seem to exist, and are desirable. And the story reads so wonderfully -- that God died for us, for me. I want the truth to be this good. The resurrection is, therefore, very appealing. But this reason for believing in it is also unsound, is it not? Few ideas that I believe good, I think we would all agree, turn out to be true. And, in any case, why would anyone trust my mind to know what's good and should, therefore, be true?

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