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On doubt, disbelief and God

Out of the mouth of babes. If you’ve been thinking about your faith a little more than usual during this anomaly we know as 2020, maybe something a ‘babe’ said recently will help. Actually, it was a question he asked, not a statement. You know that you never know when a young person will dig down into a deep well that we did not know even existed and come up with something that will knock your socks off. We’ve all been there. The youngster in this case isn’t exactly a child but, rather, a quiet young man in his 20s. When I say he was quiet, that is a vast understatement. It takes quite a bit of priming to get him to dig down and conjure up a few words. Some people are that way. You and I probably aren’t in that number, making us appreciate the quiet ones the more.

We had just finished a Bible study here in Red Oak one evening with a number of young men who are working on teaching at church. As the young gentlemen filed out of the building, I turned to see my young quiet friend had stayed behind. As soon as he had gotten my attention, he said, “Coach, what is the difference between disbelief and doubt?” – using the usual designation that his generation mostly uses for me.

I had to smile. Who would come up with such a complex question? He spoke in his usual quiet voice, and he didn’t preface the question with anything nor offer any explanation. The question just came out of the blue. I am not sure that in our study we even had talked about faith, per se. It must have been something he had been mulling over in his mind, like a child looking through a kaleidoscope trying to figure out its designs. I expect that he brought the question with him when he came in the door and was just waiting for the right opportunity to ask it. Maybe it took some nerve, because he might have known he likely would have to reveal something about himself that few people ever open up and reveal.

I began to try to answer his question, thinking on the run, because I had never thought of the question before. I’m guessing you haven’t either. What is the difference between doubt and disbelief? – the question continues to ring in my mind, even now.

Perhaps the answer that night was far too simplistic, but we talked about how disbelief seems to be more of a failure to believe what we have seen and heard – it is dis-believing. Doubt, on the other hand, seems to be more of a struggling with that which you previously have come to believe. You still believe it, but occasionally doubts creep in. There is some honor in doubt, in my mind, far more than in disbelief. I’m sure you’ll agree.

My young man seemed satisfied with the answer, even though I wasn’t necessarily. At least, I wasn’t satisfied to stop with the answer. I had a question I wanted answered myself –mainly, what prompted him to ask that question.

So, I looked at him closely, hoping to get some indication as to why he asked the question, then said, “Did you ask that question because you sometimes have doubts about God’s existence, or is it that your doubts are more about the beliefs the church has?” I anticipated that his question was due to some of his own personal doubts.

He answered my question readily, proving my hunch right. He said, “About God.”

So, we talked on that for a good while about the grand proof of God’s power and existence, in just the way you would expect – you know, a “Someone bigger than us made this ol’ world” kind of discussion. Take a look around you. All of this didn’t just happen.

After a while, I dismissed the young man to go about his evening. Even now, I do not know the impact our discussion had on him. I suspect he just needed to talk about it more than anything. But as he walked away, I thought of all the others in the world who have their own doubts, yet never muster up the courage to walk up and ask the question this young fella asked me that night.

For all of you who have never asked that question but have wanted to, I want to say this: It is all right to have doubts. Faith is not the absence of doubts, as some may think. Most often, faith has gone through plenty of doubts and its share of difficulties, has kind of been run through the mill – that’s the stuff that makes up faith.

Truth is, faith grows out of doubt. Ironic, isn’t it!

The reason faith wins out for us, though, is not only because the evidence supports faith, but for this reason: We choose to have faith. We have faith because we have a will to have faith – and we have that will even though a few stray doubts pop up every now and then.

That, my young friend, is what separates doubt from disbelief.

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