Skip to main content

Can Christians have doubts?

We spent some time at our UCCF South summer school considering the subject of DOUBT with Jason Clarke. Jason's main point was that knowing is Trinitarian. That means knowing is personal and relational. To be a Christian is to be in a trusting relationship with the Triune God. What we know isn't stuff it's persons.
Father Brendan Flynn: You haven't the slightest proof of anything!
Sister Aloysius Beauvier: But I have my certainty!
What does that mean for doubt. Some doubt is unbelief which isn't approved by the Bible. But, it means that some doubt is different to that, it's a category we might use to speak of the questions we can ask in the context of trust and relationship. We know that God is there and is trustworthy - the gospel tells us this. Being caught up into the Triune life though doesn't mean I won't have questions. The Psalms are illustrative of this.

There are implications in this for our doctrine of church. If the church is to relationally reflect her God then it should be a place of trust and relationship, and that means we can ask questions, work through issues, live in mess. The alternative is a dogmatic confidence in certainty (Arianism?), rather than robust relationships that can take questions. Are you participating in a Triune Community - a place where there can be room for questions and relationship, trust and care? Do you give people space to have questions, to air them, to ponder them, to work them through, to listen and not necessarily answer immediately, to feel the difficulties and tensions?


  1. I think it's an interesting one - interplaying a doubting priest and the very certain-in-certainty nun. And it's Philip Seymour Hoffman, Meryl Streep and Amy Adams make for a quality cast.

  2. Interesting that this topic has come up on several blogs now. I'd never linked the Triune relationship with knowing and doubt before. I really enjoyed your Exercises in Trinitarian Community post. It is amazing how much comes out of the Trinity and how much people must miss out if they don't start with the Trinity.

  3. I think everything flows from Trinity, it's the disturbing thing with "scholastic"-driven theology - it starts with a god-of-attributes-and-resources and then knowledge is about knowing god's-stuff and it's hard to know if you know enough, and so doubt arises...

    But, when Trinity isn't central doubt arises then in a context where God isn't primarily relational but super-attributed, having that kind of god can mean a church that is dogmatic and certain rather than relational, and so raising questions isn't always acceptable.

    And so it goes..

  4. Esther Meek's 'Longing to Know' is a good book on personal knowing.

    I know someone struggling with doubt at the moment. It is clear that there is 'good' doubt and bad/cancerous doubt. There is a massive difference.

    Faith, I'm reflecting as I talk to this person and think about his experiences, is much less belief in certain things and much more personal commitment (I think Chris you said something along these lines ages back). I can't remember where I heard it (perhaps Glen), but faith is like marriage in that you marry someone not knowing everything about them. There is always going to be doubt that you're making the right decision. But you make that commitment and live with it.

    Then if you do have doubts and questions they are directed TO GOD (ala Psalms and Job), not to the world/yourself. As soon as you give up on God to provide the answers and you start looking elsewhere, then that's adultery. (Not that looking to God for the answers means you don't look for him to speak through other people, experience, creation etc.)

    PS I like the film a lot. It's very wordy because it was a play before a film. The acting is exceptional and what really makes it.

  5. The marriage analogy (which Glen certainly uses in his first Christianity Explored talk - and which I confess to having borrowed!) is very helpful. Knowing that is personal rather than informational is so radically different.

  6. I've always thought that faith requires doubt. If there was no doubt then there could be no faith, only knowledge.

    It seems to me that even the personal relationship is built on a faith basis in the first place. You can't *know* that God exists. And so even that relationship is based on denying rational doubts.

    Any comparison to a marriage relationship seems over-reaching. After all I can actually see, touch and talk to my wife. She isn't just words in a book, knowledge in my head or voices in my mind.

  7. Here's where we're talking past each other mark, you're presupposing that the Triune God is "just words in a book, knowledge in my head or voices in my mind." rather than real persons who can be known, as Christianity asserts.

    If I'm asked to *know* that God exists. on the basis of enough stacked up facts, then you're right I probably can't. Some religion probably does work that way, operating with an impersonal deity. But that's where Christianity is different. It's not that I need to "know that God exists" I'm invited to "know God".

    I don't have to ask if my wife exists, I know her - and I knew her enough before I married her that I could trust her - didn't mean I knew every fact about her but that I had a relationship in which there is trust and freedom and ability to ask questions, learn, discover and enjoy one another.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

"Big eyes full of wonder"

Books. Fiction. Libraries. Second only to churches as are the best gateways in your community to ultimate reality and new possibilities.

Our local library has just re-opened after refurbishment, and I love that our boys have spent several mornings there during the summer holidays, discovering some wonderful new stories.

I realised a few months back that I wasn't reading enough fiction. My work necessitates reading a lot of non-fiction, a mix of historical and contemporary thinking, biblical studies and theology. But fiction is the cinderella. Easily overlooked, and yet able to awaken my imagination and show me the way things are meant to be.

So I've picked up a few more lately - bought and borrowed. Not every book attempted flies, and that's ok. These have been winners though.

Ink. This is Alice Broadway's debut novel. It's young adult fiction and tells the story of Leora who lives in a world where the events of your life are tattooed on your skin. Nothing gets hid…

Uniquely Matthew

Reading gospel accounts in parallel is sometimes used to blur the differences in perspective between the evangelists, seeking to harmonise the texts and find a definitive historical account of what happened. No such thing exists because every account is biased and limited. You simply can't record everything. You have to hold a vantage point. And that's not a problem.

Matthew, Mark and Luke take a very different vantage point to John who was of course an eyewitness himself of the events. Comparing the text of Matthew, Mark and Luke across the death and resurrection of Jesus yields two steps.

Firstly, the common ground. All three accounts tell of...
Simon of Cyrene carrying the cross…. · Jesus labelled as King of the Jews…. · Criminals crucified with Jesus… · Darkness in the daytime… · Jesus' loud final cry… The women who witnessed Jesus death, and Jesus' burial… · The tomb lent to Jesus by Joseph of Arimithea… · The women who went to the tomb on the morning of the…

Songs we're singing in Church

Christians are a singing people, it's part of what we do when we gather.

Our church meets morning an evening on a Sunday - normally using 5 songs in each service. So, over the year that's about 520 song-slots available. The report from the database system we use ( tells us that in the past year we've sung about 150 different songs.

Our current most used song has been sung 11 times in the last year, just under once a month. Our top 10 are used about every 6 weeks. By #30 we're talking about songs used every two months. The tail is long and includes loads of classic hymns from across the centuries, plus other songs from the past 40 years, that we have used around once a term or less.

1. Rejoice - Dustin Kensrue

2. Come Praise & Glorify - Bob Kauflin

3. Man of Sorrows - Hillsong

4. Cornerstone - Hillsong

Rejoice was a song I didn't previously know, along with a couple of others that have quickly become firm favourites for me: Chri…