The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

The Pursuit of God: Being okay with unanswered questions


(This is part 4 of a multipart series: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3)

Part of the pursuit of God, I have argued, should be an intellectual pursuit where we ask the deep and difficult questions *because* we want to know God more fully. I’ve suggested that this is (or should be) a very normal part of discipleship.

Sometimes there are great answers

Sometimes what appears deep and difficult may turn out to have straightforward answers. This is a wonderful experience. Suppose someone becomes worried about the charge that Scripture is filled with contradictions. Suppose she has resisted the urge to look into this due to fear for what she will find. She’s afraid that what she’ll find will hurt her faith. But she makes this an intellectual pursuit and looks into this. What she would find (at least, I have) is lots of differences across parallel accounts but no, as in zero, obvious contradictions in the crucial details of the accounts. When we consider possible ways to reconcile these accounts and also the genre and literary devices used in these accounts, these problems are well handled.

This is a good experience. I have had this experience many, many times as I have asked the deep and difficult questions and honestly sought after these answers. This is an experience I want my children to have. I want them to see the robustness of Christianity as a worldview that has the resources to answer our questions.

Sometimes there are not great answers…yet

There are other sorts of questions that remain deep and difficult. They don’t simply melt away as soon as we begin to look into possible answers. These are good too because they really push us to be intellectually honest in our faith. These are great win when we can make some progress. As I mentioned recently, there are a variety of questions about Christianity I have and I’m genuinely unsure exactly what to say.

Why don’t these unanswered questions/objections defeat my faith?

The reason that unanswered questions do not defeat my faith is because Christian faith is consistent with having unanswered questions. I have A LOT of unanswered questions about how a million pounds of metal and other material can cruise at 30,000 feet and reliably travel from New York to LA or wherever we need to get on planet earth. And yet I have a rational faith in my airplane to get me there despite having unanswered questions. This is because I have plenty of evidence to believe that flying is a safe mode of travel. Likewise, when it comes to my Christian faith, I have plenty of evidence for it to be a rational faith despite having unanswered questions. In fact, it would be intellectually irresponsible of me to abandon my faith in the face of the questions I have given all the evidence I see for believing that Christianity is true.

We should expect some unanswered questions. And it’s okay so long as we have a large repertoire of evidences that support our Christian beliefs. Most of the alleged contradictions in Scripture are rather easy to reconcile. However, there are some that I’m unsure about. I’m okay with this since these are peripheral details (e.g., exactly what time Jesus was crucified) in the accounts and since the overall reliability of the text can be demonstrated. So having a few about which I’m unsure is just not a problem (even though it’s worth continuing to think about). I trust that there is some way these can be worked out even if I don’t, at this point in time, know what it is.

As I mentioned, these unanswered questions will help us to be honest but they will also force us to be intellectually humble. When one is, in a way, a bit chastised by the difficulty of some of the questions that surround Christian faith, one will tend to treat other seekers and doubters with kindness and empathy.

And this, it seems to me, is the right sort of posture to have towards those who are seeking even if they are far from assenting to Christian belief.

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2 Replies

  1. Aren’t these unanswered questions clues that your Christian faith is no more reliable than any other religious faith?

    1. Travis Dickinson

      Well, only if there were an equal number of unanswered questions. As it is, I find Christianity to answer far more questions than any other religious view. I also think it answers far more questions than atheism or even agnosticism. In fact, I think these latter views lack the resources to answer the deepest questions of life.