Anderson has described himself as being a "congenital doubter," or someone who's always asking, "What if?" Like lawyers and accountants who are trained to identify what could possibly go wrong, congenital doubters are drawn like magnets to uncertainties and questions. They may be filled with angst or have a melancholy personality. For them, faith doesn't come naturally.
But that's just one species of doubt. I asked Anderson for examples of others.
He leaned back in his chair, lifting the front two legs slightly off the floor and then rocking gently back and forth. "Oh, there are lots of different kinds," he said. "Some doubters are rebellious, even though they may not identify themselves that way. They have the attitude, 'I'm not going to let somebody run my life or do my thinking.' This can take the form of an arrogant pride. Sometimes, a young person wants to rebel against his parents, and one way to do that is to rebel against the God they believe in.
"Then there are people whose doubts stem from their disappointment with God. Like the girl I visited with yesterday. God says, 'Seek and ask,' but she's asked and he hasn't given. So she's wrestling with uncertainty. Was God serious? Was he even there?
"Others have personal or family wounds. I talked a few weeks ago with a lady who underwent physical abuse from her mom and dad who were deeply religious-they'd make her kneel by the bed and pray and then beat her. I can see why she's got a problem with God! Others have been personally hurt in the sense of being rejected by a mate or their business has gone south or their health has gone bad. They're wondering, 'If there's a God, why does this stuff happen?'
"Then there are the intellectual doubts. This was where I was at. I was doing my best to intellectually undergird my faith, but there were people a lot smarter than me who didn't believe in God. I started to think, 'Is faith only for the brilliant? How can faith be so important to God, and yet you've got to have an IQ of 197 to hang onto it?"'
I wondered whether there are some factors that can accentuate doubt in people. I asked Anderson, "What things contribute to doubt, even though a person may not be aware of it?"
"Seasons of life can make a big difference," he replied. "Sometimes people are great believers while in college, but when they're young parents with their second baby and they're working sixty or eighty hours a week and their wife's sick all the time and the boss is on their back-they simply don't have time to reflect. And I don't think faith can develop without some contemplative time. If they don't make room for that, their faith is not going to grow and doubts will creep in.
"Another factor can be making comparisons with the faith of others. I met with a young woman who said, 'I hate to go to church because I hear all these claims that I'm not experiencing. I believe, I study the Bible, I pray, I work as hard at ministry as any of them do, but I don't get this joy, I don't get my prayers answered, I don't get a great sense of peace, I don't feel like I'm in the hands of a God who's guiding me down the road and is going to take care of me.' People like this begin to think, 'What's wrong with God that he won't give me those things?"'
I was curious about how he handled her situation. "What did you say to her?" I asked.
"I encouraged her to read the Psalms, because that will alter her perspective on what normal faith looks like. We like to focus on the upbeat Psalms, but sixty percent of them are laments, with people screaming out, 'God, where are you?' Normal faith is allowed to beat on God's chest and complain."
"There's a lot of fear of commitment in our culture," I pointed out. "Does that affect a person's willingness to have faith in God?"
"Yes, it can," he replied. "In this narcissistic country, our definition of freedom is the freedom to get my own way and keep my options open. Some young people are afraid to get married because it's a lifetime commitment. Well, the ultimate commitment is to God. We have a Baskin-Robbins culture where the most-dreaded sentence would be to serve a life with no options. And I do think that contributes to people's fear of committing themselves to Christ."
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