Have you ever had a crisis of faith? If you are a pastor, do you know someone in your congregation who has gone through something traumatic that may have led that person to doubt Christian doctrine? Talking about doubt is not popular in evangelical Christian communities. We avoid wrestling with issues of faith and doubt because they usually entail something is challenging an essential precept of our faith.
Nevertheless, Christ charges us to call a lost, doubting world to respond to the gospel message with faith. If we want to speak clearly and winsomely to a doubting world, then we should understand something about faith and doubt. As teachers and faithful Christians within the Master’s kingdom, we should be eager to address doubt. The Master himself told us to love God with our entire mind (Matthew 22:37), and C. S. Lewis reminds us that “God is no fonder of intellectual slackers than of any other slackers” (75).
In my own life, I have experienced doubt on multiple occasions. Most prominently, my dad passed away in 2014. Losing my father was devastating. I considered him a best friend, someone who was a foundation of love and security in my life. I experienced immense depression in the following months and years, and depression caused me to question God’s overall plan for my life. This journey led me down a path of trying to understand what my faith was really all about, and, indeed, to understand faith itself better. In this regard, like so many others, I found C. S. Lewis to be of immense help in guiding me to understand what faith involves and how to respond to doubt. He offers several points that all believers should consider as they struggle with doubt – or as they counsel someone else struggling with doubt.
C. S. Lewis on Faith and Doubt
First, Lewis shows that Faith is not in opposition to reason. In Lewis’s brief – yet deep – discussion of faith from Mere Christianity, he talks about faith in two senses: faith as it’s related to reason and faith in a salvific sense. Let’s focus on the first sense. For Lewis, faith is a way of believing a proposition. In this way, faith is not unlike the majority of our beliefs that are not, in their own right, properly basic. Faith, like many beliefs, follows from evidence and is subject to challenges. So, Lewis does not pit faith against reason. Rather, faith is the outcome of proper reason. Faith is wed to reason. Should this surprise anyone who takes seriously the idea that God created and seeks to save the entire person, including our minds?
Yet, Lewis says, “Christians regard faith in this sense as a virtue,” (121) albeit a theological one. Lewis relates his past bewilderment over the idea that faith, a type of belief, could be a virtue. This is because virtue, in a classical sense, carries an “ought” behind it. Faith would be something that one ought to have, and which Christians ought to possess even among the utmost temptation, trial and doubt. That is, faith is something I should have possessed to the highest degree after my dad past away, during my depression and sadness over losing a best friend. Faith as a virtue seemed strange to Lewis, for belief of any sort that flows from reason and evidence is not the sort of thing one should just hold onto when challenges arise. He says,
What is there moral or immoral about believing or not believing a set of statements?…a sane man accepts or rejects any statement, not because he wants or does not want to, but because the evidence seems to him good or bad… (122)
How could faith be a virtue? Wasn’t my own doubt about God’s being there, about His being good, justified by how my life started to crumble on the inside after my father succumbed to death?
Lewis’s answer is helpful for anyone who has ever struggled with doubt. Lewis highlights the fact that we experience different sorts of doubt, sometimes on a logical or rational basis, and sometimes on an emotional or existential basis. Identifying which sort of doubt you are struggling with is essential to answering the attentive problems. Lewis maintains that you should always believe or have faith in that which the evidence and reason dictates. However, not all objections and doubts are on an evidential, rational level. Lewis said he used to think that “the human mind is completely ruled by reason. But that is not so” (122). Doubts may be rooted primarily on an existential, emotional level. While these are not unimportant and certainly require ministry and attention to overcome, they do not necessarily serve as defeaters to the major doctrines of our faith.
C. S. Lewis thus shows how faith can be a virtue, something one should possess even when doubt and trouble arises. He takes it for granted that in hard times you can and should go on believing what “your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods” (123). “I am not asking anyone to accept Christianity if his best reasoning tells him that the weight of the evidence is against it,” he says. On the contrary, if you have found Christianity to be rational and you have dealt with logical and rational objections “in a different manner,” Lewis shows that faith, based on reason, can indeed be a virtue.
Lewis is clear that the perceived work we do in perseverance does not save us. Indeed, part of what Christians are to believe even through emotional uncertainty is that they are not saved on the basis of their works (125). He communicates that God himself is the source of our intellectual powers and capacities (125).
Don’t Forget the Empty Tomb
I believe we have much we can learn from one of the greatest theological and philosophical minds of the past. C. S. Lewis offers help to people like me who have wrestled with many aspects of faith following a loss or hurt of some sort. What Lewis taught me is that my existential suffering does not and cannot cancel out the historical truth of the resurrection of our Lord – the ultimate basis for the Christian faith and hope in Christ’s promises. I am reminded that death and the hurt attentive to it does not defeat the truth of the resurrection.
When emotions scream that God is not there, Lewis has helped me to see that reason does not likewise scream. The fact of Christ’s empty grave, His love, and His commitment to us still persists, and these truths are accessible to reason even when emotions run amuck. Like many others, my hurt has been real. But just as real is Christ’s empty grave and his promise to make ours empty one day too.