A Christian activist’s take on thinking critically and wrestling with faith
Tan Jing Min // July 6, 2018, 3:33 pm
Abortion. Intersectionality. Environmental conservation. Gender equality.
These days, I don’t have to look very far for my beliefs to be thrown into crisis. Reading the news, scrolling through Facebook, and even casual conversations all involve us forming an opinion on issues that carry implications for our worldview as Christians.
If you’ve ever been reminded that God wants to be sovereign over every part of your life, you may also have encountered the immense difficulty of shaping your worldview in a way that pleases God.
What do we make of the call for equal rights for same-sex marriages? What about reconciling God’s blessings on Israel in the Bible with the bloody reality of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict? Or the fact that President Trump received the support of American Evangelical pastors when some of the things he says and does seem so wrong?
As if being Christian in a broken world wasn’t hard enough already. But as someone with a strong passion for justice, I’ve sometimes found myself inadvertently seeking out difficult challenging positions when it comes to morality and theology.
Whether it’s taking part in rallies in my university, interning at gender equality organisations, or even dinner table conversation on topics that I feel strongly about, time and time again I’ve felt backed up against a corner between the world and my religion. Though I continue to wrestle with these issues, I have learnt a thing or two from these experiences.
4 HANDLES TO A GODLY GRAPPLE
1. Don’t sweat the small stuff
If you’re grappling with an issue, chances are that eminent figures in the public world of religion and academia are still engaged with them today. We are all mere human beings, trying to find a God-pleasing way to live and perceive the world. The reality is, exegesis and hermeneutics of scripture aren’t always going to give us 100% of God’s truth, especially when attempting to apply it to current affairs – we are only human, and we all make mistakes.
Even if you’re struggling to form your own definitive, defensible Christian opinion on certain issues, remember that it’s okay to be confused. It’s okay to not know the answers to everything – it doesn’t make you less of a child of God.
2 Thessalonians 2:2 counsels us “not to be easily disconcerted or alarmed by any spirit or message or letter presuming to be from us and alleging that the day of the Lord has already come.” The questions we have are important but remember that our faith is not ultimately based on nitty-gritty debates or complex theology, but on the faithful acceptance that Jesus is Lord and Saviour.
It’s okay to not know the answers to everything – it doesn’t make you less of a child of God.
2. Keep thinking
Maybe you find yourself caught in the middle of a heated exchange on an issue you don’t have an answer to. Or perhaps you didn’t quite agree with something your pastor said the other Sunday.
Personally one of the issues I constantly grapple with is how should we as Christians love LGBTQ people while rejecting the sin of homosexuality. I don’t have a conclusive answer yet, but it is an important issue, so I will keep turning it around in my head. Why would I do that?
I do not believe that we are meant to sit back and accept that we are better off not thinking about such things. Each one of us explores our faith in different ways, and if you find yourself with questions, I don’t think God has given you a spirit of curiosity and critical thinking for nothing.
Job’s friends Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar shut down Job’s angered cries with placating exultations of God: Phrases that their people probably passed from generation to generation – repeated so many times that everyone accepted it as truth. But God would much rather us struggle with real issues of faith like Job did, while never losing sight of His sovereignty. Hence the Lord said to Job’s friends, “You have not spoken of me what is right, as my servant Job has.” (Job 42:8)
It may be difficult to remain ambivalent when it seems like everyone around you has a solid conviction on every issue under the sun. It’s natural to gravitate toward certainty – no one wants to appear indecisive.
But perhaps God has made you the way you are for precisely such a time as this: To hold these thoughts in your head and heart, seek God’s counsel, contemplate the multiplicity of opinions and perspectives, and contend with seemingly irreconcilable arguments.
Discourse does not only require the exchange of viewpoints—it also needs listening ears; those who absorb and reflect, who are quiet enough to see that every argument has its own inconsistencies. Perhaps even to recognise that no human construction will ever truly suffice as an answer to human problems.
Matthew 7:7 says, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.” God wants to hear your questions. He loves it when we lift our human struggles to Him. Doing so is a declaration that we need our Father’s infinite wisdom; that our human understanding is limited and imperfect and can never be a substitute for His omniscience.
I do not believe that we are meant to sit back and accept that we are better off not thinking about such things.
3. What you believe is between you and God
In our quest for understanding, we’ll inevitably come across compelling arguments and speakers. This is tricky, especially in a church or religious context.
Because we tend to see the teachings of spiritual leaders as gospel truth. And while it is true that God has appointed our pastors, church staff and Christian theologians, the onus is on us to always test their teachings against the Word and the Holy Spirit’s direction. No sermon is as true as God’s still small voice, and no Christian book can replace the Bible.
So while it may be easier to accept what someone else persuades you with, or tempting to succumb to the pressure of a widely accepted orthodox belief, know that God wants you to ask Him directly. God wants you to work through these difficult paradigms of belief to pursue Him.
“If you believe in Jesus, you are not to spend all your time in the calm waters just inside the harbour, full of joy, but always tied to the dock. You have to get out past the harbour into the great depths of God, and begin to know things for yourself—begin to have spiritual discernment.” (Oswald Chambers)
What is your treasure: The satisfaction of being right, or honouring God? Of all the questions you have, this one is the most important.
4. Test your heart
Your heart is of crucial importance. “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” (Matthew 6:21) And so it is in life. What is your treasure: The satisfaction of being right, or honouring God? Of all the questions you have, this one is the most important.
So the next time you are confronted with an issue that strikes your head and heart – hold it there. What does it arise out of? If it is a desire to please God in your innermost thoughts, follow that thread. Actively seek to understand: Read books, listen to talks, talk to people — but more importantly, let the Holy Spirit reveal wisdom to you in God’s perfect time.
Maybe you will never get that answer you’re searching for, and that’s okay. Trying to reconcile questions in this world with our faith is a little walking trail on our journey of faith. Whichever route you take, no matter how many detours, the final destination is the same: Grasping how desperately we need a Saviour.