A friend of mine told me today that the thing that really bugs him about religious people is that they never want to critically evaluate what they believe, and turn a blind eye to contradictions in their scriptures or the teachings of their spiritual organization.
I agree, many people are not critical and don’t want to be. However, not all people with faith “turn a blind eye.” For instance, I left my faith for many years, for intellectual, emotional, and spiritual reasons, and later returned to Christianity. I am not blind to the apparent contradictions of scripture, or complex reasoning that people must sometimes use to harmonize scriptures. However, as a fellow seeker, I offer the following observations and cautions:
1. The Limits of Reason
While reason may help you to identify a trustworthy source of faith, reason has its limits in the quest for spiritual truth, and we must also use the faculties of our heart and conscience in the quest.
2. Living with Mystery
You will never eliminate all questions – in my favorite book of all time, Further Along the Road Less Traveled, M. Scott Peck has a whole chapter discussing that if we want to be on the spiritual journey, we must become comfortable with mystery – some things will always be beyond our understanding, and we should learn to enjoy it like a sailor on the sea who can not see all the way to the bottom.
3. Focusing on What You Can Know
One of my favorite sayings regarding reading the bible goes like this:
Many things in the Bible I cannot understand; many things in the Bible I only think I understand; but there are many things in the Bible I cannot misunderstand.
My list of lingering questions shrinks and grows, but my list of things I am sure of grows steadily, and based on those things, I move forwards. I don’t let my list of questions hold me back from what I do believe. Sometimes, I can not move forward until I get a question answered, but often, what I do believe allows me to “doubt my doubts” for the time-being. Often, those issues clear up in time by themselves.
4. God Offends the Mind to Reveal the Heart
Jesus often taught in parables, which surprisingly, were very accessible to the common people, but to the intellectual and religious theologians, it was confusing. He did this so that the proud and fault-finding would not see, but the humble would. Don’t ask why, but the scriptures do say that God resists the proud and gives grace to the humble. So be careful. Check it out in Matthew 13:10-17.
5. Apparent Contradictions Often Hide Profound Truths
Because most profound truths appear in paradoxical pairs, often, what looks like a contradiction is actually hiding the balanced, profound truth. So don’t miss it. There are many such pairs that seem contradictory, but the profound relationship between them, once seen, is masterful. This includes the relationships between mercy and truth, predestination and free will, and faith and works.
6. Look to Find Truth, Not to Disbelieve
We must be looking for truth, rather than looking to find fault. If we look for reasons to disbelieve, we will always find them. I am not saying that we should ignore our doubts or questions, but I am saying that the best reason to search is to find the truth, not to prove that others are wrong.