When James Ross Clemens fell seriously ill in London, some newspaper accounts confused him with his cousin Samuel Langhorne Clemens, better known as Mark Twain. The writer reportedly responded, “Reports of my death have been greatly exaggerated.”
God can say the same in America today.
In 1965, a Harris poll announced that ninety-seven percent of Americans believed in God. In a 2014 Gallup poll, the number had fallen to eighty-six percent. Twelve percent of Americans claimed they had no belief, while two percent had no opinion. Such surveys fuel the persistent claim that faith is in serious decline in the U.S.
However, these numbers don’t tell the whole story.
Frank Newport, Gallup’s editor-in-chief, tells Time magazine that responses to faith surveys reflect changes in our culture. There was a time when “Americans felt obliged to say they were religious, but nowadays a lot of those same people feel more comfortable telling the interviewer, ‘No, I don’t believe in God’, or ‘I have no religious affiliation.'” In other words, the data may not reflect a decline in faith but rather a culture in which it is easier to be honest about doubt.
Frank Newport’s father, Dr. John Newport, was my intellectual mentor in seminary. Dr. Newport earned two Ph.D. degrees and was the most brilliant scholar I have ever known. He taught me that no question is off limits to the Christian worldview. In fact, his magnum opus was titled Life’s Ultimate Questions.
As Dr. Newport would note, it is difficult to find someone in Scripture who doesn’t have questions for God. From Moses’ confusion at the burning bush (Exodus 3–4) to Jesus’ cry from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46), our greatest heroes of faith were honest about their struggles with faith.
So should we be.
The G7 foreign ministers are meeting today in Hiroshima, where Secretary of State John Kerry laid flowers at the site of the 1945 atomic bombing. Like many who fought in World War II, my father’s horrific experiences scarred him spiritually for the rest of his life.
If God is all-knowing, all-loving, and all-powerful, why is the world he created so wracked with conflict and bloodshed? We can blame evil and suffering on misused human freedom, but what about natural disasters? And why does God sometimes intervene miraculously, but other times he does not?
These are just some of my faith questions. What are yours? Doubts are evidence not of a lack of faith, but of its relevance. As Dr. Newport would say, the only wrong question is the one you won’t ask.
Your Father agrees: “Come now, let us reason together, says the LORD” (Isaiah 1:18). “Reason together” translates a Hebrew word meaning, “argue it out.” But as you argue with God, know this: faith in God, like any relationship, requires a commitment that transcends evidence and becomes self-validating. So examine the evidence, then step beyond it into relationship with your Father.
We will have questions about God until we stand before him one day (1 Corinthians 13:12). In the meantime, know that while you may have doubts about God, he knows all about you. And he loves no one in the world more than he loves you, right now.