When Evidence Conflicts With Our Beliefs

New York Times syndicated columnist David Brooks recently wrote about a social science research site that highlights human quirks. He referenced a study published in Psychological Science confirming classic research that has suggested the more people doubt their own beliefs the more they are inclined to proselytize in favor of them.  The study presented research subjects with evidence that undermined their core convictions. The subjects who were forced to confront the counterevidence went on to more forcefully advocate their original beliefs.

What does this mean for Christians? Does it mean that we must suspend our disbeliefs to believe? I suppose a good case can be made for that. After all, what is faith if it is not trusting in that which we cannot prove? But what about those who are devoted readers of scripture, who love the Christ passionately, who have a desperate need to know the God they worship? What are they to do with the haunting questions? The places where the Bible appears to contradict itself? The divergences in Christian dogma?

It may be comfortable to accept the articles of faith passed down through traditional authority, or nuggets of wisdom and of truth found in scripture, but that is not the way of seekers. Seekers emphasize the pursuit of truth as foundational to their belief system. But seldom do they see truth as objective or universal. More commonly they view truth as highly subjective – a view affirmed in the Japanese play Roshomon. In this crime mystery in which a woman was raped and her samurai husband murdered, four witnesses/participants in the crimes tell widely differing and contradictory stories, leaving truth in doubt.

Seekers may never rest comfortably in their faith or the challenges to it, but they may rest comfortably in this: Wrestling sincerely with the questions or with God is more likely to make you stronger than it is to break you as Jacob’s story attests. In Genesis 32, we find Jacob alone in the desert wrestling with a man throughout the night, refusing to quit until the man blessed him.  The man with whom Jacob wrestled relented at daybreak, unable to overpower Jacob and said to him, “Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and men and have overcome.”

What I love about my faith community at Blue Valley Christian Church is that it provides a safe, enriching environment for a seeker to wrestle with challenging questions. Here there is encouragement and perspective. As a seeker, there is comfort in knowing that I am not alone and that there are others with not only questions, but also wisdom and experience they so willingly share without casting judgment.

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