Tuesday, November 04, 2008

Book Review: Faith & Doubt, by John Ortberg


My pastor is always quoting books by author John Ortberg, so I was really excited when I was offered the chance to review his latest, Faith & Doubt. The topic was especially intriguing because it’s one that often stays in the closet. Most of us have probably had doubts about God at one point or another in our lives, but we feel ashamed about lacking faith and often keep it to ourselves, hoping it will pass. But, in Faith & Doubt, Ortberg assures us that doubt is not the opposite of faith. In fact, it can actually strengthen our relationship with God! Ortberg admits that even he has struggled with faith in God. And great Christians like Billy Graham and Mother Teresa have also expressed feelings of doubt. It’s comforting to know that faith and doubt can walk hand-in-hand. So, this book answers the question: “Is it possible that doubt might be one of those unwelcome guests of life that is sometimes, in the right circumstances, good for you?”

John Ortberg is a master at using real-life stories and down-to-earth writing to explore the religious issues that we all grapple with. He tackled materialism in When the Game Is Over, It All Goes Back in the Box. He spoke of fear and courage in If You Want to Walk on Water, You’ve Got to Get Out of the Boat. And he wrote about having an intimate relationship with God in God Is Closer Than You Think. But, of all these issues, I think that doubt is a “biggie” in today’s world. It’s far too easy to wonder if God exists when we see tragedy and violence all around us. If there is a God, we tell ourselves, why doesn’t he stop all the awful things from happening? Why did he let a child die, or a house burn down, or a father of six lose his job? These are questions that all of us grapple with. It’s easy to have faith when things are going well, but much more difficult to hang onto when they aren’t.

Of course, doubt isn’t always okay. It can have very negative and serious consequences. “I often find myself wishing, given the damage that doubt can do, that God would just remove it,” writes Ortberg. “But he generally doesn’t. Maybe he has a reason not to.” Ortberg knows that God can use doubt to help us grow. “Sometimes doubt can do good in us. It can motivate us to study and learn. It can purify false beliefs that have crept into our faith. It can humble our arrogance. It can give us patience and compassion with other doubters. It can remind us of how much truth matters.”

In Faith & Doubt, Ortberg doesn’t shy away from the tough issues, but addresses them head-on. He answers the questions we have about belief and comforts us in our doubts. And, in closing, he explains why, despite his doubts, he chooses to believe. If you’ve never once in your life doubted God’s existence or promises, then feel free to skip this book. But if you are like most of us with imperfect faith, Faith & Doubt is eye-opening and highly recommended.

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