My Faith

Ask God the Hard Questions

Have you ever talked with someone that once had a strong faith, but now doesn’t seem to have any at all? I definitely have. When I first went off to college, I remember walking to and from Mass with a big group of friends every Sunday. As the year progressed, our Sunday Mass group began to shrink. When it came time to graduate, our original group had shrunk to just two or three people. Everyone had various reasons (or excuses) as to why they had stopped going to Mass. One reason stood out to me because it is one that I’ve heard many times from many different people: “I just didn’t feel like I was allowed to ask questions about God or religion. It always seemed that I should just have faith about the things I wasn’t sure about and, if I didn’t, it was because I didn’t love God enough.”

To be honest, I can’t blame them much for feeling that way. I’ve helped lead Bible studies, accompanied several people through RCIA, and taught religion classes. In all of these places, I’ve seen classmates and other teachers bristle up, get defensive, or become downright incredulous when a difficult question about the faith gets asked. Answers given in response are often not answers at all. “Ah, don’t worry about that. It isn’t that important in the grand scheme of things.” “You’ve just got to have faith!” “Have you looked at the world around us? How can you not be sure about the existence of God?” “Why are you here if you don’t believe?” “Have you tried reading the Bible more often?” The faithful people making these statements often have the best intentions at heart, but anyone on the receiving end of them wouldn’t be wrong to wonder if it was normal for them to have doubts or to feel like their question shouldn’t have been asked at all. In reality, doubt can be a wonderful thing and it isn’t something that should scare anyone. Sometimes, it can be a tool that God uses to encourage you to dive deeper, refocus on your relationship with Him, or to get you thinking about the hard questions you’ve always wanted the answers for.

Pope Francis once said that doubts can be a sign that, deep down, we want to know God better. He said, “We do not need to be afraid of questions and doubts because they are the beginning of a path of knowledge and going deeper; one who does not ask questions cannot progress either in knowledge or in faith.” If you need proof that this is true, just look at the classic story of doubting Thomas in John 20:24–29. Thomas’ doubt may have seemed harsh or unreasonable, especially since he was an apostle, but it drove him to explore and ask for more evidence. And, as soon as he did, Jesus invited him to touch his wounds and believe. His doubt led him to an explosive faith. In fact, as tradition has it, Thomas was so convicted of the reality of Christ’s resurrection by this evidence that he sailed all the way to India, a place he had never been to before, to tell everyone he could about it. Thomas even ended up being martyred for his faith – the ultimate statement of faith.

And, while we are talking about saints named Thomas, St. Thomas Aquinas, one of the Church’s greatest philosophers and theologians, once wrote that “to ponder with assent is distinct of the believer.” In other words, it is completely natural and normal for a person of faith carry a bit of curiosity and uncertainty around with them – even if they go to Mass all the time, pray every day, and carry a Bible everywhere they go. It is completely normal to wonder and think and explore. It is just something that a believer goes through. God doesn’t love you any less just because you have questions and are searching for answers. After all, God is truth. He certainly wouldn’t be afraid of anyone searching for the truth because chances are, if you find it, you are also finding Him. That being said, don’t be afraid to ask the hardest questions you have and don’t be afraid to search for answers. Just make sure to keep praying and keep asking for help. It may take a while, but God will guide you to where you need to be.

One thing that I think people often forget and struggle with is that faith itself isn’t a feeling or an emotion. Those things are sometimes symptoms that people of faith experience. They can accompany people while they pray, worship, or think of God. However, they probably won’t be there all the time. They certainly aren’t for me and they weren’t for many saints either. St. Ignatius of Loyola, for example, wrote of periods in his life of feeling completely isolated from God. In fact, these moments were so intense and painful that he called them “spiritual desolations.” However, despite feeling absolutely lost at times, St. Ignatius still had faith. This is because, in reality, faith is an act of the intellect and will. It is a choice. It is an action. It is a decision. You get to decide that you believe in the Catholic faith. You get to decide that you believe in Christ. No amount of feeling uncertain can take away your faith if you’ve made the decision that you believe. Take comfort in this!

If it makes you feel better, say the Nicene Creed in moments where you don’t feel God’s presence in your life or maybe before exploring a question about your faith that usually makes you feel a little bit anxious when it crosses your mind. The Nicene Creed is a profession of faith; an act of the will. Simple enough, right? If you need an easier one, read Mark 9:14 – 29. I will warn you – this passage is an exciting one! A man’s son has been possessed by a demon and has been rendered unable to speak. On top of that, he also keeps being driven to attempt to hurt himself. In desperation, the father asks for Jesus’ help and exclaims one of the shortest and most beautiful prayers that I’ve ever heard, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” In times of doubt and uncertainty, borrow this prayer. Jesus has answered it before and He will answer it again.

For more on this, check out “Confessions of an (Almost) Atheist.”

About the Author

Trenton Mattingly

I'm from Kentucky and am adamant that it is the best state. I'm really into Catholic theology, angry rock music, and libraries but (mostly) not at the same time. I was once called a bad influence for helping teach a Franciscan friar how to skateboard and am pretty bummed that there isn't a St. Trenton, but hope to change that one day.