Thinking Out Loud

May 14, 2020

Root Causes of Cynicism and Doubt

Filed under: apologetics, Christianity — Tags: , , , , , , , — paulthinkingoutloud @ 9:41 am

Any commitment to follow to Christ is going have its basis in the truth of the resurrection. We know anecdotally that other foundations, valid as they might be, can crumble when tested. Some objections to faith recur more frequently to others and can be (a) barriers to entry, in terms of making a first time decision to be a Christ follower, or (b) the roots of doubt or cynicism which can cause even a long time faith to collapse.

A quick online search reveals some of these:

  • The Genesis / Creation / Evolution question
  • The problem of evil and suffering in the world
  • Things done, both presently and historically by Christians, often in Christ’s name
  • Things done to them personally by Christians, aka the Church at large
  • The authority and reliability of the Bible
  • Philosophical issues concerning the very existence of God

But there’s one thing I never see listed, and I can name that song in two notes:

  • Unanswered prayer

I would say this is more the case with situation (b) above, but it could also apply to the person who in coming to Christ brings with them specific petitions or to use the theological term, supplications.

It’s also something I find myself struggling with more and more.

There. I said it.

I’m not alone in this. I think of people with whom I’ve interacted over the last few years, and the long-time, ongoing prayers of their hearts have been for a son, or daughter or spouse to come (or come back) to faith, and those prayers have not been answered.

I think of two people I know who have dealt for years with intense chronic pain who in one case can’t sleep at night because of it, and in the other case can’t think clearly when it strikes with intensity.

I think of people who ache to be chosen for some type of higher activity in their workplace, or in their church, but are always ignored or passed over in favor of someone else.

I think of two couples who have special needs adult sons, who believe in a God of the impossible when it comes to healing (or even improvement) but are also resigned to the unanswered nature of their requests.

Finally, I think of people for whom outsiders would say, ‘Their lives seem okay;’ who aren’t facing world-shattering challenges but just wish some of their circumstances could be different. They ask God to simply give them something to put in the ‘win’ column…

…Apologists can spend energy coming up with answers to the first six objections, but also need to have an answer to the seventh one, ‘Why aren’t my prayers answered?’

I think of one such apologist, now reaching the end of his ministry, who never neglected to see the pastoral question when facing doubters and skeptics; to see the question behind the question.

Those are often at the roots of a faith-shaking that the theoretical, intellectual, or philosophical questions can mask.

A mature faith will recognize that not every request is granted in the affirmative. But when prayer has been offered as a means of touching the heart of God concerning our life situations, we do sometimes long for a response.


For those of you reading this on a tablet or desktop or laptop, here’s a challenge. I usually try to illustrate blog posts with an image, but when I did an image search using the phrase “unanswered prayer” it turned up an interesting collection of quotations. I decided against using any of them, but they bear checking out if you have the time. Feel free to share one in the comments if it strikes you as significant.

8 Comments »

  1. let’s face it – when viewed on the micro level – the actions of God in this world can seem very random and arbitrary, especially regarding how God responds to prayer. I would go as far as to say that a close reading of scripture may even suggest that God does not respond to prayer unless the request was something that was already on some sort of divine to-do list. Most answered prayers in scripture seem to be inserted by the author as a way to make some theological point. Even Jesus says I only do what I see the Father doing.

    Of course Jesus also gives us another side to all of this in the encounter with the Canaanite woman, The Parable of the Persistent Widow, the Visitor at Midnight, and his prayer to be spared the cross even though he knew it was not going granted.

    If your faith requires neat systematic answers then the bible is probably not for you. Most of the people that I know that have moved on from the “why are my prayers not answered” stage have had some sort of actual life changing encounter with God that has served as their anchor amidst all of the doubt. One gal put it nicely when she told me that she doesn’t have a lot of faith in the bible or other Christians, but she trusts Jesus because he revealed himself to her when she needed him most and she cant ever deny that or explain it away.

    Comment by Jeff — May 14, 2020 @ 10:15 am

  2. The first trap in the KJV is Genesis 4:16-20 what wast that land of Nod to the east of Eden? And who were those people? They weren’t part of the Garden.

    Comment by truthspew — May 14, 2020 @ 11:44 am

    • I don’t want to go too far down the rabbit trail of discussing the individual objections here, but if you’re up for a good debate or discussion the Christianity page at Reddit is a great place to hang out.

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 14, 2020 @ 2:19 pm

  3. Whilst you listed some valid points as to why some people choose not to follow Christ, you missed a whole swath of other gods to follow.

    If you go to a used car sales showroom. You are spoilt for choice of different makes (religions) and models (denominations of those religions).

    If you go to a new car sales showroom, generally it’s just the one make, and a selection of models.

    Imagine if you will that I am an agnostic, but airing on the side of some greater power, it would be prudent not to just check out Christ, but Yahweh, Allah (pbuh), Shiva, Ganesh, and all the others, before making that lifetime commitment.

    Comment by spawneedave — May 14, 2020 @ 12:02 pm

    • I have heard stories of people who did this. They even put Christianity on the bottom of the list because it couldn’t possibly be that. Before too long they discovered they had reached the bottom of the list. But some would say I am biased!

      Comment by paulthinkingoutloud — May 14, 2020 @ 2:17 pm

      • Well stated Paul. Jesus – the only one of those listed who was man claiming to be God and is not resting in a tomb somewhere. That is more believable than evolution to me. Foolishness to the world? Sure… but if true, it’s the greatest truth that could be known and respected (and therefore, deeply investigated!).

        Comment by Live To Tell — May 15, 2020 @ 10:02 am

  4. Thanks for this article. I qualify as both guys in the chronic pain suffering category – when in pain, I don’t sleep most of the night AND am kinda nuts when ‘on pain’ or at the threshold of it. Prayer IS the difficultest (not a word, but let’s roll with it!) thing for me. But it’s not because of my doubt, strangely. Living with pain has brought with it much mercy from those around me through prayerful intent and follow through, interest in my well-being, care for me, acceptance … things that mean so much more than the pain itself! Prayer is difficult because the chronic pain floods my life with mental nonsense and irregularity. But that I’m not healed? I’m okay with that. As I said not so long ago, I am fine with a God who gives and takes away. Sometimes health is taken away to further us into more dependence on Him, deter us from pride and self-satisfying life-choices. I am prone to wander (Lord, I feel it!) but pain centres me, even if it is, “God, kill me now!” or “God, get me through this.” At least I find myself talking to him through the storm, ya know? There’s a new internet term that’s now entered modern lingo (watch for it – Oxford will list it by the year’s end!) it’s ‘Blursed’. It means blessed and yet cursed. As man, trapped in a frail, deteriorative-prone body, I am under Adam’s curse, but as a Christ-follower, I am delivered from the body of death (Romans 7) and have entered into new life while yet set inside this present one. The now and not yet – cursed in body, blessed in Spirit, grateful for both states because I know the outcome is heaven. Thank you Jesus for being my eternal Saviour. Amen!!!!

    Comment by Live To Tell — May 15, 2020 @ 10:09 am

  5. A mature faith will recognize that not every request is granted in the affirmative”
    Actually, what we see is a mature faith is simply lowering the bar from god is great, to maybe there is a god so I’ll hang with what I’ve been taught.

    Comment by jim- — May 17, 2020 @ 8:22 am


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