O Me of Little Faith

O Me of Little Faith

Adam Ellis: Hoping That It’s True

When I decided to start this guest-blogger series — which I’m calling “Voices of Doubt” and which features friends of mine telling their own stories of doubt — I thought immediately about asking Adam Ellis to participate. Matthew Paul Turner introduced us last year, and what I like about Adam is that he’s honest and forthright about his questions even though he’s also a pastor.

As in: the guy who preaches on Sunday.

Despite a busy week (see below), Adam was kind enough to contribute this week’s guest post. In terms of bio, he comes from a background in youth ministry and currently pastors a church in South Carolina. He’s also a theologian and adjunct religion professor, which means he’s got credentials. More than I have, for sure.


adamellis.jpgMy friend Phil’s father died this week. His dad had been having a few
health problems; still, Phil is shocked. When he called to tell me the
news, I didn’t know what to say, so I just offered a few of the
sentiments that most of us say when friends lose people they love. Phil
was gracious toward my sputtering clichés of comfort. 

“It’s still surreal,” he said. 

I asked him if he had told his kids.

I told them.” He went on to tell me that his nine-year-old daughter was
devastated, and that she’d been inconsolable since hearing the news.
When he told his 4-year old son, his face turned sad for a moment, but
then he asked his father if he could play Lego Star Wars on his Wii. 

guess in some ways,” I said, “it would be great to not fully understand
what’s happening.” And then I added, “Or at least it would be good to
believe all of the things we say about death without any of the cynicism.” 

was quiet for a moment. “You know,” he said, “These are the times when
people like you and I hope that what we say really is true.” 

me, Phil’s statement — an emotional mix of belief, doubt, questions,
uncertainly, and hope — define faith perfectly. I wouldn’t have thought
this five years ago. That’s because I was under the impression that
doubt, uncertainty, and questions were antagonists of faith, and not a
part of its definition.

I was never explicitly taught that, but it was very easily assumed.
I’ve been a follower of Jesus for most of my life. My father’s a
preacher and my mother is a social worker with a private Christian
organization. For more than ten years, I’ve worked as a minister to
youth and college students, and now I’m the preaching minister for a
church in South Carolina.

For a long time, it felt like I was almost
hard-wired for faith, which was a good thing, since I was one of those
people who believed that pastors and ministry folk weren’t supposed to
doubt. I was under the impression that it was my job to believe and
always be available to help other people believe.

But that was a fairytale.  

you might imagine, I was shocked when I started wrestling with doubt.
And even more shocked that it didn’t go away. Questions began rolling in
like storm clouds. Oddly enough, it wasn’t my reading of some of the
better arguments against Christianity, faith and God by people like
Richard Dawkins and Christopher Hitchens that cracked my armor of
certainty. Neither was it problems stemming from new scientific
discoveries, or contradictions in the Biblical text that caused the walls
of faith to begin to crumble.

I’m not an “every-thing
must be interpreted literally” fundamentalist or a “everything must be
interpreted as meaning-filled myth that never actually happened”
liberal. I appreciate that there are different genres of literature in
the Bible, and have an appreciation for nuance and context. I don’t
need to book of Job (which is mostly written as Hebrew poetry) to be a
literal, historical event to believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

think the real problem is that I had a very wrong idea of what faith is
in the first place. Many of us speak as if “faith” is the opposite of
“doubt”;  a synonym for “certainty.” However, I am learning that faith
and doubt are like eternal dance partners, bound together in a dance
that is somehow made more graceful, more meaningful, and more beautiful
because it is these two who are dancing.

Faith is relational, and as
such, is related to words like trust, confidence, hope, and commitment. There can really be no faith in certainty, because no
trust is necessary.  Everyone has faith, to some degree or another, in
some-THING (or another). It’s a question of what you trust in; what you
hope for; what you have confidence in. 

I’ve begun to believe that
certainty is an illusion that we are tempted to create for ourselves. 
It’s a smokescreen whereby I get to label myself as “just being
objective,” and render anyone else who doesn’t agree with me as either
“the enemy,” or “too stupid to see what’s so obviously true.” It’s the
way that we justify worshiping the idol of our own understanding, and
feed our obsession with being “right.”

At the end of the day though,
it’s a self-defeating ploy that we use to avoid the risk involved in things
like trust, hope, love, commitment, and faith. I’m becoming more
comfortable admitting that to say I have “faith” is to admit to

“I hope that what we say really is true.”

In fact, I’m
betting my life on it.


Thank you, Adam. Follow Adam on Twitter and on Facebook. And check out his blog at

Previous posts in the “Voices of Doubt” series…

Nicole Wick on Breaking Up with God
Anna Broadway on Doubt and Marriage

Comments read comments(14)
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like a child

posted July 30, 2010 at 11:10 am

Great post – I’m curious though. You say it wasn’t the new atheists or scientific discoveries that triggered the doubt. Would you elaborate what did contribute to sparking the doubt? Personally, I’ve always lived with intellectual doubts (I used to be in science), but it was “humanity” that triggered my worst episode of doubt…not seeing evidence of Christ in Christians.

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Adam Ellis

posted July 30, 2010 at 11:40 am

like a child,
I actually had a paragraph about that in an early draft of this post. I don’t mean that I necessarily discount scientific discoveries or that the New Atheists don’t have any good criticism. However, all of these things require interpretation, and interpretation is always subjective.
But, let me address your real question. I have certainly seen a great deal of ugliness perpetuated by Christians, and I have seen church politics that would make you sick to your stomach. Admittedly, it has at times caused me to consider walking away. It has even caused me to question the existence of a God who would allow such things to be perpetuated in his name. I’m sure all of this contributes to the doubt we are discussing here. However, I think the biggest problem stemmed from the (wildly popular) misunderstanding of the nature of faith I held to. As secure as that concept feels at first, it breeds an ugly arrogance that both betrays the very Gospel it professes, and it is inherently unsustainable. “Faith” becomes religious peer pressure to maintain a confident front of certainty. In this scenario, doubt becomes an insidious cancer that eats a person from the inside out. The suffer in silence because they believe that above all things, the important thing is to maintain the front. To me, this is tragic on so many levels, and completely unnecessary.
That’s part of the reason I’m such a fan of Jason’s book. It brings it out of the dark, and lets people know that they are not alone. I think its a catalyst that can help people move to a much healthier, humble, vibrant, and life-giving faith.

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posted July 30, 2010 at 1:14 pm

Hello I am an awearness type of man. The comments that I make I like knowing were there going an for what perpus.!
I am slow I know but I’am not in any hurry.
Or should I say slow learner an you may call it some big words like (edu.) or (Org).I like it simple. I say Iam’ lost. Hoping that it’s true finding my way. In this comment I have not (ID) my self an only Beliefnet has my (Info). I’am hoping that it’s true.
An if I don’t tell you, any one could use this comment for there own. I will keep it that way for a perpus!.
I fill I’am being used. am I wrong or am I right?.
I am a Father if I’am Lie’d to I will find out.! My Sons have been told if you Lie I will find out!.
Hope with out Faith has no guildents and can go anywere or anyway.
Now the first work, the keyword here is (rightusness).
Seek you first the Kingdom of Heaven an His rightusness and all thes things will be added to you in, truth an rightusness
Hoping that it’s true, in faith the rest will be added to you.
Now do the first work. The rest is just added to you, God is True Jesus is Rightusness!.
Do for me what I would do for you. Can I trust you an can you trust me in faith hoping that it’s true!. Hoo am I can your heart tell you!.
just a,man (no doubt)

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posted July 30, 2010 at 3:13 pm

After Writing my comment the first one being strest by deffrent comment programs.
I went back readover your page again to find you friends Father died. now may be a good time to clear that up rejoyice at a death cry at a birth why was this said in the Bible Jesus is a very understanding Lord an don’t forget very foegiving know’s his heart
It’s the Kids that hurt his hardship is over there’s has just begun. that why! rejoyice at death cry at birth
Lets do this I am a father I will do this for a father because he would do this for me. tell Phili in a father like way tell the Kids your Grandfather went to do greater things one he got closer to your heart an if he’s that close he will here you anytime always remeber that how much closer can you get if he’ in you heart!. You will miss the way he was not the way he is!.
Fore the Kid’s I am sure thay will understand.

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posted July 30, 2010 at 7:55 pm

I am not the enemy Adam. But I may be the Stupid one. To me stupid means unlearned or unawear, not trained like “your stupid when it comes to this” or more kindly “your not so smart at this”.
If I told you I have learned the “Truth” would you say I am stupid “at what”(your ways) not the (truth)if I can prove the (truth)
You would be wrong unless you did know the truth for certainty and you had better know it. you see that’s the truth when you can prove it.
Test this the Kids of Phili’s if an when there Father tells them about what I said in the 2nd comment “I am sure thay will understand”.
Ask them (do you understand) I won’t wait for there reply but if there reply is “yes” then the words (I am sure) would be the same as certainty I would have known the truth before thay told you.
An if thay say “no” I need to repent forgive me Lord I know not the truth!. Were is the enemy if the reply from the Kids is “no” (thay didn’t understand) I would have lied I did’n know the truth. By faith I step out on trust thay would say yes when ask.
Now lets move on, Jesus rose from the dead. first you have no prove he did not raize from the dead no remains. But you do have the prove that he did. He show him self to the people after death and to prove that, He said to one of his follers put your hand in my wound the gash the sword made an see for your self if it is me flash and bone.
His remains is not dead. Untell you can show the remains of his body He is not dead. Because the Foller did not do what he ask the truth Jesus know already he would not. Therefore henderd the prof an would you have beleaved his foller this is him. In this day an age.
You have mans teaching not God’s my peole pearish because of there eenerents. same as stupid My 1st comment “if you lie I will find out!” faith (I will find out) truth stepping out on trust you won’t lie being eenerent speekup stupid don’t know are the same as eenerent.
So much more sleeping remember unawear his follers sleeping unawear after three times sleep on he said. your following a Church I say listen to Jesus an learn and you won’t hafe to bet your life on it He’s already done it an He will prove that when he get here!.

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posted July 31, 2010 at 6:59 am

Great post!
I often get frustrated by the idea that Christians must decide their beliefs and hold to them unwaveringly. Frustrated, not surprised. But, the idea that you must agree, 100 percent with whatever it is you’re “supporting” actually coincides with the current American way of life very well. Have you noticed that in politics, people will line themselves up with all kinds of ideas that they would have never bought standing separately, for the sake of a label? The belief that we can’t question God is not biblical at all. Questioning God looks like a pretty regular occurrence in the Bible. In fact, it seems to me that it might even be something that God invites since it changed is mind about something on more than one occasion. I often see American adamantly claiming their beliefs about all kinds of things and scrambling to skew new facts to match those beliefs because saying that we’ve changed our minds about something is admitting we didn’t know everything to begin with.. As if people would be shocked by that realization..
The idea that we don’t continue to grow and learn and get new information that could change our minds, in my estimation is a lethal idea, a distraction at best. For our faith and our country. I like to hope that ideas are changing because people like you that are saying, “this is what I think, this is why I think it, and I believe in it so much that I’m putting my hope in it and I hope that I’m not wrong”.
Thank you you for being open, honest and real!

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posted July 31, 2010 at 8:21 am

great read. good to know that even preachers have their doubts. as a child a had faith, but growing up and seeing the world, learning science and engineering, meeting my wife and having my belief’s challenged by hers has eroded it away. I’m now at a place where I’m hoping, but that’s about all I’ve got. every bible lesson I hear I immediately discount and can’t help it.
thanks for sharing.

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posted July 31, 2010 at 11:27 am

Hello nice to meet you. I am the aweaerness type of man from early comments. An I am sure my desplay tell you, Rodger hi.
I am not a smart man in this World. My spelling is not much, an my writing to.
I can’t write Books because it would take to long. I would hafe to learn how to first. an if I did that I would forget what I wanted to write in the first place.
I would have something new to write. A change (not the way it was) is not a bad thing it just new(added to you).
Could you beleave this if I said now that I at’list think I know the truth.
My thauts are on you all, and not me. Therefore I do very little for me an as much as I can for you all.
But if I am stupid at your needs. I can do very little or nothing. Did Jesus come to teach or to learn?. I could say he came to learn an to finish his Fathers Works,(to put right that witch was wronged in the beging) would I be wrong in saying that.
Remember you must have prof (truth) that it’s wrong or right before you reply otherwise it eather your hope, faith, trust by your belef(what yuo have learned).
To reply to your comemt. Questioning God I think is not wrong! But to reject it is wrong. ask an you shell recive knok it shell be open seek you shell find. How can you do any without question. Fait, trust,hope is the same as (knok,ask,seek). Exsample (knok) on God’s door,(ask) what you will,(seek) what God told you. (Prayer) or (serve).
Can you serve God an not know what he wants?. I don’t think so. payer is the same as asking God, serve is the same as do what God told you. So overall you are close to God base on your comment!. There so much more that it would take a lifetime to talk about it all.
My comments is truly about this page “Hoping that it’s true” I did learn the truth!.

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posted August 3, 2010 at 12:19 am

Very good comments, Adam. I have always been afraid to acknowledge any doubt because most people will look at you with “shock” and “eyes popping”… though they have NEVER had any doubt themselves. As you so accurately state…There is no faith with certainty. Therefore,if we are to have faith…there has to be a place for doubt to exist.
I always enjoy reading your perspectives. Thanks!

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posted August 4, 2010 at 5:15 am

Melvin Udall (As Good As It Gets) would have said, “This stuff is pointless.”
Adam said, “It has even caused me to question the existence of a God who would allow such things to be perpetuated in his name.”
I would like to see a shred of evidence where God has allowed or prevented anything.
The Catholic Church has been allowing pedophiles within its ranks, probably even before it became known as “The Catholic Church.” I’m sure the Bible has something to say about what God thinks of pedophiles. Is there a shred of evidence that God has intervened? I don’t know of any. To say that God is responsible or that God didn’t do His duty is ludicrous. That is an easy way to lay the blame in the wrong place. Man is responsible for these horrendous acts, and man hasn’t done his duty to stop them. Let us not lay the blame on a convenient, fictitious God.
For many centuries Christian Churches have been condoning the slaughter of tens or maybe hundreds of millions of innocent “heathen savages,” in the name of God. Their policy has been, if you are not a believer in Christ or a believer in the god from which Christ emanated, then you are not worthy of living. The Bible says, “Thou Shalt Not Kill.” Not once has God stepped in to stop Christian Churches from carrying out these horrific genocides. The churches are to blame, because they looked the other way and generally stood to gain monetarily or politically from these acts. If God really existed, His mighty hand would have reached down and struck every last one of those murderous church officials dead in an instant. It didn’t happen because God is a convenient tool of the church, used to control the ignorant masses. God’s laws don’t apply to church officials, but only to the ignorant masses who blindly obey their “Laws of God,” fabricated mostly by above-the-law church officials who too often ignore them themselves.
The Jewish Holocaust is a more recent example of “God’s failure to do the right thing.” The Catholic Church in Germany was extremely powerful before and during the holocaust. Everyone in Germany then and even now paid taxes to The Catholic Church. And the Catholic Church did almost nothing to change Hitler’s course of action. God did nothing! Why? Because God is a convenient tool of the Church to be used as it sees fit to control the ignorant masses.
As I’ve written before, every living creature, plant or animal, must eventually die. Death is a natural part of living and should not be feared or mourned, but anticipated and celebrated. To fear dying is to degrade the quality of life before and after death. Sorrow over the loss of loved ones should be a natural part of death, but death should not be cause for extended grief. Man is likely the only animal who associates some form of “nothingness” with death, though many animals demonstrate fear as a survival mechanism. Man’s fear of this sudden switch from consciousness to eternal nothingness may be the primary reason religions and gods that promise eternal life after death are so popular. “Our conscious souls must leave our morbid corpses and travel to a heavenly place where they may carry on eternally in our peaceful dream state.” That’s wonderful.
Anyone who has been knocked out or has been put under for an operation should know what death will be like. In the two cases mentioned, in one moment you are in a dream state and in the next moment you are waking up. Between those two moments may be seconds or minutes or hours or days or months or even years. Your brain may have been functioning during that time, but you remember nothing. Death simply extends the gap to eternity. Before being knocked out or before the operation or before death, you may have been in extreme pain, but during the event you no longer feel anything, because you are no longer conscious. That alone should be reason enough to rejoice. So what happens when a person dies? The “soul” goes poof and the decaying corpse is eventually recycled to other life forms. The End.
Another reason we find the prospect of death so unbearable is that we believe we deserve to live forever, even though we know that is impossible. Anyone who believes they deserve to live forever should watch the hilarious movie, “Death Becomes Her.” As I said before, death should be a good thing, an untimely death maybe not quite so good. “Why should my child or myh grandchild die before me? Those were his best years and he didn’t deserve to die so soon.” We live in a world of chance. Nothing is preordained. Some of us will live a hundred years, others a few seconds or minutes. But the notion that we deserve to live is flawed. No one deserves to live. The world is populated by a few billion people, each who happened to be conceived at some instant and born at other instant, and each who will die at some instant. This process will continue as long as Earth remains habital or until humans become extinct, the latter being quite possible, considering that millions of animal species have become extinct.
In that event, will the last one of us please “put out the cat” and “turn out the light?” Thank you and have a nice day.

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posted August 4, 2010 at 8:37 am

Once I was confused as heck; fortunately I got over it. Others weren’t so fortunate.
For years and years as I was growing up, I learned in church that God created Earth in six days and rested on the seventh. And, as I recall, Earth was at the center of Heaven and it wasn’t very old. If that is the case, how long did it take God to make the known universe we live in? Scientists say the universe contains about 100,000,000,000 galaxies and each galaxy contains about 100,000,000,000 stars, which means that He would have had to make about 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars. Since a star like our sun is much, much larger than Earth, let’s assume it would have taken Him about a year to do that, because He doesn’t work on Sunday, obviously. On the other hand, scientists are saying the universe is about 13,750,000,000 +-170,000,000 years old, which means that He would have had to make those 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars at a blistering rate, and He would have had no time to rest on Sundays. Furthermore, assuming that each star has an average of 10 planets, He would have had to produce about 100,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 plants too! An amazing feat. Not to mention the 10,000,000,000,…,000,000,000,000 astroids and dust particles thrown in for annoyance. I definitely get tired thinking about how difficult that must have been.
When I was growing up, science fascinated me. One of my early encounters with science (after learning how Earth and Heaven had come into existence of course) was reading the book, “Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea.” by Jules Verne. Then came John Hutchins Goddard’s rocket science and the space program. I’m not sure exactly when I learned that the Sun and all the stars really did not orbit around Earth and that Earth was not at the center of our heavens, but maybe it was when I had to learn the names of all those planets orbiting around the Sun, and Earth was one of them.
I was also fascinated by biology and accidentally came across some work by Charles Darwin and other scientists who were contradicting other “facts” I had learned in church. Fortunately my attention deficit in church was more severe than my attention deficit in school, and fortunately my school hadn’t yet been totally destroyed by creationists, so my earlier Sunday School facts started to take a backseat to my later grade and high school facts.
But for a large portion of our country this did not happen. Developing children’s brains become wired in early years through repeated exposure to events and “facts” presented to them. Depending on the intensity and duration of the various learning encounters, some information may be supplanted by other. In my case my interest in science trumped theology, and God lost out. The Bible became a hodgepodge of meaningless black and red numbered verse that I was happy to forget when given the first opportunity. I was one of the fortunate. According to a recent Pew survey, about twenty percent of the American public believe that man was created a mere 5,000 or so years ago and that man evolved from apes over a period of a million years or so. This represents a mass confusion of contradicting information coming from churches and schools. How can one be created and evolve at the same time? Perhaps the public believes conservatives and republicans were created, liberals and democrats evolved, and independents were created and evolved.
Maybe Armageddon or the Rapture will straighten things out. We’ll see.

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Rodger D

posted August 5, 2010 at 4:25 am

Roger Please blaming God for the acts of Man. I know your pain is with good intent!. I must tale you God is blind to it. One must tell God for him to know. I will no beleave the God look at such thing an I beleave that with all my heart no such thing would he have enter in at all. this is works of evil man but God is a just God prof is need aganist this evil thats why it come to pass. This building so called churches is just Buildings the spirit og God do’s not dewell there I an sure God is Love in the pureist way just ask Jesus Christ He will tell you that and there guilt will drive them to Hell sadly but true
And why do I say God is blind to it Jesus tells us about the blind man at birth this man see’s as God see’s before Jesus Healed him an the blind servent that was spoke about a blind man can only see what he put in his head if has never seen anything than what is he seeing?
I hope I have help you on this looking for your reply.

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posted November 12, 2010 at 3:14 pm

“At the end of the day though, it’s a self-defeating ploy that we use to avoid the risk involved in things like trust, hope, love, commitment, and faith. I’m becoming more comfortable admitting that to say I have “faith” is to admit to uncertainty.
“I hope that what we say really is true.”
In fact, I’m betting my life on it.”
That, to me, is a terrible understanding of the Faith. That’s what you think of it?
“I hope that what we say really is true.”
I’m very glad the apostles, prophets, church fathers, great theologians and founders of our beliefs didn’t share the view of “Well, sure hope it’s true.” My understanding of Scripture points to leads me to nothing less than absolute certainty in every regard. I’ve been through horrible, horrible times. My faith is what held my doubt in check and kept it from becoming this weight or in some cases badge of honor around my neck. Doubt is a natural flaw in humanity. Faith, contrary to what is said above, is NOT the partner of doubt. It is the remover of doubt.
I do not doubt in any sense the absolute certainty and truth that is the Word of God in any way, shape or form. To allow doubt that much a place in one’s life goes against the teachings of Christ. We are not to doubt. We are to walk in faith. When doubt rears its head, question it. Analyze what you’re doubting. Work it out. Then move on. Doubt is not a hallmark of faith.
Ask questions of God. Ponder things. But at the end of the day, rest in the certainty of God’s word given by faith. How are we to be a light in this world if the best answer we have for our beliefs is “I hope it’s true,”? The Sanctified life is not one of doubt and hope but absolute certainty through faith in God.

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posted February 17, 2013 at 7:24 am

What’s up, this is a very good article. And I really loved this article. I learned a lot. It was practical. Look forward to your new article, that I will keep eyes on.

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