Last week I began a new 6-part series helping Christian students think through how to prepare for life at a big university. The series is based on a recent lecture I gave to the Regents School in Austin, Texas, where I laid out 6 principles designed to help rising college students think more clearly about what’s ahead. It’s also based on my book, Surviving Religion 101.
In the first installment my advice was simple: “Take this transition seriously.” Yes, students can be overly skeptical about their future college experience—what I call a “martyr complex”—where they begin to think everyone is out to get them. But the opposite is a danger too. Some students mistakenly shrug their shoulders as if this whole college thing is no big deal when it comes to their spiritual lives.
We now come to my second principle: “You Won’t Have All the Answers.”
As students jump into the intellectual fray at their university, it will quickly become clear that there are many questions they don’t know how to answer. Maybe it will be questions about God (if God is good, then why is there so much evil in the world?), or questions about the Bible (how can you believe in inspiration if there are contradictions in the Gospel accounts?), or even questions about science (hasn’t genetics proven that the human race did not originate with just two people?).
Whatever the question might be, it can be very uncomfortable not having an answer. The intellectual give-and-take of a big university environment can be intimidating. If you get caught on the losing end of an exchange with your professor or classmates (whatever that may mean) you might feel silly or embarrassed. It might make you withdraw from future conversations or even lead you to doubt what you believe.
But should a lack of answers lead to this sort of reaction? Not at all. First, students need to give themselves a break. Most eighteen-year-old Christians are not fully equipped to answer the barrage of complex (and aggressive) questions coming their way. In fact, most forty-year-old Christians are not equipped to answer aggressive questions about their faith.
Not being equipped doesn’t make Christianity untrue.
Second, not having an answer does not affect the truth of what a person believes. Your beliefs can be absolutely correct, even if you cannot explain or defend them.
Consider other beliefs you might hold. If asked whether you believe humans landed on the moon in 1969, I imagine you would say you do. But, if you happened to strike up a conversation with a moon landing denier (these folks are more common than you think) who shared all his well-crafted objections, and pressed you to defend your beliefs, you would probably have very few answers. But, surely you wouldn’t abandon that belief just because you were stumped! Your belief would still be correct.
The fact of the matter is that most things we believe are like this. We haven’t had time to personally investigate each and every belief we hold—instead, we rely on other authorities. A person might believe that E=mc2, that Constantine won the battle of Milvian bridge, and that their grandfather was born in George, Iowa. But, few could defend these beliefs on the spot if pressed by a determined critic who was eager to question everything.
Third, don’t confuse not having an answer with there not being an answer. The two are not the same. Even if you don’t have answers to difficult questions, that does not mean there are none. Indeed, you should know that most of the objections you will hear are old news (even though they are often presented like no one had ever thought of them before).
I have learned that lesson myself in many ways over the years. Every time I think I’ve come across an original objection, I typically discover it was raised long ago in the early church. And answered long ago in the early church.
If you are a rising college student, here’s the big point: you’re not going to be able to answer every objection to Christianity that you hear. And that’s OK. You just need to be ready for that. It’s not a reason to doubt your faith.
Instead, it should be a reason to study your faith—a reason to dig deeper into what you believe and why you believe it. And when that happens, you will find that the challenges you faced didn’t make you weaker, but instead they made you stronger.