Can Unbelief be Good?
That's the big "no, no" in the Christian system: unbelief. The Bible condemns it. Preachers warn against it. C.H.Spurgeon starts his August 27 devotional thought in Morning and Evening with "Strive with diligence to keep out the monster of unbelief." After reading some of the contributions from my atheist and agnostic friends, I too ask, "What's the difference between the unbelief forbidden in the Scriptures, on the one hand, and sincere inquiry into the love of God, the reliability of the Bible and the reasonableness of the Christian faith, on the other? Is there a difference? Or have I and millions of fellow believers been brainwashed, as our atheist and agnostic friends charge?
What does the Bible condemn?
Here is a typical biblical text on unbelief. "Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called 'today,' that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin." (Hebrews 3:12-13)
Several observations: 1) this is addressed to folks who have already entered the faith. That's why they are called "brothers"; 2) "unbelieving" is coupled with "evil", indicating that the unbelief contemplated is not honest inquiry but rebellion against the living God; 3) finally, while unbelief is a personal and individual failure, it's the responsibility of the whole believing community to address it in a timely way.
God expects human beings created in his own image to think for themselves. He made us to do so. He's given us plenty of evidence to ponder. "The heavens declare the glory of God." (Psalm 19:1) God invites human beings to seek him. "I love those who love me, and those who seek me diligently find me." (Proverbs 8:17) Seeking requires that you investigate the data.
That investigation, when fueled by hunger to know and to love One who is larger then us, God honors. Down deep every human being has that hunger. But it often goes unsatisfied because worldly junk food has provided a temporary relief.
That's reasonable, no?
Every parent knows the difference between a sassy challenge to his or her authority and a youthful curiosity about why things are the way they are. Would you charge the parent who doesn't tolerate the sassy challenge with brainwashing the child? Don't think so.
God too recognizes the difference between a sassy challenge to his authority and a healthy curiosity about how He has set life up. So why is an evil, unbelieving heart (read "sassy challenge") so offensive? It's an affront to the very nature of God and a rejection of his love. Is there anything that hurts more than seeing your acts of love trampled under foot by those you care about?