The Role of Doubt in Faith

“For most people who reject Christianity, their reasons for doing so are not usually intellectual, they’re personal.”

The book of the Bible called “The Letter to the Hebrews” was written to people who were discouraged, to the point of giving up. The reason? Because they didn’t see anything happening. They had put their faith in a God who loved them and cared about them, in a God whom they had been assured would hear their prayers when they called out to him, and yet their lives were characterized by frustration and difficulty.

Probably they knew that the promised salvation didn’t guarantee them a problem-free life – but they wondered: If God is good and loves me, then why are these bad things happening to me? They were struggling with doubt. They were weary and discouraged. And because of this, some of them were thinking of backing off of Christianity, or even turning their backs on it completely.

I’ve heard it said before that for most people who reject Christianity, their reasons for doing so are not intellectual (like not believing in the supernatural), they are personal. Something happened in their life which deeply hurt them or which they are frustrated with and can’t understand, and they wonder: Why? If there’s a supposedly a God who loves and cares about me, then why doesn’t he do more to make my life better?

There is a powerful statement found in the short New Testament letter of Jude:

“Have mercy on those who doubt.” – Jude 1:22

You can see that this is how God treats people who doubt as well. Think of Gideon, whom God called to do something, but then Gideon asked for a sign. Once he got the sign, he still wasn’t satisfied, so he asked for another sign! Rather than being a good practice that we should follow, Gideon’s requests for signs was essentially a lack of faith in God and his word, and yet – God was merciful towards Gideon.

Doubt is an inherent part of faith. If we could see everything, there would be no need for faith, but because we don’t see, we must have faith, and implicit to faith is doubt. Doubt is not necessarily the enemy of faith, it can actually be something that strengthens faith – but, there are different kinds of doubt: there is an honest form of doubt, which wants to believe but honestly struggles with some questions, and there is a cynical kind of doubt which says, “Don’t bother me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind not to believe.”

In Timothy Keller’s book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, he writes:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own, but their friends’ and neighbors’.

But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternative beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A from a position of faith in Belief B. For example, if you doubt Christianity because ‘There can’t be just one true religion,’ you must recognize that this statement is itself an act of faith. No one can prove it empirically, and it is not a universal truth that everyone accepts. If you went to the Middle East and said, ‘There can’t be just one true religion,’ nearly everyone would say, ‘Why not?’ The reason you doubt Christianity’s Belief A is because you hold unprovable Belief B. Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith.

So, not only is doubt normal and even healthy (if handled properly), but all forms of doubt are based on faith and belief in something. May we be those who not only wrestle with questions and come to a stronger, more robust faith – but may we be those who doubt our doubts, and help others to do the same!

An Important Perspective on the Difficult and Mudane

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A while back a friend shared an interesting concept with me, which I have come to see applies to many areas of life. We were on our way to meet with a ministry that our church supports and we knew that there would be some hard conversations that needed to be had – some behaviors and attitudes which needed to be confronted and challenged, some practices that needed to be critiqued.

What my friend told me is that things like this are hard in the moment, but when you zoom way out, and you take the big picture view of what is going on, they are actually beautiful – and if you can keep that perspective, it helps you to do those things which are difficult in the moment.

The example he used was his family: if you look at any given moment up close, it probably doesn’t look that beautiful: dad is frustrated and scolding the kids for not doing their chores, mom is complaining that someone left their shoes in the middle of the floor, siblings are bickering with each other, the dog is barking and scratching up the glass door…  It’s all terrible, right?

Except it’s not. If you zoom out from the details of the moment and take the 30,00o foot view, where you see what is happening there as a whole, what you see is something beautiful: you see a group of people who are living together, who love each other and are committed to each other. And 20 years from now, it’s not going to be the siblings bickering that you’ll remember, it’s the big picture of the family that was together.

The point is: Even if in the moment it isn’t glorious and beautiful, in the big picture it is.

I think this can be applied to many areas in life. In general, creating things and building things is an inglorious process, but the big picture of the process itself, not only the finished product, can be a beautiful thing.

I know someone who felt a calling to move his family to a certain city a few years ago to plant a church. They were excited, they felt that they loved the culture of this city, that it would be a great fit for their family, and they expected that God would use them to birth a new church. After arriving in town and getting established, they set up the church’s website, affiliated with a group of churches, and announced a weekly meeting. They were prepared that it might be slow-going getting started, but they were excited when someone they had invited showed up for their Bible study. However, little encouragements like this became more and more rare. For two years they did everything they could think of to get this church started, the whole family was involved, and the husband worked also worked a full time job to pay the bills. After two years, they shut it down and moved back to where they had come from, disappointed and confused: had they not discerned God’s will correctly that this is what they were supposed to do?  Or was it possible that God had led them out there on purpose, knowing that the church plant would not succeed, in order to teach them something?

If you would have looked at any given moment, you might have seen intense discouragement. You might have seen kids complaining that their parents had taken them away from their friends back home to move to this place, and for what? To have a Bible study in their house that was poorly attended? You might have seen a marriage that was struggling under the stress and sadness of a dream that was not materializing. Nothing beautiful. Nothing glorious.

But when you take a step back and look at the big picture, you do see something that is beautiful. You see something that is downright glorious. You see a family together, taking a step of faith and following God; working together and serving together, praying together for God to work in a city and call people to new life. You see a man and a woman who are seeking God for direction, and asking Him to speak to them. You see a group of kids who have a mom and dad who are setting an amazing example for them of values which really matter… That is beautiful. That is glorious.

That isn’t to say that everything people do is glorious in the big picture. There are plenty of things which are not. But doing things that matter often consists of doing many things which aren’t glorious or pretty or fun. Sometimes they are messy or painful or even just super boring. This is true of business, school, relationships, marriage, and just about anything else that matters.

Keep that perspective in mind this week: try to see the big picture in the difficult moments, and let that encourage you to continue on working for things that matter.

Already…But Not Yet

On Sunday mornings at White Fields I have been teaching through 1 Samuel; this past Sunday I taught the second half of chapter 16, in which David has already been anointed king of Israel, but it will be another 15-20 years of hardship before David will sit on the throne of Israel as king.

David is king already, but not yet.

And this phrase, “already, but not yet” sums up so much of the Christian life. In Christ we are justified, glorified, made holy, seated with Christ in the heavenly places – already! But not yet.

Yesterday a great lady woman from church sent me this poem she wrote, inspired by Sunday’s message:

Sometimes life just seems to drag on
And sometimes we grow weary of the wait 
We want it all, we want it now
We shout out in whispered pleas 
Begging for speed, hurry please
But He answers not yet, He asks us to wait
Discouraged and let down we struggle on 
Don’t struggle on 
Don’t falter when you can run 
Don’t struggle when you have won
He has already won
It’s already done
We are waiting for an end that is already won
So hold on
Hold on to His promises 
Hold onto His love 
Hold onto the Hope that it’s already ready
It’s already done
But not yet

– Ryane Salazar