What If I Have Doubts? #2
If you’re wondering why, we’re talking about doubt because doubting at one time or another seems to be our common lot. As I’ve read and studied and thought and prayed I’ve decided that it is a part of God giving us free will. Exercising it, we are always asking, “Do I go this way or that way? Do I believe this or not?”
There’s no way Noah built the ark – 120 year undertaking, never rained before, convincing not one person outside his family to join him – without some doubt.
Comedian Bill Cosby, despite being known now in a negative light, did a comedy routine where God and Noah talked about the ark and the rain and the flood. God said to him, “Noah, build and ark.” Noah replied, “Right, what’s an ark?”
The reason why that smacks our funny-bone is we feel that’s exactly what we would have thought. And surely after chopping and hammering and preaching a few years, we would have said, “God, are You sure?”
Frederick Buechner, a retired U. S. Navy Chaplain, wrote in Wishful Thinking, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith that keep it awake and moving.”
Three Categories of doubts:
(1) Intellectual – questions about facts:
Is the Bible really the Word? Is Jesus really Son of God? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? (Dan Brown, Genesis’ “days,” dinosaurs creation and extinction).
(2) Spiritual – personal questions about personal spiritual progress:
Am I really a Christian? Do I truly believe? Why can’t I pray? Why can’t I shake my guilt? Why am I not growing faster? Why can’t I forgive?
The devil plants doubt by accusing us – he is the “accuser of the brethren” (Reve-lation 12:10). God also accuses, but only to restore; Satan accuses to destroy – he’s whispering to some right now, “Humph, you? A saint? You’re kiddin’?
(3) Circumstantial – from life happening in a chaotic, fallen world… “whys” make faith foggy:
“Why did my child die? Why did my marriage fail? Why can’t I find a mate? Why did my friend stab me in the back? Where was God when my uncle abused me? Why did God make me so that I’m always miserable?”
We might try to sweep this kind of doubt under the rug… even put down Christian friends who struggle with them, but if they are not faced, they become spiritual doubts that become intellectual doubts… and faith may be lost.
Reasons Why We Doubt
#1 – Difficult Circumstances.
John (TB)’s prophet career ended in disaster. He preached fiery, bold, and in-your-face sermon… exactly what needed to be preached to whoever, whenever, even a king with a Jezebel-like queen… and got jailed. Can you hear Him talking to God: “This doesn’t square, God. I’ve been faithful. If You’re the God of all comfort, if You're the Christ that cares, why am I in this dungeon?”
Same with us… we think God’s holding us and will take care of us. But something goes wrong and doubt comes: a child dies or leaves the faith, we lose a mate or parent or dearest friend. Our health fails: cancer, heart attack, crippling acci-dent… and we say, “God, is this the way You care for someone You love?”
#2 – Worldly Influences. John got confused about Jesus because what Jesus was doing didn’t jibe with what most people (and John) expected the Messiah to do and be (nowhere near being an earthly king).
Same with us! We can’t figure out what God is up to and what we do see puzzles us. We’re conditioned by the world’s presuppositions about Him… “If God is a God of love, why is the world messed up (evil)? If He loves everyone, why do children die? Why is there starvation, war, hurricanes, earthquakes, plagues?” And they challenge us… “Why doesn’t your loving God stop it all? How can He send people to Hell?” What they’re saying is… “Here’s the kind of God we want. If your God will start to act like we think He should, we’ll believe.”
Honestly, God has left us with only partial answers because H situated us on the outside looking in… “My ways are not your ways and my thoughts are not your thoughts…” (Isaiah 59:1-2). And we’re called to have faith! John’s question came from him not having enough information, no firsthand look; so his faith-boat rocked a bit. Ditto for us. God hasn’t told us all there is to know and we’re left to simply trust.
But Our God Is Always Good
The Bible shows us great doubters becoming unshakable believers because work-ing through doubts produces rock solid faith. Our great God “[fits] everything into a pattern for good…” (Romans 8:28). We’ll hold no belief more firmly than one we once doubted. That doubt makes faith stronger should give us all hope.
Be sure you hear this: the fact that you’re in a struggle with doubt means that you’re still square in the middle of God’s care and concern; He never throws any-one who’s seeking Him away. We can come to Him with doubts, skepticism, un-belief, hard questions, uncertainty, anger, even sinful habits. God has given us the gift of wondering and questioning… we can wonder and question away.
Suggestions for Handling Our Doubt:
Doubt is not sin. Its resolution often produces spiritual growth. But unaddressed, it is quickly dangerous. Think Judas, the betrayer… What we do with our doubts matters. We can’t let them become dead ends. Instead, walk through doubts to get to God’s promises. Some suggestions:
Repent. “But wait, you said doubt is not sin.” True, but we can repent of thinking in the wrong way. “Repent” means simply to have a change of heart (thus direc-tion). When doubting, we must learn to think the other direction. Jesus said that: “After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee and told people the Good News from God… ‘The right time is now here. God’s kingdom is very near. Repent, and believe the Good News!’” (Mark 1:14-15).
Get Help: John did. He sent disciples to get answers... from Jesus! He got Hea-ven’s wisdom. God is a big God who can handle our doubts. He runs the universe without any help from us… our questions won’t upset Him. So tell Him, ask His help. Perhaps He’s providentially placed a strong-in-the-faith Christian friend close by for your use to strengthen your faith. So call on a Christian friend who has godly insight; ask them to walk a while beside you, maybe even take part your load. Borrow some faith. Kids do that all the time with their parents. Think of someone you admire, “If they’re sure, there’s good reason for me to be, too.”
Act on Your Faith, Not Your Doubts: Noah did! He looked at a cloudless sky on one hand and a faithful God on the other and said, “I’m off to chop some wood.” Abraham did! He looked at a son he loved more than life on one hand and a God-friend who had carried him through a thousand troubles on the other and said, “Sarah, Isaac and I have something to do… we’ll be back in a few days.” Moses did! David did! Joshua did! Daniel did! Am I saying they never doubted? That’s highly unlikely. But they saw a trustworthy God, shelved their doubts, and acted on their faith. We can, too.
If you have to shelve faith or doubt, shelve doubt. Why would we throw faith away when we hit a dark valley? The triumph of faith is not to have no doubts but instead to be willing to trust Him in the deepest, darkest valley… So we may walk through “valleys of the shadow” but we cannot let ourselves die there. When our head is clear about all God has done to bless us, we will doubt our doubts. Faith is as the absence of doubt but a means to put it on the shelf. And we’re in light again.
Think About What We Know Is True: Paul said, “Christ is the one who gives me the strength I need to do whatever I must do” (v 13). Surviving many “dark val-leys” he still triumphantly shouted, “But in all these troubles we have complete victory through God, who has shown his love for us” (Romans 8:37). And, “I know the one in whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day” (1 Timothy 1:12). Some things we think, some we hope, some we know. If doubting, think about what you know!
What do I know is true? While I know less “truth” now than I did 40 years ago when I had everything totally figured out (life usually takes us down a peg) – so my core theology – the essentials for me – has shrunk. But what I believe, I be-lieve with deep conviction you won’t be easily shake: I know… God is God and I’m not, He’s sovereign over every detail of my life, I can trust Him completely in good times or bad, He is always good to His children (by His definition of “good”), Jesus purchased my redemption and rolled my burden of sin away, the Bible is true, life is short, every day’s a gift, people matter more than things, fame and fortune are fleeting, and this world is not my home.
Doubt is evidence of growth. The closer we get to God, the more questions we add to our list to ask when we all get to heaven. One guy said, “If you don’t have doubts about the Bible, you’re not reading it.” Do you wonder of your forgive-ness… being a “new creature” when some “old creature stuff” is in you?
Belief is as simple as trusting and obeying. Proverbs 3:5-6 is full of commands: “Trust with all your heart… don’t lean on your own understanding… in all ways see Him and give Him due honor.” And the promise to grab onto and never let go is “He will direct your path.” What Jesus told Thomas was simple as could be, “…stop doubting and believe” (John 20:27). Some don’t come to Jesus because they think they have to come without a single doubt. But faith is willing to stand on promises when we can’t see, feel, or explain.
Aren’t you thankful that we remember John (TB) not as a doubter but as a martyr?