Posted in doubts

Beating the Drums Once More…On Doubt

A one trick pony. A pounding of the same drum. The beating of a dead horse. The repeating of the same tale. Perhaps, that is what I am about to do today, but I cannot resist the urge.

A few posts back I wrote about what I called “that shadowy idol called doubt.” My reason for doing so was two-fold. On the one hand, I think that doubt is a good thing. On the other hand, we have a tendency of elevating our doubts to a height that they should never be placed.

Doubt a good thing…

Specifically, doubt can be good when it comes to our abilities. We ought never to think too highly of ourselves. We should never allow our knowing to puff us up with pride. And so, when it comes to human ability (what we can or cannot do) I think a little doubt is a good thing. It keeps us realistic. We all have limitations. We all have blind spots. We all have personal struggles.

In terms of our relationship with God through Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit, I think a little self-doubt teaches us to lean more heavily on the Rock of our Salvation. God is our refuge. He is our strong and mighty tower. It is in Him that we stand, we move, we live, we breath. He is what sustains us by the power of His Word. He is the one who gifts us and enables us to serve Him. From His mouth comes knowledge and wisdom. From His hand comes strength and power to stand in the midst of our adversaries. A little self-doubt in our abilities teaches us to be dependent upon Him who made us in His image. A little self-doubt teaches us to yearn for the grace of God:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with my weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong” (1Cor 12.9b-10; ESV).

And so, doubt can be a good thing, when it teaches us to reach for our Lord.

Doubt a bad thing…

However, the opposite is the case when we doubt God or His Word. We ought never to think that God might be mistaken, or that His word is lacking in anything. All that we have been given in Holy Scripture is necessary for living a righteous life. All that we have in the Bible is sufficient for answering those tough probing questions we all encounter. How are we here? God created everything. How did He do it? He spoke it into existence. How long did it take? Six days (approx. 24hrs in length). Why is there so much evil in the world? Because of the curse of sin. Why are people selfish, hateful and sometimes down right wicked? Because being children of Adam they are sinners—they bear his image. Why do we find fossil grave yards all around the world? Why are there sea creatures at some of the highest points of the planet? Because of the global flood of Noah’s day. Why are their different languages? Why do people look differently in one part of the world from the in other parts? Because God separated the earth (people) during the time of the tower of Babel. Why are clothes necessary? To cover our nakedness, to remind us of our shame (i.e., sin). What’s our purpose? Why are we here? We are to glorify God, having been made in His image (i.e., to represent Him). What happens when we die? We face judgment, some to eternal life others to eternal death (i.e., separation).

These are just a smattering of questions that some people have regarding basic life questions. These are mocked and doubted both inside and outside of the Christian faith. But there are other areas of doubt.

A Smattering of Questions…

Did the walls of Jericho really fall down after marching around them and blowing trumpets in Joshua’s day? Did Moses really part the Red Sea by following God’s commands to raise the staff and separate His hands? Did manna come down from heaven? Did the rock produce water? Did the Israelites clothes really not wear out after 40-years of wondering in the desert? Did Balaam’s donkey really speak? Did the serpent in the garden? Were the Israelites really slaves in Egypt? Did God choose (elect) to save them because of a promise to Abraham and God’s decision to place special love on them? Did Peter walk on water? Did Jesus turn water into wine? Did Gideon rout the Midianites with just 300 without losing a single man, even though they fought numbers in the 10’s of thousands? Did Samson really kill a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of a donkey? Did Paul really get bit by a poisonous snake and just shake it off without any health issues? Did Jesus really arise from a sealed tomb under Roman guard and then appear to His disciples? Did silver become so abundant in Israel during the reign of Solomon that it was like gravel? Did Elijah stop the rain for three-and-a-half years, and also call fire down from heaven? Did he really outrun Ahab who was riding in a chariot to Jezreel? Did David slay a 9 ½ foot giant named Goliath? Did Daniel escape a lion’s den unscathed? Did Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego go into a burning furnace and then after some time inside leave that furnace without hair or cloth singed or smelling of smoke?

What do we do with those biblical events? Do we believe them? Or to our own peril, do we doubt them? If we doubt them, do we then parade those doubts around as if we are really sophisticated, smart thinkers? In our doubt, are we ashamed of admitting them to the world? As a result of our own doubts, do we attempt to find answers for them that will alleviate some of the embarrassment that we might experience when those who don’t believe ask us our thoughts regarding them?

A Serious Flaw in our Thinking…

When our doubt is exalted in this fashion it is an idol, for we would rather cherish our doubts in those moments than the Lord who has spoken truly. Our failure to fully grasp such things is not excuse, for doubting them. And if we doubt these supernatural occurrences (which are logical in a universe that God has created), then what grounds do we have in believing that our salvation, purchased by the life of Jesus Christ, is not also on shaky ground? If those things, which make up an integral part of the whole of our Christian faith can be legitimately doubted and explained away, then what justification can we provide in saying that our faith is not in vain?

Often you will hear Christians appealing to 1Cor 15 where Paul argues for the resurrection of Jesus Christ as necessary or else our faith is in vain. But what is forgotten is that Paul is addressing a specific issue in the Corinthian church where some were arguing against the resurrection (bodily). However, he was not saying that Christ’s resurrection is the only aspect of our faith that makes it null and void if it didn’t happen according to the Scriptures. The Christian faith is a total encompassing worldview. It all is interrelated. It is all one cogent whole. Thus, if one part is found to be in error or false or to be seriously doubted, then so too might any other part of it be. If God has not spoken truly in His Word through His prophets and apostles on any point, then what basis do we have in not assuming that it is all in vain?

Abrahamic faith…

Faith is the opposite of doubt. Abraham was accredited righteousness, not because of anything he had done, but because he believed (did not doubt) what God had said. We are called to have the same faith. In this way we are identified as children of Abraham. But if we hem and haw on God’s Word at various points, preferring to express our doubts as if they are good things, then how is this an exercise of Abrahamic faith?

Posted in doubts

That Shadowy Idol called Doubt

Would you agree that to doubt is human? Doubting is a naturalistic response that is purely of human origin. Do you find anything about those statements troubling? Is there any error that has slipped in?

Let’s look at some instances:

“I doubt I will be able to win this foot race,” or “I have sincere doubts that I will be able to learn this language in one year,” or “I struggle with doubts over being able to finish this book and get it published,” or “I doubt my kids are telling me the truth about what temptations they face in their day-to-day lives,” etc., etc., etc.

What is being doubted in these types of situations? Human ability. We are finite creatures, which means we have natural limitations. Is it therefore wrong to have doubts in that sense? No, I don’t think so. I think those sorts of doubts are realistic, natural, and at times helpful.[i]

So, humanly speaking doubting is natural to us. At times, we ought to doubt our abilities. We shouldn’t think too highly of ourselves. Being a narcissist rarely helps anybody (if you can think of an example where it does, I would be eager to hear it).

A Troubling Trend…

Having said that, now I will tell you what troubles me. I hear it an awful lot by professing Christians, as it is lauded as a good thing: Doubting God and His Word. The reason it troubles me when Christians seemingly brag about their doubts regarding their “faith,” is because the Bible calls such behavior sin. To doubt God. To fail to take Him at His word is not something that the Bible praises, but rather condemns.

This is not to say that Christians don’t have doubts about such things. In fact, we have examples recorded in Scripture where true believers are shown expressing doubt in God and His word. And when such instances are shown, we see God coming right alongside of His frail little creatures helping them along.

Here are a couple examples:

1Kings 19:1-4

  • “Ahab told Jezebel all that Elijah had done, and how he had killed all the prophets with the sword. Then Jezebel sent a messenger to Elijah saying, ‘So may the gods do to me and more also, if I do not make your life as the life of one of them by this time tomorrow.’ Then he was afraid, and he arose and ran for his life and came to Beersheba, which belongs to Judah, and left his servant there. But he himself went a day’s journey into the wilderness and came and sat down under the broom tree. And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers” (ESV (throughout); italics added).

Observations:

Why was Elijah afraid? Why did he say to the Lord, “I am no better than my fathers?” Because he doubted. He who formerly believed that God would send fire down from heaven and would demonstrate His sovereignty over the false gods that Ahab and Jezebel had led the people in worshiping, doubted that the Lord could preserve his life against the might of this evil queen. Thus, he admitted in his prayer that he was worthy of death, since he doubted God as his own fathers (i.e., people) had done.

Judges 4:6-9

  • “[Deborah] sent and summoned Barak the son of Abinoam from Kedesh-naphtali and said to him, ‘Has not the Lord, the God of Israel, commanded you, ‘Go, gather your men at Mount Tabor, taking 10,000 from the people of Naphtali and the people of Zebulun. And I will draw out Sisera, the general of Jabin’s army, to meet you by the river Kishon with his chariots and his troops, and I will give him into your hand’?” Barak said to her, ‘If you will go with me, I will go, but if you will not go with me, I will not go.’ And she said, ‘I will surely go with you. Nevertheless, the road on which you are going will not lead to your glory, for the Lord will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.’ Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh.” (Emphasis Mine).

Observations:

Barak had been commanded by the Lord to fight against those who enslaved them— “Jabin king of Canaan” (Judges 4.1). Rather than take God at His word that He would give victory to Barak, he doubted and refused to go to battle without Deborah’s lead. The result was that the honor (i.e., glory) of the battle would go to a woman—a housewife, rather than a soldier.

Nothing to Be Happy about…

Our doubts are not to be praised, exalted, or heralded as a noble thing. When Christians laud their doubts around and congratulate each other for them giving the verbal pat on the back, they commit an egregious error. The Holy Spirit says that “without faith it is impossible to please [God]” (Heb 11.6). Well, to doubt God or to doubt what He teaches us in His word is the exact opposite of faith; of believing in Him. When you doubt the Lord in that capacity you are sinning and it needs to be repented of.

The professing believer “who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1.6b-8; cf. Eph 4.14). Which is the exact opposite of the person who is built upon the Rock of our salvation (Matt 7.24-25). Unlike the doubter that person can expect to receive from the Lord whatever they ask for, whatever they seek for…no door will be closed to them, for such a person will ask in God’s Name—i.e., trusting that He will keep His promises (cf. Matt 7.7-8).[ii]

When we doubt God, we are like those who struggle between two opinions (1Kgs 18.21). And we dare not assume that there is any dignity in that. For “whoever has doubts is condemned…For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin” (Rom 16.23).[iii] Such a person cannot determine the right course of action, for they fail to trust in the One who is able to bring all things about to His Holy purposes. Therefore, as Christians we ought to “hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering [i.e., without doubts] for he who promised is faithful” (Heb 10.23).

That being said…

When we elevate our doubts as something to be congratulated, we have, perhaps unknowingly, erected a cherished idol. As human beings we all face doubts, and we should when they are directed towards our limited abilities. We cannot do anything we please, although arrogant people that we can be have sought to do that very thing in the past (cf. Gen 11.6). A problematic habit that has continued throughout human history.

Let’s not mince words here, that idol—doubt—needs to be smashed and burned. It needs to be repented of. And if not, we will find ourselves choking on it in the end (cf. Exod 32.20).

That being said, because we are sinners by nature (Eph 2.3), we all naturally face doubts…yes even when it comes to God’s Word. Knowing that we ought never doubt our Creator and Savior we beseech His mercy and grace in repentance seeking His strength to overcome them. This occurs the more we realize that it is our dependence on Him, not our independence, that enables this growing faith.

In a nut shell that is the underlying problem with those professed believers who speak of their doubts in flowery tones. They strive for independence, rather than dependence upon the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. May we all learn not to do that. God may meet us in our moments of weakness (our doubting), but let us learn to recognize that they are weaknesses and evidences of a struggling faith…not something to be praised.


ENDNOTES:

[i] A slight caveat: Doubts ought to caution or temper my decisions as a parent. What I want to avoid is being the type of parent that assumes my child is always innocent; they aren’t. Though we may experience such doubts in our personal relationships, they are not always helpful to voice. Being aware of them seems legitimate, but constantly pushing our doubts on those who share our lives with may do more harm than good if not pursued in the correct manner. Just for clarity I will give you a quick example of what I mean.

Having teenagers in our home, my wife and I realize that there will be some situations where they will experience peer pressure without our watchful eye regarding a variety of issues that they will face. I have logical doubts that they will always make the right decision. Granted our children are well behaved, have good manners, and a good work ethic. But they are still kids, haven’t fully matured, have temptations like the rest of us, have a desire to be liked (for some this is stronger than in others), and so I have my personal reservations.

Do I share every doubt with my children? No (well not all of them). Do those doubts sometimes effect my decision on whether or not they ought to participate in a suggested activity? Yes. Am I, always right? No, thankfully I am not. But my point is that doubting that they will always perform in the way that is right is not wrong; however, sharing those doubts of mine with them is not always helpful. There is a point that they need to learn to be adults, and that requires making some decisions without me hawking over them.

[ii] This does not mean wealth, health or any other personal gain that a person might seek by praying “in the name of Jesus” as if this was some magical formula to give you all you want. God is not a lottery ticket, or a genie in a lamp, or a leprechaun at the end of a rainbow for you to seek the desires of your own heart. The only desires that God will grant are those that are in accordance with His desires and will.

[iii] If this is true when it comes to choices over food, then what do we suppose will be the outcome on weightier matters?