ST ANDREW’S OCCASIONAL PAPERS
- We all have doubts?
If anyone was to suggest, heaven forbid, that I should take part in a bungee jump (where one leaps off a high bridge, etc., on the end of an elastic cable which is set to stop you damaging yourself on the rocks/water/road below) I would have the gravest doubts. I would doubt the suitability of the cables to do their job. I would doubt that my natural, artificial or arthritic joints could cope with the strain. Finally, if I felt like trying it, I would doubt my sanity!
However we have to live our lives surrounded by doubt. Will that parcel that I am expecting arrive when I am in and ready to sign for it? Will the bus, train or taxi get me to the airport in time for my flight? Will the latest diet really enable me to shed a stone a month, etc., etc.?
Unfortunately doubt also affects our Christian lives. We may wonder if what we have previously believed is really true. We may come to doubt that miracles actually happened and still do. More extremely we might wonder if Jesus really did walk on this earth; did He really rise from the dead after having died on the cross; was he really the Son of God?
In this paper I want to consider some of the reasons why doubts of this last type might occur and what action we can take to convince ourselves to stop doubting and so to believe in and trust God Almighty.
- What causes doubt (a) Strong alternative opinions
There are a few folk, self-declared atheists, who are willing to argue for their disbelief in God and the supernatural in what is, to them, a very convincing point of view. Now this often calls forth a response from some learned Christian who proceeds to demolish their case. The trouble is that most people cannot follow the arguments on either side and so niggling doubts creep in.
- What causes doubt (b) Lack of knowledge
Sadly many Christian folk do not know as much as they should about their faith. The Bible has been described as “the least read best seller” which is not as it should be. Every Christian should be reading his or her Bible every day – and there are many aids to help, whether in the traditional printed form or on the internet. If every believer were to spend just a few minutes a day with God’s Word they would be spiritually stronger and therefore more doubt resistant.
- What causes doubt (c) Routine
Most of us are people of routine in at least part of our lives. We set the alarm, we get up, we eat breakfast and maybe set off for work or school. We arrive home, eat, watch TV and go to bed. Such routine may well make us doubt the point of it all. Much the same thing can happen to our religious life. Our prayers, our reading, our going to Church can become a fixed pattern and again we wonder if there is any point to it.
- What causes doubt (d) Things going “wrong”
Perhaps the biggest test of our faith comes when something unpleasant happens to us, or, even harder, to someone near and dear to us. This can be anything from some relatively minor blow up to the death of a loved one. We may well cry out to God, “Why have you allowed this to happen?”
Although, logically, we can argue that things will go wrong in a world full of sinful human beings who do not have any regard for their maker and sustainer, that does not fully convince us. [N.B. I am NOT saying that the one who suffers is a great sinner, but that the accumulated sin of the world affects us all – a point Jesus made to His disciples in talking about a man who had been born blind (John 9:1-3)]. We still cry out “Why?” and find it very easy to blame God, and in our anguish we may even turn away from Him, instead of trusting Him (who knows all about the pain of suffering and loss) to see us through.
- Some notable doubters who nearly let their doubts win
The disciple Thomas has been nicknamed “Doubting Thomas.” This comes from the incident recorded in John 20:24-29. Jesus had been crucified but He had risen from the dead and had appeared to the disciples when, for some unknown reason, Thomas was absent. When he was told about Jesus’ visit he doubted the truth and demanded physical proof. A week later he was with the disciples when Jesus came again. Jesus offered the proof that Thomas had demanded but Thomas no longer doubted. He used the great words, “My Lord and my God.”
Peter was a man of ups and downs. Three times he disowned Jesus but the incident I would remind you of is recorded in Matthew 14:25-33. Jesus had sent the disciples out to cross the lake by boat. A terrible storm arose but Jesus went out to His men, walking on the water. When He identified Himself to His terrified disciples, Peter asked if he could walk to Jesus on the water. “Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me.” Immediately Jesus reached out His hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” He said, “Why did you doubt?”
- A notable doubter who gave in to his doubts
We do not really know what went on in the mind of Judas Iscariot who betrayed Jesus to the authorities. Perhaps the most charitable view of what he did is that he was trying to force Jesus to act supernaturally as the sort of all-conquering leader that Judas hoped would restore Israelite independence from Rome. Jesus was not going that way and so Judas’ doubts in his leader’s actual plan must have increased. In the end he realised the folly of his doubts and committed suicide (Matthew 27:5).
- Some who overcame temptations to doubt
Job is an outstanding example. He lost everything – most of his family, his possessions and his health. Even his wife advised him to “Curse God and die” (Job 2:9). His so-called “Comforters” (or friends) did not offer him much real help. Yet he did not turn on God (1:21), even if he longed to argue his case before Him (9:32). In the end he simply bowed before God (42:1-6), and was restored.
Another man who could have doubted God’s provision was Paul. He had done great things for God and the young church, but he suffered from some medical problem which he describes as “a thorn in my flesh” (2 Corinthians 12:7). He says that three times he prayed for it to be removed but he was told by God, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” He could have doubted that God was caring for him but he did not.
- Dealing with doubt (a) a fresh look at the basics
So do you feel that services and sermons are not helping any more and that everything seems to be dominated by endless committees that make very little progress? So have you reached the point where you cannot see the point of it all and therefore have started to doubt whether it is worth being a Christian after all?
If this is the case then I suggest that it is time to get back to basics, either on your own or with the help of a trusted friend, and take a fresh look at what Christianity is all about.
Why not go back to the New Testament and read slowly and carefully through one of the gospels (e.g. Luke) and then the book of Acts. Read about one incident at a time and try to picture clearly what is going on. Maybe you could use the technique of trying to imagine that you are there, as a bystander, in the scene you are thinking about. But whatever technique you adopt concentrate on one incident at a time.
- Dealing with doubt (b) seeing Jesus
The main purpose of suggesting that it would be a good idea to go back to the gospels is to enable us to “see” Jesus. Unless we concentrate on Him and what He did while He was here on earth then we shall not achieve the aim of getting back to basics, for Christianity IS Jesus Christ. If we do not concentrate on thinking clearly about Him, His life, His death and His resurrection then the whole point of Christianity will pass us by. This Man, who was also the very Son of God, came to this earth for one purpose alone, to offer humankind a way back to a loving Father God whom they had pushed aside or ignored in their selfishness. Surely to see this afresh must warm our hearts and so melt away our doubts.
- Dealing with doubt (c) the Holy Spirit
While it is absolutely vital to think about Jesus, we have to admit that He is now back in heaven, but He has not left us helpless to struggle by ourselves. The very Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, has come to us. That is why I suggested reading the book of Acts, which is often more fully titled the Acts of the Apostles, but which could more fundamentally be called the Acts of the Holy Spirit. There we can find the record of the Holy Spirit working through Peter, James, Stephen, Paul and many others to establish the young church. Nor has the Holy Spirit ever stopped working – He works with every Christian, coming alongside them to help them on their way.
- The final challenge to any who might doubt
In 1922 Helen H. Lemmel composed a hymn with a chorus based on Hebrews 12:2. This chorus, in my opinion, is the perfect antidote to doubt:-
Turn your eyes upon Jesus,Look full in His wonderful face,And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,In the light of His glory and grace.
Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version. © 1973,1978,1984, International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder and Stoughton, a member of the Hodder Headline Group. All rights reserved.