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Category: Doubt Musings

Divine Permanence and Our Doubts

Immutability

What a wonder to realize, truly realize, the importance of divine permanence. God’s own lack of change amidst our ever-changing world is hard to grasp at first. We are told in Romans 8:38, “For I am persuaded that not even death or life, angels or rulers, things present or things to come, hostile powers, height or depth, or any other created thing will have the power to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord!” Nothing in creation can separate us from the love of God . What a marvelous wonder! So what does this biblical promise mean then in regards to our struggles with doubt?
As all-encompassing as our doubts can feel at times, we can surely be encouraged that our doubts are not divine. They are not eternal. Our doubts are man-made and created things. This means that the above mentioned passage applies to them as well. Our doubts can NOT separate us from the love of God! No matter what fear or dark thoughts might spawn from them in ever realistic fashion, God is immutable and unchanging. When He said, “My Child, I love you.” He didn’t stutter and he didn’t mean only as long as you hold strongly to certainty. He meant merely that He loves you and that, reliably, will not change.
We can take solace then in knowing we have a freedom in doubt. We are safe to ask questions and struggle with doubt. We can lay that fleece on the ground and expect and answer from our God. We don’t have to hide from our doubts, afraid of what they might mean. But instead, we can turn and face them, assured of the safety we are promised in God’s permanence written of in Romans 8. God’s divine permanence guarantees that we can struggle with and overcome our doubts without fear of rejection or failure. Take heart.

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Doubt’s Irrelevance to Truth

A silly thing, doubt, when dealing with truth. As daunting or terrifying as doubt may seem to a besieged soul, when broken down and measured for its worth, it comes up lacking. When one is gathering facts for a case or presentation, one rarely if ever asks opinion or feeling. Despite what Hollywood crime dramas would have us believe, it isn’t hunches or doubts or even gut feelings that lead to understanding or resolutions. It is something else entirely. What that is can vary depending on the situation, but what we can be sure of is that it isn’t hunches, feelings or doubt.
I remember speaking with an atheist friends of mine on the subject of existence and origin, and I spoke of there needing to be a source of all things. His response, which resonates with my doubts as well as much of modern thought was, “Couldn’t it all just have been by chance? What if it was?” I stopped, annoyed, and said, “Yes, of course it could have , but what bearing does that have on truth?” He laughed and our conversation drifted onto more benign subjects. ‘Whats ifs’ and ‘could haves’ are not what is and what was. Interjections like that are good for speculation or challenging thought, but definitely not for establishing truth or faith.
So why do we let it dominate so much of our structures of belief? Why do we experience doubt and then assume its reality as if it is ours? We must learn to put doubt in its place and not allow it to establish its false brand of truth for us. Rather, we should trust in God’s Word for our truth and in His hope for our strength to realize that truth in our lives. Doubt, while powerful, holds little relevance to truth and it is time we realized that.

Disappointment’s Role in Doubt

How many times have heard the story of a Christian leader who confesses to some dark sin, or worse yet, is found out without confession? Sometimes it is someone you recognize, someone you respect, or even someone who you know. How disappointing, you had thought better of them and here they are, letting all of Christendom down, especially in such a public and damaging way. That disappointment can lead you into a whole host of doubt filled thoughts. Why, if that person can fall or show a lack of sanctification, then who else hasn’t confessed or been caught yet? Questions even begin to arise like “are there any genuine Christians out there?”
One very important response to this thought process is to be self-reflective, rather than other critical. Unless you are involved directly in the event there is little directly that you have to do with the situation. Thus, little is gained by dwelling on it for long. Instead, use it as a reminder to look at your own life and with the mindset of “there but by the grace of God, go I!” or perhaps even, “there am I, help me Lord.” Use it as an opportunity to approach God rather than doubt Him.
Disappointment can come in many other forms as well. Anytime an expectation is dashed or not met, a shocked frustration is sure to follow, and you will be tasked with sorting out all of the fallout. A supposed Spiritual certainty unfulfilled, a door closed when you really wanted it open, a period of spiritual dryness when what you craved was renewal. All of these can lead to thoughts of frustration and doubt. But, many can be addressed by changing our perspective. Looking at God’s grace and provision in what He has given you instead of entitlement in what He has withheld or neglected to give you. Realize you do not understand everything and trust in the One who made all things and sustains all things.

Imbued Worth

All too often, we find excuses to be ineffective, impotent and lethargic. We doubt our own abilities and in turn doubt God’s call in our lives. Were we not given the Great Commission alongside the disciples? Was not Christ looking directly at me when he said those words? So why do I balk? What holds me back? I am foolish. I am a sinner. I am not worthy of His work. I sing too off-key. I am too young. But what did God say in response to Jeremiah when he claimed to be too young? In Chapter 1 of that book, God responded almost angrily with “Don’t say that, when I have told you to go!” We are afraid of failure. We fall to our knees, shaking and stammering, “but I might fail, Lord!?” and He responds with “so..?” We were not called to success, but to obedience and the prophet Isaiah is a good example of that.
Our doubt can bring about self-loathing and an inability to believe that we are worthy of His work. We are given worth, though. We are imbued with Christ’s worth and in that must find our courage to face our doubt and do what is requested of us. Though pride may have fallen and led us into insecurity, we can have that insecurity reversed and find, instead, courage and encouragement.
Hold fast, believer, and know that is not your success that will win the day but rather God’s will that will be done. Do what you are asked because it is He that asks, not because you might be successful at it.

Hope in What?

You hear some news that frustrates and disappoints you. You are let down and you don’t know how to process it. Expectations and assumptions held for so long are dashed, and depending on what you are experiencing, the repercussions can be quite strong. So many have abandoned their faith because of problems in their church or moral failings in the church leadership. A theological difference handled badly, an affair come to light, conflict unresolved, all of these can lead to disenchantment with the church or faith. They really should not but they do for the simple reason that the hope has been misplaced.

You see, in an age where the Church doesn’t seem much different from the world, and our divorce rate is about the same, we need to remember we were never really promised a better or more moral life. A Helper was promised, yes, and in that a possibility for temporal victory over sin, but the promise wasn’t “repent and be better!” but rather “repent and be saved!” We were not promised a better life. We were promised a Hope. That is what makes us different, Hope. Yet so many of use foolishly take that hope and place it in the tangible parts of our faith structure. Our church body, our pastor, our parents, we build these things up and when they inevitably let us down and fail us, we despair and lose hope. Our minds fill with disillusionment and the black, as we seek solace from these disappointments. We leave a church, we break ties, we abandon our faith, all in response to having our hope in the wrong place.

Because, our hope should be in Christ, who is one with the Immutable God. He is mighty to save, and faithful to His promises. He created this world and its many wonders. He made us and provided a way for us to him. He shed His blood to pay our cost and welcomes us home. That is where our hope should be, and it is truly there that we can weather the disappointments and let-downs we are given, without pause or falter. Praise be to Him in who our Hope is found.

Doubt by the Numbers

Occasionally, we may find ourselves in a seemingly self-perpetuating cycle of doubt. By virtue of there being so much doubt, it begins to procreate and generate doubt upon doubts. We begin to take stock of our doubt and due to the sheer number of them, begin to ascribe more credence to them. We find ourselves thinking more, “if there are so many, there must be a reason.”

It is in times like these, that we must remind ourselves that truth is not found in popular opinion or sheer numbers. Ten men stating that a tree is a marshmallow is no more true than if only one man had made the statement. While one might be occasioned to stop and consider perhaps the why behind the large amount of doubt, one must not skip the intervening steps leap right to the “therefore” stage.

Instead we follow the example given in scripture. “I believe, help my unbelief!” Accept the damp fleece on the dry ground, and accept God’s charge. Pray and ask God to address those doubts, because often He will. One way He can address that challenge is to strongly adjust our perceptions. So self-focused on our doubt, we can easily forget those around us that struggle with so much more. Here I am complaining about being riddled with doubt and another person isn’t even sure when they will eat next, or perhaps another who cannot ever believe she will be free of heroine. I recently heard the testimony of a man who was using drugs at 6 years old, and in and out of foster homes. What realignment! How insignificant my worries and doubts become in the onslaught of that harsh reality.

Good perspective, active prayer and a firm foundational understanding of the logic of the self-perpetuating doubt. These will give you a good starting point in order to begin dealing with doubt in our lives.

Anecdotal Proofs of Lack of Growth

One of the more common causes of doubt in one’s life can come in the form of a seemingly unchanged life, or as I like to call it, anecdotal proofs of a lack of growth. We look at our own sin, perhaps because we struggle with an addiction or perhaps we are introspective and get too critical of ourselves. Either way we look to ourselves or even to those close to us, if we think ourselves too holy, and we think, “Well, if I was a Christian, wouldn’t I be better than…this? Wouldn’t I be more Christ-like?” We see our own actions or lack thereof and we set that up as experience and proof that we must be unregenerate or at best a terrible Christian headed for unbelief.

To this I have two quick responses and encouragements. By its nature, our experience or view of our experience can be anecdotal, at best. It could never be proof on its own. The study population is too small, and the testing is too narrow. In other words, you cannot trust your own experiences as authoritative proof. Question your questioning, and doubt your doubts. If you do this fervently, you will find that the doubts hold less sway in your life. You are free to question and ask for proof, and sometimes you might get it.

A Second point to make is really just a reminder that we should tell ourselves often. It is a mantra we need to repeat to ourselves. If I worry about my salvation and sanctification, this is likely and evidence of my salvation. It might be too strong to try to call it a proof, but certainly an evidence. If I were unregenerate would I care about being more Christ-like? Would I care if my life showed genuine spiritual change? I would likely not. To be a Christian is to be intimate with doubt, and we can take comfort in that.

A slow pace or even perceived lack of sanctification is not an actual proof of unbelief. I do believe it was John Piper who said, when asked what his greatest source of doubt was, “the slow pace of my sanctification.”

The Odd Dichotomy of Western Christian Thought

As a western culture we are taught from the cradle to doubt. We are never to take a thing at face value. We are taught to be skeptics as quickly as we are taught to tie our shoelaces. Question Motives, origins, make up, directions and outcomes! Then, once and IF you understand it, you may accept it. As I have said before, we live in a culture of doubt. To doubt is actually glorified. In some way, though it should be. Being skeptical can help protect one from certain pitfalls in the form of swindlers and thieves. Along with that comes this harsh inability to accept that which we do not know, or at least fully understand.

Yet, as Christians, we are raised to believe in this unseen God. We hear talk of demons and angels. We have promises of Heaven and sanctification. We hear of or even experience miracles or spiritual warfare. All of these things, unquantifiable yet expected to be accepted. We learn to pray to this God and build much of our life around Him. We learn to sacrifice ourselves to Him, unseen though he is. And we do. Every day we live this harsh dichotomy as western Christians.

In earlier years, this isn’t so difficult to do, as our concrete minds have little to no trouble compartmentalizing this paradox. On one hand we firmly believe nothing really exists that we cannot measure or understand. On the other, we firmly believe that God, the intrinsically unknowable, does indeed exist. It isn’t till later that these two begin to collide. Many begin to smash the two concepts against each other until one prevails and the other fades away. Some of our most passionate and outspoken atheists were brought up in some form of the church. Or we have our mini Chestertons who glory in their belief in the possibilities of Fairies. Some search out a way for the dichotomy to remain and hold onto both at the same time as they age and develop. Still others refuse to deal with the discrepancies and hold desperately to both.

If everyone/thing around you tells you that the supernatural or unknowable is foolish, at what point does that all-encompassing skepticism apply to your own faith?

Hope in Change

Often we fear change. We are so comfortable with our current discomforts that the thought of losing them can terrify. No matter how frustrating or abusive our circumstances can be, they are, after all, ours. We claim them and then clasp them tightly to our chests in their familiarity as change might bring something worse. Complacency, after all, is basically living in fear. And are we even called to have a spirit of fear? Are we? Or perhaps are we called to have a spirit of something else.

To that I say, “no!” Complacency finds its safety in a static environment. A preference to fight the enemy you know rather than the one you don’t know, that you might have. But the sad reality of that is that there is no real standing still. There isn’t a static environment. If you aren’t moving towards faith in Christ then you are effectively moving away from it. If you actively choose a static life, and live in fear of change, you are sealing your faith doom. A sure destruction versus a feared possible one.

So rise to that challenge and change. Do not live in fear of it. Look forward in hope instead of sticking your head in the sand and there by dooming yourself. You will find hope in change, and the only difference from before is perspective. Instead of looking in fear, look to the future with hope!

That hope will bring with it a vibrancy for your faith. Jurgen Moltmann, upon seeing his peers succumbing to hopelessness and accepting their current static circumstances as their reality, was spurred on to write his greatest work, the Theology of Hope upon that greatest of changes that we are to accept, the great eschatological change of the end times, and the hope that must bring to us as believers.

Letting fear of change dictate our life will certainly spell our doom, but rather looking to change for the hope it can provide will always pay dividends.

Doubt’s Foe

Doubt, that pernicious element, can sneak its way into any mind, any spiritual crevice and even the oldest, wisest of believers can find themselves struggling against it. Despite our church goings, our Bible readings, or our righteous doings, we are all susceptible to our mind questioner. And while some precious few seem to be given more grace in this area, the vast majority of us are challenged often with its pugnacious persistence. Trained from the cradle with an Aristotelian approach to the divine and supernatural, we question immediately when faced with it. A believer of twenty-six years, I find myself wrestling with it often and I try to remember to use one of the more effective weapons I have to combat it.

One of the most useful cure for doubt is the answered prayer. Nothing can set a troubled mind at ease like a direct response from the divine. A life changed, a need provided for, or even a miracle witnessed, can all be the answer we seek when we enter the holy presence of God as worshipers, and supplicants. Different situations will furnish different opportunities for answered prayer. Things as small or seemingly unimportant as good weather or an open parking spot when you are running late can show you God’s grace and enjoyment of answering prayer as certainly as a father healed or a bill paid that you needed, but couldn’t dare to expect.

While  we do not control the answers to prayer, there is something we can do to be proactive in addressing doubt in this way. Prayer is rarely answered when it is not prayed in the first place. So the first thing we do is get on our knees, fold our hands and bow our heads. We pray. We remember our place as supplicants and we beseech our father for answers. If you want a way to address your doubts then start giving God prayers to answer. Scripture commands us to pray and even gives us a great example in the Lord’s Prayer.

Our Father, which art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done,

in earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever.

Scripture is full of examples, as well, of God delighting in interacting with his children.

Believer, be active, fulfill your name and believe. An active thing, belief is. So be active and get on your knees. Be active, and pray.

Stephen Mattson

Inspiration. Faith. Christian Culture. Writing.

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