Chapter 2 - Understanding Doubt
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Only God and certain madmen have no doubts!” - Martin Luther

 

Doubt is very common. "Knowledge and doubt are inseparable to man. The sole alternative to "knowledge-with-doubt" is no knowledge at all. Only God and certain madmen have no doubts!" -Martin Luther. Again he says "The art of doubting is easy, for it is an ability that is born with us." We as humans live in a finite state. We do not possess total knowledge, and from the fall of man we were born cut off from the One who does (Rom 5:12-14). Doubt is not trusting that which can't be perceived and proven by the human's senses. Only those who have total knowledge can be free from doubt. Where total knowledge is absent the door to doubt is open. People doubt what they do not understand and question what they do not know. As Paul puts it, we only know in part.



For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known. - 1 Cor. 13:12



What about Christians? Through Jesus Christ we are born again, and have the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, and are re-attached to God, therefore doubts should come to a cease right? Not exactly. (Someday though!) We are indeed born again, and have been given the gift of faith. (Eph. 2:8, Heb. 12:2) However, we still have this element of flesh with us. (Romans 7:25) The flesh is never regenerated when we are made alive together with Jesus Christ, but it does lose it's authority (John 6:63, Col. 2:13-14).



Os Guinness states, "The root of doubt is not in our faith but in our humanness" (In Two Minds). Since we still have our flesh, our humanness, we still have the element of doubt available. Failing to recognize that doubt is not automatically removed from the human condition can be devastating to new believers and can render passive the faith of older Christians. Faith is separate from doubt and are not fused together. Faith is a gift from God, doubt is rooted in our flesh. Many Christians panic at the first sign of doubt and are quick to view this doubt as their faith being insufficient or absent altogether and may react in drastic ways.



Doubt is not rooted in our faith. Therefore, we can walk in faith along side of our doubts. Doubt does not render our faith void. When I first learned this it was relieving. Understanding this truth helped me realize my faith wasn't the problem, and it helped turn my faith from being the issue, to being my advocate in tackling the persistent problem of doubt. Interestingly, when the disciples asked Jesus to increase their faith (Luke 17:5) He responded by saying;



And the Lord said, "If you had faith like a mustard seed, you would say to this mulberry tree, 'Be uprooted and be planted in the sea'; and it would obey you. - Luke 17:6



If a mustard seed of faith can do that than surely it can tackle my doubts.

 

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Doubt is a lack of certainty, questioning what one believes. Unbelief is a choice, choosing to not believe despite the evidence given.”



Doubt is not unbelief. Doubt is often mistaken for unbelief, but there is a very distinct difference between the two. Doubt is a lack of certainty, questioning what one believes. Unbelief is a choice, choosing to not believe despite the evidence given. John 5:40 depicts an example of choosing not to believe. In this verse Jesus has been addressing the Pharisees and here He tells them plainly what is keeping them from being saved.



 and you are unwilling to come to Me so that you may have life. - John 5:40



God has given us the gift of free will. Even from creation we've always had a choice. (Gen. 2:16-17). We could choose God, His kingdom, His ways, life and residence with Him, or we could choose the opposite; the world, our ways, ourselves, independence, separation from God resulting in death. The keyword in John 5:40 is unwilling. In my own case, I wanted with all my heart to believe, I was as willing as they come, show me which direction to run to Jesus and I would with all my strength. (Mark 12:30). If you read this chapter in John, Jesus is plainly speaking with the Pharisees, He is almost pleading with them on their own level, according to their own understanding, trying to convince them to accept the life He is offering. But their unwillingness keeps them from coming to Him and accepting this free gift. Any person who truly wants to know God, any person who comes to Jesus will most certainly not be cast out (John 6:37, Rev. 3:20, Luke 11:13). Those unwilling are not forced too. That would be taking away free will, and to take away free will is to take away our ability to choose God. To take away our choice is to take away our ability to love and would make us at best robots, doing what we are programmed to do.

 

I had one person struggling with doubts write me worried he was an unbeliever. His analogy he wrote me was one of his dad paying his electric bill. He stated his electric bill was overdue and his dad called the electric company and paid the bill for him and then told him he took care of it. The one writing me said he would just thank his dad in gratefulness and wouldn't be worried as to whether he actually believed his dad did pay it. Since he didn't feel the same about God he concluded that must mean he was an unbeliever. I would argue rather it meant he struggled with doubt. This gave me an opportunity to continue his analogy to describe to him a significant difference between struggling with doubt and choosing unbelief. I thought it would be fitting to add my reply here as well.

 

So you believed your dad when he said the electric bill was paid. Great, thanks to him the lights stayed on. Now let me ask what would happen to you if you didn't believe your dad that the bill had been paid? If you worried and worried and worried because you doubted what your dad said, would that worry change the fact he still paid the bill? Would your worry have the power to negate his payment and amazingly cause the lights to suddenly stop working? Does the electric company make the decision to keep the juice flowing based on your feeling like the bill is paid or not, or does the electric company keep the juice flowing based on whether or not the bill has actually been paid? Perhaps you go to the electric company to plead your case that you are hard up for cash this month and when they tell you not to worry because your dad paid it in full, maybe you argue with them "oh no he did not, I know my dad, he's a sadistic jerk who would love to see me sit in darkness over my own failed career decisions, he would never pay the bill for me" where the clerk replies "well sir, your record here in my computer says paid up and in good standing" and you, still not feeling that could possibly be true argue your case further how your dad is to exacting to ever do something like that. So the clerk calls the boss over. The boss says "hello friend, I myself took the money from your dad and held it in my own hand, see here is surveillance footage of him coming in here and doing it. Regardless of what you feel, facts are facts and your dad paid your bill in full." You review the footage again and again. You see it with your eyes but your heart is still not buying it. You never knew your dad to be a good man so you wonder what possible angle he could be playing, what the trick is, what the catch could be. You think about trying to pay your bill anyway just in case but keep remembering the problem..you can't, you're broke. So you walk away..feeling very unsettled as such kindness is foreign to you. "Nobody does something for nothing" you murmur to yourself as you walk out.



So you go back home... And feeling like it's to good to be true you prepare yourself for the power to go out at any moment. You start by eating all the frozen goods you and your neighbors can bear so if the power drops you can minimize the loss when the fridge shuts off. You start piling up the blankets beside your bed in order to stay warm at night when the heaters cut out. Every morning you wake up you dart over to the bedroom light switch to see if today is the day the power is cut and you frantically flip it up and down, surprised the lights still work. Every morning you do this... then when after two weeks of you flipping the bedroom light switch on and off constantly checking to see if the power has been cut yet, the bulb burns out. "Aha! I knew it was to good to be true!" you say aloud. "I knew it, I knew it, I knew it, and now all the food in the fridge is going to go bad, I better get a coat on now, my insulation isn't that good, it will likely be only a short time before the temperature drops now that the heaters aren't on". You walk out into the living room to get your coat, open the coat closet and out of habit you turn the closet light on grab your coat and turn the light off. The whole time you don't even notice it illuminated the closet because your preoccupied with how cold it gets this time of year and how you're gonna survive this cold with nothing more than your anger toward your dad to keep you warm. You sit there in your living room with your coat on, stewing on your misery. Not only do you not have the money to go pay the bill but you feel this is yet another sadistical life lesson from your dad on how you should have listened to him when he told you what career choices you should have considered instead of the path you chose.

 

Then suddenly you hear a click from the kitchen. "What is that?" you wonder as you stick your head further up out of your coat to listen. The click is followed up by a hum so you get up to investigate. You head into the kitchen and notice the sound is coming from the fridge. You plan to open it to see but realize if you let the cold out the food will go bad faster with the power cut and all. So in an effort to preserve your food you open and slam the fridge. Yet in such a brief time the fridge light comes on....or did it. You closed it so fast you're not sure. You think it did and part of you wants to get excited but feeling it's to good to be true you don't open the fridge again, fearful doing so will prove your doubts to be correct. You'd rather just hold onto the hope for the moment fleeting as it is. Plus opening the fridge again puts the food at greater risk with each opening you reason to yourself. So you justify not looking again. Standing in the kitchen with the fridge closed you ponder "could it be?" So you run back to your bedroom to see if the power is indeed still on and you flip the switch and...nothing. "Yep..i knew it, I shouldn't have gotten my hopes up". From then on every time you get your hopes up that maybe there is power you test it by trying to turn on the burnt out bulb in your bedroom. And even though you sit there sweating your butt off in your coat in a warm house you won't take joy in it because the bedroom light wont come on. Friends stop by and say, "rejoice, the power is on I can see the meter outside turning" but you bring them inside, show them the bedroom light and "prove" them wrong. One of them opens the fridge to show you all is ok in there but you hand them the moldly leftover stuffing that's been in there for three weeks as proof the fridge doesn't work. "They just don't understand as they don't see things as clearly as I do" you reason to yourself. After all who knows your house better than you. They haven't had to deal with their power being cut so how could they possibly understand. Knowing you're gonna freeze you call your dad and plead with him to help you out. Whereas he replies "I did". But your heart just can't fathom it and the bedroom light not turning on proves he didn't so you get angry with him and hang up.



So there you are bundled in your coat, embittered toward dad, frustrated with your friends and refusing to examine the evidence any more as it's only brought you disappointment. You don't bother to try and turn the TV on, you know it can't. You nibble on cold ramen noodles knowing cooking them isn't an option. And the only thing interrupting your anger toward your dad is the grief you feel because of the bad situation your in from not having power nor the money to get it turned back on. You look at the moldy stuffing on the counter and conclude things are only getting worse.



Has your dad in fact paid the electric bill? Yes. Is the power on? Yep. Are you enjoying it? Nope.



Has God paid your law requirement bill? Yes. Is the wrath of God satisfied? Yep. Are you enjoying it? Nope.



Does the fact you're not enjoying your dad having paid your electric bill make it any less paid? No. Does the fact you don't make use of what that provision has brought into your life mean that provision hasn't been brought into your life? No. So the fact is if you believe the bedroom light not working means the house doesn't have electricity doesn't change the fact the house has electricity even if you're a dingus. That provision has been secured and it had nothing to do with you. Salvation is God's business.



Now there is another group. This is the group that doesn't want electricity. They may even know dad paid the bill but they actually want the darkness. They love darkness. They love it so much they call the electric company and demand they turn the power off...even though it's been paid. These people rejoice at the bedroom switch not turning on the light and if the light does come on, they burn it out intentionally. Not only do they do they for themselves, they want others to do it too. They create websites that argue why electricity is wrong and why darkness is good. They know the electricity is fine but will deliberately dwell only on the burnt out light bulb and speak about it to justify their way of life. Friends are welcomed to come over and are even allowed to do anything they want as long as it's in darkness, they are very accepting group of people...unless one of those friends turns on a light. That is the one thing that is not tolerated. So much so this group even calls the electric company again this time demanding their neighbors electricity be shut off too as the light bleeds through their darkened curtains and upsets their way of life. And even though they know its right to live in the light they exchange that truth for a lie and that which is natural for that which is not natural. And even though they know the electric bill has been paid they suppress the truth of that to anyone who may inquire refusing also to acknowledge it themselves. For them it isn't a problem of understanding the love and provision of dad it's that they don't want it nor anything to do with him. They don't struggle with doubt they choose unbelief. Even though many may come and speak of the benefits of the electricity, convincing them it's free and available, they already know that... The problem isn't getting them to understand, it's that they have enough understanding to know they don't want it. And any attempts to enlighten them are met with hostility.



The first group wants the truth, the second group does not. The first is free but not convinced of it, the second group doesn't want freedom. The first group would love dad if their own ignorance didn't get in the way, the second group wouldn't even with ignorance removed. The first group rejoices in goodness, the second group rejoices in unrighteous. The first group concurs with the law in the inner man, the second group hates it and anyone or anything that resembles it. The first group wants a good dad but for various reasons struggles to see him that way, the second group doesn't want a good dad at all but indoctrinates themselves and others that dad doesn't even exist. The first group tries to grapple with the truth and struggles with doubt, the second group knows enough of the truth to not want it and they choose to believe a lie to preserve their way of life.

 

I hope you guys realize the reason I can write this analogy is from my own experience of struggling with doubt. I'm the one flipping the switch on and off and concluding based on a burnt out light bulb God is angry with me. But here's the thing... we're not the first to make such crazy conclusions. The author of Psalm 77 did this very same thing. In his viewing of his circumstances he concluded that either a.) God has forgotten to be gracious to him or b.) God has deliberately in anger withdrawn His compassion from him (Psalm 77:9). Keep in mind this is a writer of the bible, and we know all scripture is men moved by the Holy Spirit who wrote (2 Pet. 1:21, 2 Tim. 3:16), so it is most definitely possible to be indwelled and yet feel like God has rejected you. It doesn't mean He has however.



How much faith does it take to be saved? Well desperate as you are let me ask you this. Are you willing to let Jesus save you? Since you are here I'm confident you've answered yes. In fact, I'd bet over the years you've probably cried out to God, probably more than once. But once is all it takes and it doesn't require you being all gushy or joyful. One of the shortest salvation prayers I've heard was "fine". Would God save a person for such a prayer? Yes He would. Why? Because God wants to save (Eze. 18:23, 32, 2 Pet. 3:9, 1 Tim. 2:3-4, 1 Tim. 4:10, Heb. 2:9, Luke 6:35, 19:10, Matt. 22:10) and it has nothing to do with your being worth it or having anything to contribute or repay Him with (Matt. 5:3, 22:10, Phil. 3:8, Isa. 64:6). If God only ever saved you from Hell but got nothing in return He would rejoice. Why? Because that's who He is (1 John 4:8,16). So How much faith does it take to be saved?



Consider the serpent in the desert that Jesus compared Himself with (John 3:14-15, 12:32). A plague of serpents was released on the Israelites (Numbers 21 starting at verse 6).  God decreed to Moses that Moses shall erect a bronze serpent and that anyone who is bit by a snake, if he looks at the statue, he would live. So picture it, you're going about your day, you get bit by one of these poisonous serpents, and knowing that the snakes are deadly because you've seen people die from these bites you find yourself in a state of doom (we can all feel that can't we). But you've heard Moses say all you need to do is look at the Bronze Serpent and you'll live. How much faith would it take to take a glance? If you know you're out of options with no other solution and you're facing certain doom, how much faith would it take to maybe point your eyes toward that serpent over there on the crazy notion that it may actually work. Not much right? I mean it couldn't hurt to so why wouldn't you? You know the alternative is death, if there is a remote possibility a simple glance can alter the course of your life, then why not turn your head and look at the serpent. I've seen people have more faith in superstitions such as not walking under ladders, carrying a rabbit's foot everywhere, rubbing my ever balding head for luck... and yet what God required of these men in order to live takes even less.



Ironically I bet many of these people bitten by the snakes were surprised they lived. Likewise I believe many people will get to heaven and find themselves surprised they are there too. One doesn't need to understand the full implications of grace to be saved by it. One doesn't need to feel the joy of their salvation to be saved. They only need to realize they are in trouble and use a mustard seed of faith to cry out to God and as it is with the serpent, they will live. Does the person who looks at the statue with only tiny amount of faith in what Moses spoke need to be confident it will work for them to live? Nope. That wasn't a requirement. If they have confidence..great! But it's not needed. Just a glance will do, trembling or not while doing it. And such a person who may be found confident we could say may have a strong faith as spoken of in Romans 14 yet mercy is still given to those weak in faith too (Jude 1:22). But Jesus said even a person with a mustard seed of faith can move mountains (Matt. 17:20). Why? Because it's not the greatness of your faith that moves the mountain but rather the object of that faith, Jesus.



Even the prodigal son in Luke 15 who came to his senses to return to his father to become as hired help didn't realize, embrace, nor appreciate the compassion of his father who ran out to meet him while he was still a long way off. Even after dad embraced him, kissed him, ordered the fatten calf killed and the good robes to be brought, even after all these wonderful gestures testifying of his father's love were displayed the son still tried to perform his guilt-ridden speech. Fortunately for him (and us) the father's love for him wasn't contingent on his feeling it or knowing it. You can clearly see in the story the son still didn't get it after his dad was lavishing his love on him but that didn't sway the father from celebrating his son's return. The same is true of us and our Heavenly Father.



When we honestly make a cry out to God, God honestly answers. He said He would. Even if we aren't fully convinced we're loved just as the prodigal son wasn't fully convinced he was either. God only needs to be "let loose" which happened the day the prodigal decided to returned and with us the day we made an honest cry out to God.



I believe this is why scripture says "as many as received Him to them He gave the right to become children of God" (John 1:12) and again "all who call up on the name of the Lord shall be saved" (Romans 10:13) It does NOT say "as many as knew the depths of His love" (evidence for this when Paul prays for the believers at Ephesus in Ephesians 3:14-19 to know the depths of God's love even after they believed) nor does it say "as many as felt confident in their salvation". Again it doesn't say "all who call up on the name of the Lord and never have doubts" just like with the bronze serpent the condition was merely they looked, it did not require them to look with unwavering assurance.



I wonder how many times we still cry to God to save us whereas we are already saved. We still cry out to God "Please save me" whereas God could reply "already done my child". Prayer answered but we're just like the prodigal, not fully convinced, yet our Heavenly Father is just like the prodigal's dad, celebrating and rejoicing. But we look at our trembling, our fears, and we conclude by those things that we're screwed. Like Asaph did in Psalms 77:10 when he concluded “This is my fate; the Most High has turned his hand against me.” (NLT).

 

Many of us doubt sufferers are convinced we suffer from unbelief but doubt is quite a bit different than unbelief. Doubt actually testifies of a persons faith for doubt cannot exist without an embodiment to stand in. In other words, in order to have doubt, there must be an idea or belief to question. In the case of the Christian we believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, having that belief, gives us something to doubt. For example many fear Jesus will say to them "I never knew you" referring to Matthew 7:23. But doesn't that very fear testify of a belief in not only the authority of Jesus but in His resurrection as well? I mean which among you fear Santa Claus? And if you don't, why don't you? For if your level of belief in Jesus resembles that of your level of belief in Santa, wouldn't your response be the same? Those willfully choosing unbelief don't fear God. The doubter does and there's a good chance if you're reading this you do too. Now how each individual interprets and handles those doubts can vary greatly from person to person. In my case they plagued me, and coupled with fear created the hardest thing I had ever gone through in my life.



Those going through this struggle with doubt might feel ashamed to bring it up in the church. Those not having gone through it lack understanding, and may be tempted to quickly judge those who are and even offer one-liner remedies. This does not mean they lack compassion, just understanding. Their idea of what doubt is, is much different than the plaguing doubts that cause us suffering.

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