The Opposite of Faith Isn’t Doubt

The opposite of faith isn’t doubt, it’s certainty.

Anne Lamott

Somewhere in the pursuit of truth and light, the Protestant reformation embraced at least one of the very practices it sought to discard.

I absolutely believe that by the time Martin Luther tacked his theses to the door the church needed reforming.

Men’s traditions and human “wisdom” had adulterated the pure truth and freedom of Christ’s Good News. No longer a source of liberation, it had been transformed by those in power into a form of bondage.

But humans are a stubborn and prideful lot and it wasn’t long before the liberators became slave drivers.

“Sola Scriptura” didn’t allow for any deviation from the accepted interpretation of those Scriptures. And the interpretation often went past the text and included making absolute assertions about how God works in the world.

Men began to once again place God in a box.

My intentions are not always yours,

        and I do not go about things as you do.

    My thoughts and My ways are above and beyond you,

        just as heaven is far from your reach here on earth.

Isaiah 55:8-9 VOICE

So much of the “faith” handed down today through Sunday School lessons and sermons is one that simply doesn’t leave room for mystery or for doubt or, honestly, for many of the actual Bible stories if you read them straight from the Book and not get them second hand from a loose retelling .

Jesus Himself-the exact representation of the Father (Hebrews 1:3)-didn’t greet skeptics with absolute proof. He pointed to the work He was doing, the truth He was telling and the miracles He performed but He left it to the audience to decide if that qualified Him as the Christ.

Yet we treat those who bring questions to the table of grace at best as immature and at worst as apostates or faithless wannabes.

How far we have fallen from Paul’s declaration: “We walk by faith and not by sight.” (2 Corinthians 5:7)

Worse, we often condemn those who want desperately to come trembling to their church to seek other people and spaces outside the community of faith where their questions will be tolerated.

I love how Philip Yancey spoke of this in a recent blog titled, “A Time To Doubt”:

Jesus had the opportunity to subdue doubts for all time. He could have appeared with a choir of angels on Pilate’s porch the Monday after his resurrection and triumphantly declared, “I’m back!” Or, he could have staged a spectacular display before thousands in the Roman Forum. Instead, he limited his appearances to small groups of people who had already demonstrated some faith in him—which tells me something about the kind of uncoerced faith that God values.

In one of those small gatherings, the apostle who would earn the nickname “doubting Thomas” confronted Jesus. I love that scene, for two reasons. First, it shows the gentle way Jesus treated a doubter, when he had a perfect chance to scold him or pile on the guilt. Listen to Jesus’ approach: “What proof do you need, Thomas? Want to touch my wounds? Shall I eat something for you?”

Second, I note the poignant fact that the other disciples, who had already encountered the risen Jesus, included Thomas in their midst. To them, Thomas was a heretic: he defiantly refused to believe in the Resurrection, the cornerstone of Christian faith. Even so, they welcomed him to join them behind closed doors. Had they not, Thomas may never have met the resurrected Jesus.

Perhaps that gives a model for how the church should handle doubters now. Can we provide a safe, welcoming place for those who need more light?

Philip Yancey, “A Time to Doubt”
Image result for doubting thomas"

I know so, so many people who suffer greatly-often through no fault of their own and sometimes due to the fault and sin of others-who struggle to square their experience with all the declarations they’ve heard about “how God works”.

Image result for i tried to put God in a box c.s. lewis quote"

I know others who have crossed every “t” and dotted every “i” on the long list of “what good Christians do and God rewards” and are living a life of desperation and sadness because life hasn’t turned out anything like what they thought they were promised.

Is it any wonder they are trying to figure things out?

Doubt is not denial.

If someone is asking questions, they are still seeking.

John Drummond points out that Jesus consistently made a distinction between doubt and unbelief. “Doubt is can’t believe; unbelief is won’t believe. Doubt is honesty; unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light; unbelief is content with darkness.” (quoted by Philip Yancey, A Time to Doubt)

Jesus invited honest questions.

He only chastised the religious leaders who thought they knew it all.

Perhaps we could do the same and make space for those who are walking through a desert place to refresh themselves, renew their hope and restore their faith.

Image result for the church more than any other space should be a safe space to ask questions"

**If anyone is honestly searching, they are welcome to use the “contact” option to send me an email and begin a dialogue. ❤**

On Suffering and Redemption

If there is anywhere on earth a lover of God who is always kept safe, I know nothing of it, for it was not shown to me. But this was shown: that in falling and rising again we are always kept in that same precious love.

~Julian of Norwich

Truth is this life is not easy.

There is joy. 

Absolutely amazing awe-inspiring, breath-taking joy.

But there is also suffering. 

Utterly devastating, heart-breaking suffering.

Mark then, Christian, Jesus does not suffer so as to exclude your suffering. He bears a cross, not that you may escape it, but that you may endure it. Christ exempts you from sin, but not from sorrow. Remember that, and expect to suffer.

~C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Morning

When I ponder the pain of child loss, it helps to remember that Jesus suffered too.

Not just at the end, when He allowed evil men to crucify Him, but throughout His life when friends abandoned Him, people tried to kill Him, religious leaders mocked Him and sought to destroy His reputation and work.

It helps me to know that my wounds and scars, like His, will be transformed from evidence of pain and loss into a testimony of grace and redemption.  

The cross is both the symbol of our salvation and the pattern of our lives. Everything that happened to Christ in some way happens to us. When darkness envelops us and we are deaf to everything except the shriek of our own pain, it helps to know that the Father is tracing in us the image of his Son, that the signature of Jesus is being stamped on our souls. For Jesus, the darkness of night gave way to the light of morning.

~Brennan Manning, The Signature of Jesus

When Thomas doubted, Jesus didn’t perform another miracle or call down angels from Heaven to testify on His behalf.  He said, “Here, touch my wounds.”  

I don’t know what that felt like for Thomas, but it was the only proof he needed to believe.

And while Christ accommodated Thomas, He spoke a special blessing on those who would not have such proof.  

blessed are those who believe without seeing

I have doubts some days too.  

There are moments when suffering washes over me like a flood and I am swept under with the tide.  

It’s then I cling tenaciously to the promise that my wounds, like Christ’s, will one day not only be proof of pain but also evidence of God’s redemptive power. 

Could it be that God will wipe the tears from our eyes, but not from our memories, that the renewed experience of the glorified saint will be to recall those sadnesses with the transforming joy which God’s presence and God’s disclosed providence will bring? Surely part of our praise in heaven will not merely be that we are now saved, but that we have been saved, that the very title of being those who have conquered means that our memory of victory will include a transformed awareness of what the whole battle meant.

What a difference this could make to my suffering. The scars I bear in my body, my mind, my soul, the adversities and setbacks, the pains that may yet await me before I get to heaven, the relational wounds, the memories from which I struggle to recover, the darkness of doubt and the battles with unbelief, will not necessarily be removed when I get to heaven, but they will be redeemed, they will be transformed by the long view that being perfected in the presence of my perfect God will bring. What an experience it will be to probe the scars, but to no longer feel their pain – to see them as contour lines of God’s grace by which I ascended into glory. What could it mean for my wounds to sing his praise, for my scars to record his perfections, for my memory of old pains to be set in the context of a new and never failing joy. That makes suffering sufferable now, and glory all the more glorious then.

~Andrew Roycroft, Thinking Pastorally blog, 6.23.19

 

 

A Question of Trust: What About Signs?

It comes up often in bereavement groups:

What about signs from loved ones who have gone on to Heaven?  

What about books that tell stories of people who have been to Heaven yet “allowed to return”? 

What about cardinals and butterflies and feathers and dreams?  

It would be so very easy to allow my feelings to rule my heart and to reject the truth of Scripture. It would be less of a struggle to walk this Valley of the Shadow of Death if I could “talk” to Dominic while waiting to join him.

But the Bible is plain:  I cannot trust in anything or anyone but Jesus Christ. Every thing and every one else is fallible and will eventually lead me astray. 

I wrote this a few months ago and hope it’s helpful to other grieving parents:

Signs

Monday Musings

It’s my habit to watch the sun rise.

Even on Monday mornings.

Even when I might rather stay in bed.  

Because every time the sky lightens from black night to bright day I’m reminded of two things:  

loved by the one in control

 

 

I am not in control.  

But God IS.

I can’t stop the world turning and I can’t make the sun rise.  

 

But I don’t have to-I am not responsible for the big picture.  I am not in charge of making all the pieces fit just-so.

My duty is to be the piece I was made to be.  

To go where God sends me.  

To do what God has for me to do.

 And to leave the rest in His hands.  

There are times I want to be in control, but it doesn’t last long.  I quickly realize that I can barely keep myself in line, much less anyone else.

you are more

 

And when I let go, I am free.  

I am free to be the me God has made me to be.

I free those around me to be the persons God has made them to be.  

And that’s worth waking up to.