Tag Archive: unbelief


doubt

A while back someone asked me to write a blog post or series about Doubt and i already had this post’s heading sitting in my draft box waiting to be written.

So today i try to write it…

…and was doing really well…

…at least until i Uncle Googled what the bible had to say about doubt which totally threw my argument on its head.

But let me share it anyway – maybe you’re smarter than me in terms of joining the dots… or maybe this is just messy and worth wrestling with and it’s okay if we don’t reach a definitive result [gasp!]

 

doubtdoesnotequalunbelief

 

What is the opposite of Faith? It’s Doubt.

Was the mantra we had growing up. And it kinda sounds like it makes sense, right? If faith is believing, then doubt which is not believing, must be the opposite.

Until some smug christian-type got up to the mic and boldly declared that, ‘No! The opposite of faith is certainty!’

WAIT? WHAT???

Think about it for a moment. If you are required to have faith, then you can’t be certain about something, and so there must be some measure of doubt present, right?

That made a lot of sense to me. And i stole it and used it in a whole bunch of talks and preaches since then.

It’s not not believing, but more not being absolutely sure that what you are believing in is right.

Faith comes from a place of not being certain and so you need to hold on to something, or express something – that is, faith – to move towards that place.

Which means that Faith and Doubt are like conjoined twins. Or a koeksuster.

koeksuster

Yes, you heard it here first. The Koeksuster of Faith. [An analogy, that if successful enough, will have people bringing koeksusters to camps for me when i speak, you know “so that i can use it for an illustration”]

For those foreigners who don’t know what a koeksuster is, the graphic is pretty self explanatory – sweet crunchy doughy goodness, folded around itself like a braid. It’s hard to tell where one piece ends and the next begins [or is it all just one piece?]

The point i was hoping to make is that doubt it okay. It is normal and natural and okay to have.

That is, until i started reading the book:

From James 1:

But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

In Matthew 21:

21 Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. 22 If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

And in Matthew 14 when Peter joins Jesus on the water:

28 “Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”

29 “Come,” he said.

Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. 30But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Hokay, so wow, this is where it gets a little complicated. Or maybe simple? Because the strong instruction here seems to be to not doubt.

Not doubting seems to be quite closely tied to the miraculous here [water walking and mountain moving] which i definitely have not personally observed all that much of.

URGH, SO WHERE DOES THAT LEAVE ME?

faithdoubtdig

i did find that on the Internets and i do like that as an idea to consider and wrestle with and maybe hold on to. Your thoughts?

That when doubt strikes or in times of struggling faith, don’t throw out everything that you planted or held to when your faith was there. Because doubt can be something that strikes for a moment or season and sometimes when you’re doubting it can be uber helpful to look back to the times when your faith was strong and remember what sustained you in those times.

i think i would rewrite this as, ‘Be slow to dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.’ Because some things do need to go. Especially if your faith proves to have been misguided or in the wrong thing. But the point is don’t rush to break down things that used to make a lot of sense to you – so important to critique, challenge and question in a healthy way [which, sadly, the church has too often been a little scared to let us do because we might lose all faith and leave the building] but to do so positively and in a way that is healthy and helpful for all concerned.

Then i discovered this short verse in the book of Jude right at the end of the bible, which also brought me some hope:

And in Jude 1:

20 But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, 21 keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.

22 Be merciful to those who doubt; 23 save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh.

 The instruction to be merciful to those who doubt. Phew! So doubting is not the ideal situation to be in, but provision is given for me at least.

i have a whole lot more to say on a more personal experiential note, but i will keep that for a follow-up post – in the meantime i will leave you with this inspirational piece of writing to see if you agree with it or not. And i would really love for you to share some thoughts you have on doubt.

Do you think Doubt is always good or always bad? Or do you see there being a helpful relationship between them? And if so, how do you balance that with the verses above? Do they suggest to us that all Doubt is always bad? Tell us what you think.

[For the next part, looking at a more personal wrestling of the faith and doubt question, click here]

faithdoubt

believe

Wow! This passage and that statement resonate with me so deeply and i think always have.

Illustrating the tension of holding seemingly contradictory beliefs or understandings at the same time.

The hopelessness of a situation vs. the trust placed in God.

Yeah, this is just a really good one, so join me as I look at Mark chapter 9 verse 14 to 32:

[For the next passage which has to do with Jesus and His encounter with some children, click here]

‘a theist believes in at least one god, but denies the existence of many gods’ [the skeptic’s dictionary]

whereas an atheist denies the existence of god completely

and ‘at heist’ is just a case of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, but that’s not important now…

a theist and an atheist – so vastly different and yet the difference between them is nothing… or ‘a space’ to be more precise…

[disclaimer: oh and by the way, this is one of those blogs that is more for me than for you – i am writing to think my thorts out loud, to process them, to do it publically in case anyone else is thinking/wrestling/engaging about the same kind of stuff, but i am not looking for answers, so please keep those to yourself – i am not asking you to solve anything – i am merely trying to process what is going on in my head, and maybe cause you to think a little]

i have worked as a pastory type guy at the stellenbosch vineyard church for almost 6 years now – in that time i have seen two christian guys become atheists – it’s kinda weird that to go from a theist to an atheist you have to lose the gap as opposed to creating one – it feels like it should be the other way around…

so if you were to be an outside evaluator of my work you would see that i started out with two christians and finished up with two atheists – i don’t think i’d score that well in pastoring school… and i know that i didn’t change them (i hope i didn’t change them) but it happened under my watch so to speak [which is ridiculous cos i don’t have a watch, except on my cellphone but to say it happened under my cellphone gets very confusing because it’s not that big a phone] and i didn’t have the answers or the proof or the experience to stop it from happening and so a part of me feels like it may as well have been my doing

[there are others who have been a part of our community in these last years who have moved away from God or christianity or both and that disturbs me as well, but to become an atheist is a step towards something, rather than just a step away from something, which is a lot easier to do]

so it does bother me in an i-failed kind of way to some kind of extent – i have something, my faith, my relationship with God, the purpose that gives me life – that is most-of-the-time so incredibly absolutely whole-heartedly real to me and even tho i don’t always understand it or have a complete explanational grasp of it, it is the very core of my being – and i have been unable to communicate or demonstrate or pass that on to these two guys in an adequate enuff way that had them going ‘this-is-real-this-is-for-me’ and that has to bug me, to frustrate me, to dishearten me. it has to. because i obviously believe that what i believe is truth and within that also lies the believed consequence for someone who doesn’t believe that (both when they die but even hugely now) and that should cause me great concern, and does…

but it’s not going to cripple me. it’s not going to knock me off my horse (and not just cos unlike mr terblanche i don’t actually have a horse, i have a rocking horse, but it’s a metaphorical one, and purely for aesthetics). i think i’ll be okay.

really? and why is that you may ask? [or i may go ahead and ask for you] – Because Jesus was okay with it!

there is a passage in luke i think it is (maybe john) where Jesus preaches a bit of a tough message and a whole bunch of His followers find it too strong a message and so they leave… and He lets them. and then turns to His disciples and asks them, “What about you? Are you also going to leave?” to which Peter replies, “Where shall we go? Only You have the words of Truth.” [And for me, that is a lot of the bottom line – i have struggles with some aspects of christianity, i don’t understand a lot of the Bible and how God works or doesn’t seem to work sometimes, but i have identified Jesus as having the words of Truth, it is in my gut and i cannot shake it and have not come close to hearing any other kind of more believable truth anywhere else]

then there is the story of the rich young ruler and one of the most powerful phrases in the Bible to me because when you read the story of Jesus you get the idea that in His interaction with the man, He knows from the beginning that it’s not going to be successful in terms of gaining another follower – and yet there is this phrase – ‘Jesus looked at him and loved him.’ And the rich young ruler walks away from Jesus disappointed and empty-handed, because the cost of following Jesus (all your stuff, I want you, and everything else you have made more important than Me in your life) is too much for him. And Jesus lets him go.

i don’t doubt for a second that the moment any one of those original followers or the rich young ruler had a change of heart and recognised Who Jesus really was and returned to Him and asked once again to be allowed to follow, that He would have instantly and with much joy received them back.

but He wasn’t going to chase them down to have them ‘follow’ Him for the sake of having extra followers… He wanted those who followed Him to be genuine. to believe (and even in the way of the father of the demon-possessed kid who, when Jesus challenged him, responded with, ‘I do believe – help me overcome my unbelief!” – that’s often my cry in certain areas of my faith at least). not to not have doubts, but to overcome their doubts (which is faith! – it doesn’t mean you don’t doubt, it just means the doubt doesn’t knock you down and leave you there)

and so i haven’t given up on these guys. i hope we will remain friends. i will pray for them. i will chat to them anytime they want to chat, and listen to them on their journey and hope that they will listen to me on mine. i won’t try and convert them (or unconvert them? reconvert?) but i hope we’ll still get to hang and play Settlers and whatever else comes along.

i do hope they will continue to challenge their beliefs now that they have walked away from one set. and not just settle for another because it is convenient. continue to wrestle guys, continue to question, hopefully continue to seek because God does say if you seek Me you will find Me and seeking meaning in the world always leads you to God at some stage. always. because He is the way and the Truth and the Life – it doesn’t take you believing it to make it true.

an atheist denies the existence of god completely

a theist believes in at least one god, but denies the existence of many gods

“i believe Lord, help me overcome my unbelief.” [Mark 9.24]

a verse i am really drawn to in the Bible that falls nicely alongside my life themesong of ‘there must be more than this’ – the knowledge that God can do it, but will He choose to…?

and the other day, altho it’s not very CC (Christianly Correct) as i lay with my wife crying out in immense pain with the hugest of mammoth headaches to end all headaches and i prayed and cried out to God and prayed in tongues and asked and begged and pleaded and and and…

silence of the lamb.

my faith cracked. it didn’t shatter or break and i don’t not believe in God and i’m not going to walk away from being a passionate God follower or anything… but in the moment that i, we, really needed God to do something that,  for a being who can speak a universe into being in a word or breath, is the smallest kind of thing imaginable, we just didn’t see it… and i didn’t really know what to do with that, not with my wife crying out in agonising pain.

you see the theory is quite easy. it’s very easy to believe in God and speak about God and trust in God and all of that. but when you need God, you need God and it would be so very nice if He would appear in the way you would hope and expect.

‘able to do immeasurably more than all we can hope or imagine?’ – it was one headache…

Elijah witnessed one of the greatest miracles in the Bible when God sends fire down from heaven to obliterate his offering after the prophets of Baal have spent all day cring out to their ‘god’ and cutting themselves and dancing and performing, but the very next moment he is sitting in a cave feeling sorry for himself crying “kill me God, i am the only one left” and yet God had reserved 7000 somewhere else in a different cave… God’s plan was already in action.

altho to be honest, i still have largely to see the fire from heaven miracle before the “where are you God?” question… but i hear of other peoples all the time.

and so “i (do) believe Lord, help me overcome my unbelief.”

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