Saturday, February 5, 2011

Faith, faith, faith, doubt

Well, we've sure had a lot of faith recently!

We had faith (saved by), faith (living in) and faith (some gaps concerning filled).

And so, I think in order balance things out, I'd like to focus today on faith's ugly cousin, doubt.

I know that doubt has been glammed up recently in some circles. Believers are told it's good to doubt because that's the route to deeper faith.

And in one sense, that's true. Many of us have experienced it, and we certainly see examples of it in the Bible.

Sometimes, when we sincerely struggle with doubt and fear and then take it to God for answers, we come away with a greatly intensified understanding of the grace, wisdom, power and goodness of the Lord of the universe.

This kind of doubt (I'll call it "good-doubt") is necessarily founded on faith. In fact, without a strong pre-existing faith it cannot exist, because good-doubt compares the world to the promises of God and says, "Something's wrong here." It sees the problem clearly, but it is so full of faith that it goes directly to the Lord and confronts Him. It points out the problem and demands the explanation it knows exists.

That's the big difference.

Good-doubt is so focused, and believes God's promises so strongly, that when it sees a contrary reality it has to stop and ask, "What's going on here? God, You're in charge, and You have a plan. So what's this I'm seeing!?"

The book of Habakkuk explores this theme. Throughout the entire book the prophet lists the problems, sins, and evil triumphing over good that he sees all around him. But in the end, he comes away strong. The whole story can be seen in the opening words and the closing words:

O LORD, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you "Violence!" and you will not save? Why do you make me see iniquity, and why do you idly look at wrong? Destruction and violence are before me; strife and contention arise. So the law is paralyzed, and justice never goes forth. For the wicked surround the righteous; so justice goes forth perverted.

Though the fig tree should not blossom, nor fruit be on the vines, the produce of the olive fail and the fields yield no food, the flock be cut off from the fold and there be no herd in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the LORD; I will take joy in the God of my salvation. GOD, the Lord, is my strength; he makes my feet like the deer’s; he makes me tread on my high places.

But - all that said - this is not the kind of doubt I'm addressing today. Today I'm talking about "bad-doubt".

As the name implies, bad-doubt is pretty much the opposite of good-doubt.

Bad-doubt is doubt with just enough faith sprinkled in to confuse things. It too knows the promises, but when it sees reality not conforming, it slinks deep within itself and thinks, "Huh! Guess I was wrong. God's not actually in control after all...."

You see the difference, right?

One of the great passages in scripture on bad-doubt is James 1:6~8. For those who don't have it memorized, here it is:

But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

What I like about this passage is that it gives such a clear and accurate picture of doubt in so few words (unlike a certain blogger my wife is married to...).

It basically makes five points about bad-doubt:

It compares the doubter to a wave of the sea.
This is a fantastic image for the opposite of calm, stable, confident.

The doubter is driven and tossed.
To me, this perfectly describes the experience of bad-doubting. When I give in to it, I am "driven" - pushed ahead with no idea where I'm going or what I'm doing. And then I'm suddenly "tossed" - flipped backward, confused and disoriented.

It's a scary and stressful experience.

It negates God's blessing to the doubter.
"... that person must not suppose ..."

This is something I won't profess to understand exactly, but it's clear (from other passages as well) that our lack of solid faith does affect how God deals with us, almost as if it limits Him.

The one who does it is "double-minded".
The Greek word is "dipsychos" which means "double-minded". (Huh! Go figure!)

But it also means "wavering", "uncertain" and "divided". And these are perfect descriptors of not only what bad-doubt feels like, but why it happens. Think about these words in relation to your faith. Do they fit? Or are they foreign?

It is a choice.
If it weren't, we wouldn't be commanded to avoid it. And what we can choose to do we can also choose not to do. That means it's a matter of the will. It's a decision we make moment by moment.

Okay now, enough of that.
Next week we move on.