Day 24 – Doubt: A Friend of Faith
When we experience doubt, it can throw us. It can come unexpectedly, and it may provoke a sense of shame or discouragement. Our doubt can spiral into more doubt. The desert seasons are often filled with doubt as we wonder if we will make it, we wonder if God is really good, we wonder why this is all happening. Our impulse may be to try to get rid of the doubt but that can be the worst idea. Because there are so many things for which we can’t be certain, doubt is a sign that we are paying attention. If we never have doubts, perhaps we are not living by faith but presumption or even arrogance.
Doubt is actually a friend of faith. When we experience doubt, it is an invitation to trust … to place my faith in who I know God to be. To be sure, doubt often leads to a purification and clarification of what we know and trust. This can be a process and a bit of a journey, but this is part of what God graciously does in the wilderness. We are stripped of preconceived ideas and presumption. We are left with a simplicity that is incredibly profound. It is not without frustration and even pain but can also lead to deep joy and a peace that surpasses understanding … if we let it.
In Exodus 17, the people asked the question … “is God among us or not?” There was doubt. They wondered. Their question was not a bad question in and of itself. It was their interaction with the question that led them astray into grumbling, quarreling, and testing God. However, it could have led them to a deeper experience of trust. A movement toward humility is essential as we encounter doubt.
Once again, if we are paying attention, there is an uncertainty that hangs over life. We do not know what tomorrow may bring. (Proverbs 27:1) This is echoed in the wisdom of James: “Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit’— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. Instead, you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.’ As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.” (4:13–16) As we release “knowing” and embrace humility, we are freed to be able to listen to God in the present moment. Being present to God and responding to His voice (cf., Psalm 95:7-9) is the essence of a humble faith. An insistence on knowing can lead to a hardened heart in which we can’t see God and perceive His presence with us.
Anthony DeMello developed this idea quite profoundly: “The fact is that you are surrounded by God and yet you don’t see God, because you ‘know’ about Him. The final barrier to the vision of God is our God concept. You miss God because you think you know. That’s the terrible thing about religion. That’s what the Gospels were saying – that religious people ‘knew,’ so they got rid of Jesus. The highest knowledge of God is to know God as unknowable.” It may sound confusing to think of God as unknowable. There are clearly things we can know of God, but this highlights the mystery involved in following Jesus. Humility in faith requires that we exercise the repentance rhythm of reflect, release, remember. We reflect on the potential presence of presumption and quest for certainty in our lives, we release, and then remember that we are finite, limited creatures who are dependent upon the infinite God of the universe.
Jesus also spoke boldly about the issue of “knowing” to the religious leaders of His day: “Jesus said, ‘For judgment I came into this world, that those who do not see may see, and those who see may become blind.’ Some of the Pharisees near him heard these things, and said to him, ‘Are we also blind?’ Jesus said to them, ‘If you were blind, you would have no guilt; but now that you say, “We see,” your guilt remains.’” (John 9:39–41) For us to embrace “blindness” is the epitome of humility. While we may find it a bit discouraging or even disorienting to release “knowing” in a presumptuous way, we can move further into trust. Consider the words of the Apostle Paul in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18: “So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal.”
Pause here for just a moment … what do you notice the Spirit stirring in you? Pause to reflect, and then walk through the prayer below from John Baillie:
“Almighty and eternal God, You are hidden from my sight; You are beyond the understanding of my mind; Your thoughts are not as my thoughts; Your ways are past finding out. Yet You have breathed Your Spirit into my life; Yet You have formed my mind to seek You; Yet You have inclined my heart to love You; Yet You have made me restless for the rest that is in You; Yet You have planted within me a hunger and thirst that make me dissatisfied with all the joys of earth. O You who alone knows what lies before me this day, grant that in every hour of it I may stay close to You. Let me be in the world, yet not of it. Let me use this world without abusing it. If I buy, let me be as though I possessed not. If I have nothing, let me be as though possessing all things. Let me today embark on no undertaking that is not in line with You will for my life, nor shrink from any sacrifice Your will may demand. Suggest, direct, control every movement of my mind for my Lord Christ’s sake. Amen.”
Questions for reflection: as you consider a wilderness season in your own life, are there doubts that you have experienced? How can you see those doubts pushing you toward faith?
Prayer: Consider praying slowly through the prayer above from John Baillie.