Doubting and Believing

Have you ever seen those medieval pictures of devils whispering into the ears of the faithful?  What do you suppose they were saying?  Allegedly, they were planting doubts in the minds of their victims.  Doubting and believing were defined in simple terms at those times.  Beliefs were dictated by commandment, and doubting meant dissent of any kind from the dogma of the Church.  Never mind that some of that dogma wasn’t entirely scriptural!  The Reformation punched holes in some of those certainties, and a major force behind the Reformation was the widespread availability of the printed word.  Printing made information cheap.

Choices
Information is many times more widespread in the modern world.  The multiplicity of information sources spreads doubts far more rapidly than legions of those little devils!  But, to the medieval world, doubts were defined by commandment.  People were told what to believe about everything.  The 21st century world doesn’t work like that.  Information is fed to us from all directions and we have to make individual choices between truth and misinformation.

Second-hand
Don’t be afraid of doubt.  OK, it may feel like a threat, but you can also treat it as a tool to help you dig down to the solid ground of your real faith.  I’m avoiding the adjective “true”, because it’s so often used in a negative way.  “True Faith” (note the capitals) implies a set of beliefs that we have and they don’t.  My real faith consists of the things I believe deep down, and those beliefs have been tested again and again – by doubt. We need to know that our faith is authentic and deep rooted.  A 14th century English writer told the following story to illustrate real faith:
A hound that only runs after the hare because he sees other hounds run rests when he is tired or returns home. But if he runs because he sees the hare, he will not stop until he has caught it, tired though he may be.[i]
Let’s not have second-hand faith.  Let’s have real faith that changes the way we behave.  I’ve been challenged on this many times – to my benefit:

Glorious

At the age of 17, I was blessed with the experience that many call “the baptism of the Holy Spirit” and, yes, I did “speak in tongues”.  I was young in the faith and rightly respected my teachers and leaders.  However, those same leaders did not believe in the blessing I’d experienced, and they took the opportunity of a “Young People’s Weekend” to take me aside and persuade me to deny my experience.  They led me to doubt.  That Weekend was held in a southern coastal resort, and we were back in the same place six months later.  During afternoon “free time” I went for a walk in the surrounding countryside.  The weather was glorious, and my heart spontaneously rose up in worship to my Creator.  It felt wonderful – but my worship came out in “tongues” (the blessing I’d been persuaded to deny!)  However, this time there was neither denial nor doubt.  It wasn’t a fleeting experience with a bit of doctrine tagged on.  It was a deep, heartfelt engagement with my heavenly Father.  I had seen the hare!

Morro Rock


In California there’s a coastal town called Morro Rock and, as you look out from the shore you can see why. The Rock is massive, and dominates the harbour.  Waking up there in my motel room one morning, I reached for my Bible and read from the book of Revelation.  My early Bible training included particular teachings about Revelation but, that morning, I realised that those teachings didn’t fit with what I was reading.  I began to doubt what I’d been taught.   Disturbed by my doubt, I went for a walk along the spit of land leading out to the Rock, which was then hidden in the morning mist.  As I walked, my mind was anxiously churning over those thoughts.  Then, as the mist lifted and the Rock appeared out of the gloom, I cried out, “Lord, I don’t believe that stuff anymore!” and a voice in my head said, “What matters is not your intellectual ideas, but the way that you live. Are you living as if you expect Christ to return?”  I recognised that voice.  It’s a voice that’s often brought me comfort.  My doubts turned from fanciful teachings about God to a deeper trust and love for the Saviour himsel

Challenge
From time to tine many smaller doubts enter our heads (yes, including mine, as a believer for more than 60 years).  I have doubts – and I’m not ashamed to admit it.  Most of them are incidentals – moments of uncertainty.  A Bible passage that offends my sense of justice.  A prayer that was less a prayer of faith than a weak expression of hope.  Why can’t I have more faith?  Because a little faith is enough to produce huge effects.  But the most disabling doubts are doubts about myself.  Have I got what it takes to obey God’s calling and to last the course?  Many saints have faced that challenge.

Agony
Moses and Elijah stand out prominently among the prophets of the Old Testament, but each of them faced a crisis where they almost threw in the towel and abandoned their calling.  I believe that was why they were chosen to meet Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.  In the first couple of years of his ministry he drew ever increasing crowds and was widely admired as a prophet.  But there came a day when one of his disciples declared “You are the Messiah!” and, at that point, Jesus knew that the game had changed.  He knew that, to fulfil his mission, he must suffer.  He had a human body and would suffer as a human – could he go through with it?  Helped by those two men who knew the agony of doubt, Jesus decided to continue his journey towards the cross.

Courage
Doubt is the sand grain that creates the pearl.  It is the grinder that shapes the gem, and the abrasive that polishes its facets.  Doubt forces us to face the truth about ourselves and to discover the depths of our faith. Don’t run away from doubt, but face it with courage.  The incredible truth that many heroes of faith have discovered is that the weakness they think disqualifies them is God’s opportunity to become their strength. As the Lord said to St Paul, “My strength is made perfect in weakness[i].  When we have passed through doubt, we find the strength to take up the cross and follow Jesus [ii].

©Derrick Phillips 2022


[i] Walter Hilton, “The Ladder of Perfection”, Book 1, Chapter 41.

[ii] 2 Corinthians 12:9 (KJV)

[iii] For related inspiration see these previous blog postings: Heroes of DoubtPrayer in hopelessnessFive questions about the TransfigurationMore thoughts on the Transfiguration


4 thoughts on “Doubting and Believing

  1. Good post–doubt is integral to faith, in my experience. Every time I doubt that God is going to bless me, it’s as though He smiles and says, “Just watch me!”😊 Blessings to you, Sir.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Chronicles Conundrum
    Mar 20, 2022
    Chronicles Conundrum – featured image
    Why are the books of Chronicles included in the Bible? Who wants to read those boring lists of names? That wasn’t quite how my friend asked the question. What he actually said was, “What do you do when you come to the books of Chronicles?”. He knew about my habit of reading the whole Bible every year, and he assumed that I must have a problem with Chronicles. Well, it is a problem for many people. But not to me. Let me explain:

    Easier
    The first nine chapters of this Old Testament book consist almost exclusively of genealogy. The first chapter launches straight in with the words “Adam, Seth, Enoch, Kenan, Mahalalel, Jared, Enoch, Methuselah, Lamech, Noah, Shem, Ham, and Japheth” – does that inspire you? After that, the book continues page after page, listing the family lines of each of the twelve tribes of Israel. Eventually, it gets to the stories of King Saul and King David, and the reading becomes easier. However, the name lists return in Chapters 23 to 27 before resuming the narrative, which then continues in the second book of Chronicles.

    Shapes
    My immediate answer to my friend’s question was, “I feel that I know these people” – and I meant it. I don’t know all of them, but the names that I recognise bring their stories back to mind. Have you ever noticed how your own name can pop out from a page? Or you may notice the name of one of your children, or of a close friend. Runners experience that effect when scanning pages full of competitors’ names after a race. Our brains are tuned to picking out meaningful shapes from otherwise random patterns.

    Inspiring
    Chronicles isn’t just a list of names. Mostly, it’s a story about the “chosen people” from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of Judah (the books of 1 and 2 Kings, tell the story from the viewpoint of the Kingdom of Israel). But, even amongst the genealogies, we find mini-stories that break the pattern. We discover something of the history of the neighbouring Kingdom of Edom[1]; we find the delightful story of Jabez[2], a man of deep faith; and we learn how an otherwise unknown family of Israelites fought to make a home for themselves in the Promised Land[3]. Also, these books feature some inspiring texts[4].

    Reputation
    Chronicles resolved a question I had about the prophet Samuel, who fiercely criticised King Saul for performing a sacrificial rite that only the Levites were allowed to do. But then Samuel, who also didn’t seem to meet the qualifications, went ahead and performed the rite himself. It didn’t seem just! The first chapter of 1 Samuel says that Samuel’s father came from “Mount Ephraim”. So, was he a Levite, or was he from the tribe of Ephraim? Chronicles provides the missing information. Samuel’s father, Elkanah, was a Levite by descent, but happened to live in the territory of Ephraim. Relax, Samuel – your reputation is rescued!

    Culture
    Genealogical research is now a popular pastime. Alex Haley’s 1976 novel, “Roots”, and the subsequent TV programme encouraged the hobby, and research became much easier after the birth of the Internet. But Hebrew culture always valued family history, and some other cultures love the ancestral records in the Bible. You or I may be unenthusiastic about genealogical lists, but the Bible wasn’t written for our culture alone. You don’t have to like the lists of names in Chronicles, but they belong where they are. The Bible is a book for the whole world. Value it. Read it. Love it.

    © Derrick Phillips 2022

    Reading the whole Bible is a valuable aid to faith, but some people find it a challenge. To help with that challenge, read my blog “Bible in a Year”, which includes a link to download your personal Bible Reading Record to print, use, or share.
    [1] 1 Chronicles 1:43-54
    [2] 1 Chronicles 4:9-10
    [3] 1 Chronicles 4:38-43
    [4] e.g. 1 Chronicles 29:11-13 & 2 Chronicles 7:14

    Like

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