Doubt

I’ve heard it said that doubt and faith can co-exist. To me, it seems clear from Jesus’ conversation with Thomas that they can’t. I’m not sure where Thomas was the first time Jesus appeared to a group of His close friends after His resurrection. They were locked in a room for fear of the Jews. Maybe Thomas had braved the streets to go and get them something to eat, but anyway, he missed the big moment. They told him about it afterwards and he said: “Unless I see the nail marks in His hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”

Later Jesus came again and specifically said to Thomas: “Put your finger here; see My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Faith and doubt may not co-exist, but faith and questioning can. After all, a question Thomas asked brought us one of the most central truths in Christianity – Jesus’ statement that: “I am the Way and the Truth and the Life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6).

I’m reading a book at the moment about when Christians are faced with the hard questions in life. Why does God supernaturally heal one person but leave another to cope with their disability, when we read about those wonderful miracles, and that Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever? Why does one person have a supportive network of family and friends, while others grieve loved ones and appear to have very little? We really don’t understand, so what can we do? We can hold onto what we know. We know that Jesus is our good Shepherd and our admission ticket to heaven. I’ve told you before about the time this verse came into my head immediately: “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).

“Faith means being sure of the things we hope for and knowing that something is real even if we do not see it” (Hebrews 11:1). We may not see the full picture; we might still have questions, but in the midst of those questions, our faith in Jesus can triumph over doubt.

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What to do When it all Goes Pear-Shaped

I wanted to write a post on this theme, but couldn’t find the words until I looked at the life of Moses. As a young adult in Egypt, Moses sees a Hebrew slave being mistreated and tries to help by taking things into his own hands. He ends up murdering an Egyptian and being forced to leave the country – not a great start, so he lives in Midian for a while, where he meets his wife, gets married and fathers two boys. That’s the background.

One day, when he’s looking after his father-in-law’s sheep, he meets with God in a very special way (maybe you’ve heard the famous story of the burning bush). God tells Moses that He’s seen the misery of His people and He’s going to rescue them, and Moses will be the one to do it. Moses of course has excuses. Perhaps he’s thinking of his past and the murder when he says: “I am not a great man”, but every excuse he can find, God has an answer for.

As he went with his brother Aaron to Pharaoh’s palace to ask to leave Egypt, Moses must have thought: “Finally! I’m doing what I always wanted – helping my people, and this time I’ve got God on my side. What can go wrong?”

But the Pharaoh had no regard for God. He accused the Israelites of laziness and increased their workload considerably. Not only did they blame Moses and Aaron, they actually said: “May the LORD punish you. You caused the king and his officers to hate us” (Exodus 5:21): Opposition from Pharaoh, opposition from his own people, and the temptation to doubt God.

Following God won’t always ensure that circumstances go our way, but it’s what we do when everything goes pear-shaped that counts. What Moses did was to pray and ask Him about the situation. “Why have You brought this trouble on Your people? Is this why You sent me here? I went to the king and said what You told me to say, but ever since that time he has made the people suffer. And You have done nothing to save them” (Exodus 5:22-23). God, I did everything You told me to do. What’s going on? And what happened after that? “Then the LORD said to Moses” … Letting God in allows Him to give us His take on things, and to strengthen us for the journey ahead.

Moses tells the Israelites about God’s promise to him, but in their discouragement, they refuse to listen and soon, Moses is discouraged right along-with them. “’Surely the king will not listen to me either. I am not a good speaker.’ But” (here it is again) “the LORD spoke to Moses and Aaron” (Exodus 6:12-13).

I don’t know all the people reading this blog. I don’t know the situations you’re struggling with, but can I encourage you to let God in?

5-Minute Friday: Doubt

5-Minute Friday’s here again, just writing for approx. 5 minutes without worrying whether it’s just right. This week’s prompt is: Doubt, and if you want to read some of the other offerings, you can visit http://katemotaung.com or follow the #FMFParty hatchtag on Twitter.

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Doubt has always seemed such a negative word. Someone believes something is true, but then they have doubts. You discern something that makes you feel uneasy, but you’re encouraged to give the person the benefit of the doubt – questioning your own judgment. The more we walk down the path of doubt, the further away we are from the path of faith.

John the Baptist started to make his way down the doubt-path as he languished in prison. God had told him the one His Spirit rested on would be the Messiah, but John’s preaching of what was right had landed him in a cell. Surely any Messiah, and especially a relative of his, would give him freedom. That thought must have been like the mouse in the corner, gnawing and gnawing at him, until finally he sent some to ask Jesus: Was He the One or should they expect someone else? Scepticism at its most sceptical, but Jesus knows what John needs: He needs another taste of the world outside, a fresh look at what’s going on. The lame walk! The deaf hear! Good news is preached to the poor!

Relief must have flooded John as he heard the news, but shame at the same time. He had doubted; what would Jesus think of him now? But Jesus complimented him in the hearing of the crowd, and gave him hope that he would be blessed if Jesus wasn’t an offence to him.

Doubting his Calling?

I was reading the beginning of Acts 11 this morning, and it got me thinking. You know how in those stories you know really well, an earlier part can remind you of what happens later? Yeah, it was a bit like that.

I was reading about when Peter returned from telling the good news about Jesus to Cornelius and watching his household being filled with the Holy Spirit. Some people thought this good news should only be told to Jews, and Cornelius wasn’t a Jew, so Peter came in for a bit of criticism. Fresh from witnessing God’s power, this opposition didn’t faze him at all. You see, Peter himself had been reluctant to associate with non-Jews, but in Acts 10:9-20, God had shown him a vision of animals Jews were forbidden to eat and said: “Don’t call anything unclean which I have called clean.” So, Peter described the vision he’d had in the previous chapter as his reason for visiting Cornelius. Great! What a transformation!

But later on, in Paul’s letter to the Galatians, he writes that Peter ate with non-Jews, but when some strict Jews came along, he started to back away from them. In typical Paul fashion, Paul opposed Peter to his face ‘Because he stood condemned’. (I love how Paul confronts these issues.) Why did Peter stand condemned? Because God had already revealed how He wanted him to treat people: “Don’t call anything unclean which I have called clean”, but instead of being led by the Spirit of God, Peter was acting in fear – backing away from the non-Jews because he was afraid of those who were Jewish like himself.

What about the vision? What about the power God had given Peter to communicate with non-Jews? Perhaps it’s not dissimilar to that day in the Garden of Eden, when the serpent came along. “Did God really say …?” As time passes, it can be so easy to let doubt creep into our minds, but Paul tells us: “There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit” (Romans 8:1). Instead of walking in the flesh (in our fears or doubts), let’s walk according to God’s Spirit and be faithful to our callings.