Dealing with Our Doubts

DoubtIt’s one thing to be racked by our doubts, wondering if God exists, if He cares, if he can do anything for us in our uncertainties. But to feel that our doubts are sinful, that we must keep them hidden, compounds our distress.

The truth is that doubt is the not infrequent experience of aspiring saints, while the smug or narcissistic or spiritually complacent know little about it. Bible characters like Esau, Samson, Absalom and Herodias give little evidence of wrestling with doubts. They are all supremely self-confident people.

But the prophet Elijah is a different case. So are Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and John the Baptist. Even Jesus had his times of doubt. No one ever trusted the Father more implicitly, yet, from his cross he cried, “My God, My God, Why…?”

There are many doubter’s laments in the Psalms. At least 40 of the 150 are called psalms of lament, and some are from people wrestling with doubt.

Psalm 77 is one of them.

This psalmist is in such distress that he cannot sleep at night. He holds God responsible for even this, since for the Hebrew mind God is ultimately involved in every human situation.

The psalmist cries out in his anguish, “Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in his anger shut up his compassion? (Psalm 77:9 RSV).

This psalm must at first have been the solitary cry of one believer. But when the psalms were collected, eventually to become the Old Testament hymn book, this one was seen as a cry common to many devout hearts. Thus it was made a part of the Old Testament worship literature. Now all doubters, New Testament doubters too, may use it.

But it is not for committed unbelievers. They are inclined to resist being nudged in the direction of faith. Answer one question and they will likely raise another.

No, Psalm 77 is for devout doubters. Doubters want to believe God is their friend, that God is there for them.

But they struggle to see how things could be as they are if God really cared. Doubters have faith but it is under assault, conflicted, strained.

Frederick Robertson, great preacher of an earlier generation, dealt with black, sometimes nearly overwhelming, doubts. His advice?

“Obedience! Leave those thoughts [of doubt] for the present … Force yourselves to abound in little services; try to do good to others; be true to the duty that you know …”

Good advice, but there is an even deeper word in this psalm. “I will call to mind the deeds of the Lord,” he says, “yea, I will remember thy wonders of old” (Psalm 77:11 RSV).

This psalmist avoided the peril of self-absorption by meditating, principally on the mighty acts of his God at the Red Sea.

We can go one better. We have the record of the mighty acts of Jesus to call to mind – his perfect life, his love for the oppressed, his healings – and particularly his deliverance from death at Joseph’s tomb. The Holy Spirit, by such meditations, can renew our faith.

When trying to overcome oppressive doubts, in addition to personal meditation, it is also good to go where a company of believers is worshiping the living God. Attempt to share in their faith as they sing and pray. Join with them and listen to the word of God preached. You will be among friends. On any given Sunday, there will surely be others there too who need to activate Psalm 77.

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Photo credit: “Betsssssy” (via flickr.com)

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2 thoughts on “Dealing with Our Doubts

  1. Sometimes,when things seem tough and it seems my prayers aren’t answered I get this stab of fear – what if my prayers aren’t heard ?

    I think of all those people who say there is no God & that we Christians are deluded. Here in Britain such people are all around us .In England,unlike say America, there is a constitutionally established state religion,Christianity – Protestant and Anglican ( Church of England) . But other faiths are tolerated Our monarch cannot choose to be other than Christian Protestant.So in name we are a Christian state.

    Yet I believe church attendance and Christian belief is paradoxically lower than anywhere in North America. All around we Christians ,we hear sceptical voices. We huddle together in our faith supporting one another ,keeping the Christian flame alive in our somtimes tiny church congregations,the average age of whom gets ever older.Though some churches buck this trend and in these congregations grow and there are plenty of young Christians.

    Sometimes for a moment fear seizes me. What if all those sceptic voices have a point? I can’t think of anything worse than that the Gospel isn’t true.But I know it is !

    Then ,I must admit,I do feel bad that I even entertained doubts for a moment. Like you say ,Pastor,great Christian thinkers have had doubts.And that’s where my reading helps me.Greatest of all,as you say ,is Jesus Christ’s 4th Last Word from the Cross according to Mark and Matthew .

    “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani”

    ‘’My God, My God, why have ou forsaken me?’’

    The slightest uncertainty ? Just like when. on that Thursday in the garden of Gethsemane,Jesus said :

    “My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass me by.’’

    Just for a moment it seems even Jesus is considering shrinking from what the Father wills.But immediately Jesus goes on to say :

    ‘’Nevertheless, let it be as you, not I, would have it.’’

    One thing I know for sure.With all my heart I always want to believe God is my creator just as He is the creator of all Heaven and earth and all that is.Wwith all my heart I always want to believe Jesus is my Saviour and I am redeemed,saved from death and the consequences of sin.

    The worst possible nightmare would be that God didn’t exist and Jesus was not my saviour.I’m scared to even admit I even entertained the thought of that possibility for even a split second But such thoughts have come like an enemy and a traitor into my mind if not my heart at terrible times..And after they pass I’m filled with uneasiness and guilt.

    So it helps and comforts me to know I’m not alone.This weeks ‘Just Call Me Pastor’ is a great comfort and resource I shall keep in mind and heart.I take to heart the advice to avoid the peril of self-absorption. Good advice to look outward to the life and deeds of Jesus in the Gospels.

    To think there was a time Christians didn’t have Bibles to read,perhaps couldn’t even read.They had the memory of accounts of the life of Jesus told them in church perhaps.Or seen portrayed on stage in the town Mystery plays ,like the ones performed in my home town of Coventry.But how comforting to have the Bible to hand to read immediately in times of doubt or hardship.

    Certainly the company of fellow Christians is a great resource against doubt .Worship together and contact strengthens our faith.

    Recently reading CS Lewis ‘s ‘A Grief Observed’ helped me. It’s about C.S.Lewis’s grief on the death of his wife,Joy.He felt almost as if God had shut the door on him and shut him out.The book came out in 1961,under a pseudonym.I think C.S.Lewis may have fely uncomfortable about his grief and doubts.He even refers to his wife as H ,as if to deflect being identified.His book asks the great fundamental questions of faith and is troubling in it’s doubt.The author seems close to despair.

    But in the end faith triumphs with C.S.Lewis.In the end he quotes medieval English Christian mystic,the visionary Lady Julian of Nowrwich ,by saying :

    ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well’

    These are words of comfort and faith.As has been this week’s ‘Just Call Me Pastor’.So thankyou Pastor Don for your loving Christian encouragement.I appreciate it.

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