Re-post: 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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One thought on “Re-post: Dealing With Our Doubts

  1. It’s good to revisit and rethink about this blog on dealing with our doubts.It’s important and helpful to return to the subject , nearly two years later.

    Does God exist ? Does God really love us ? Does He even care ?

    It’s uncomfortable to have these doubts.We feel insecure,alone ,excluded and alienated.
    But what if these doubts are sinful ?

    To add feelings of guilt to our feelings of uncertainty, insecurity and isolation, only exacerbates our distress and makes us fearful.

    I think it’s in our nature for the human mind to think about things and question things,to doubt.

    Poets through the ages have written lyrically about such feelings of doubt. Great Christian thinkers ,even saints have had doubts.

    Christ Himself,wholly God and wholly human ,suffered human doubt. Christ’s 4th Last Word from the Cross in Mark and Matthew ,springs to mind.

    “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani” (‘’My God, My God, why have ou forsaken me?’’)

    On the night before His crucifixion,just before He was betrayed and arrested,Jesus suffered an agony of fear. He cried out:

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

    Just for a moment , He hesitated in the face of the terror of crucifixion.But immediately, Jesus submits to His Father’s Will :

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

    The agony of doubt is universal among humanity.But unchecked,too much doubt can destroy us from inside.

    Doubt can be a problem ,but I don’t think it helps to be ashamed of our doubt. When we Christians have problems what do we do? I can think of four things :

    Firstly, pray to God for help . Don’t let doubt harden by hiding it. Only open our heart in prayer and He will answer.Think of the father in Mark.

    ‘Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed ”I do believe ; help me overcome my unbelief” Mark 9:24 NIV

    God can gift us the power of faith ,if we ask.Ask and He will give. Faith weakens ,dissolves and overcomes doubt.

    A second resouce for we Christians ,when faced with a problem ,is to look to our Bible. There we can find answers to human problems if we look carefully.Some Bibles have an appendix of problems ,guiding us to chapter and verse for help about all things needed ,such as grief,fear,worry,and all manner of problems,including doubt.

    In our Bible we learn that thinking about things is good .

    ”Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.” Phillipians 4:8 English Standard Version

    ”Think over what I say, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” 2 Timothy 2:7 English Standard Version

    Thinking things through with honest minds and open Spirit inspired hearts can vanquish doubt whearas feeling guilty is no help.

    Questioning carefully , trusting our Holy Spirit inspired hearts to find and hold on to what is good , this is my understanding of the Thessalonians verse :

    ” But examine everything carefully ; hold fast to that which is good;” 1 Thessalonians 5:21 New American Standard Bible

    When suffering from dount ,a third answer can be to look to the Holy Spirit within .Look in our heart where He indwells us. When we are oppressed by the mind’s doubts ,in the heart we can find the antidote to doubt,which is faith.I think,through the Holy Spirit, every Christian heart can find trust and faith.

    Fourthly,Christians assailed by a problem can share the problem with Christian friends and with the pastor of the flock. All have probably experienced some level of doubt and pastors will have been consulted by members of their flock about doubt problems many times

    We should admit our doubts not hide them.Christians are a family,the family of Christ.Good families support each other.

    In his essay ‘Religion , Reality or Substitute’ ,C.S.Lewis wrote –

    ‘Believe in God and you will have to face hours when it seems that this material world is the only reality ‘

    He goes on –

    ‘No religous conviction will of itself ,end once and for all, this fifth columnist in the soul.Only the practice of Faith will gradually do that’

    C.S.Lewis made the transition from atheist to Christian ,suffering the pain of doubt along the way.He knew what he was talking about,from experience.

    Likening doubt to a fifth columnist in the soul ,is a memorably powerful image.

    Doubt cannot be left to rampage unchecked, or it will eat us from inside.It must be checked by obedience to God.Christ showed us the way in His Gethsemane agony.

    Surrender to God.Think on Him.Let us relinquish self absorbtion .

    Remember the Lord’s Prayer and it’s culmination in the Doxology. Let us think on the power and glory of God’s eternal Love.

    ”For thine is the Kingdom,the power and the glory,for ever and ever.Amen”

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