Doubt And Uncertainty


More and more I’ve encountered people who elevate uncertainty and doubt to the level of virtue—at least when it comes to God. I suspect those same people don’t want any uncertainty or doubt when it comes to the planes they fly in. They want assurance that they have a fully trained pilot and crew, that the vehicle has been properly maintained and inspected. Doubt and uncertainty about the plane aren’t virtues. They are red flags.

The same is true about the money in their bank account. When they deposit funds, they want to know with certainty money will be available to them when they write checks or make withdrawals.

Or how about doctors? Not many people stand out on the street with a sign: “Doctor wanted, anyone willing to try will be hired.” Quite the opposite. When it comes to medical care, we want some assurance—doctors who have attended medical school, for instance–because we want doctors who oversee our treatment to know what they’re doing.

Few people are up to the task of building their own homes. They know they don’t have the expertise in electricity, plumbing, and basic architecture. When it comes to a house, they want something they have reasonable assurance will not collapse, or leak, or blow up—and that isn’t going to be a structure of their own concoction.

So why is it we are willing to accept the murky, the questionable, the uncertain, or the self-made when it comes to spiritual things? I can think of three possible reasons.

  • 1. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty exists.
  • 2. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty matters.
  • 3. People who embrace uncertainty believe there’s freedom in it.

Undoubtedly some people who find virtue in doubting and questioning when it comes to spiritual matters, do so with the idea that they are being intellectually honest, not uncertain. After all, are we really supposed to take the word of some musty book written thousands of years ago?

The thing is, true intellectual honesty will dive into that “musty book” and study it to see if there’s truth within its pages.

Once I read a comment online that gave this advice: question everything, “and I mean everything. Make a note of your question and Google each and every one. Read Richard Carrier and the early works by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Jerry Coyne, Neil Shubin.”

I find that pronouncement to be odd. Why would someone who wanted to know about democracy dig into Hitler’s writing or Stalin’s philosophy or look at China’s Cultural Revolution? I mean, I suppose a person could come to the idea of democracy by rejecting opposing systems, but wouldn’t it make more sense to study the thinkers and writers who played a part in establishing democratic societies, and beyond that, the actual tenets of democracy itself?

Intellectual honesty will also embrace the possibility of finding answers. Doubt and questioning won’t be virtues for someone who is honestly looking for answers. Why would you look for what you don’t believe you’ll find?

A second group embraces uncertainty because they don’t believe certainty matters. These people, I suspect, haven’t thought deeply. They don’t want to think about what happens to a person when they die or whether or not people have souls. They would rather feel good.

They want pleasure, not pain, and thinking about death and dying is painful, or scary, at least. Thinking about God is scary, too, especially the idea that He can be a judge who ensures people receive just consequences for their actions. So, frankly, it’s easier not to think about God, and one way to dismiss Him is to say He can’t possibly be known. So why try?

Which dovetails to the third position. Some think there’s freedom in uncertainty. If I don’t know for sure that God is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him, then I can fashion a god who will reward me for my doubts instead of for my belief, for my pursuit of my own pleasures instead of his glory. I can sound spiritual without having to deal with any unpleasant repentance business, without any “denying self” stuff.

So, yes, for some, uncertainty sounds like the preferred path when it comes to spiritual things. In the same way, some people “invested” their life savings with Bernie Madoff and his fraudulent Ponzi scheme. Others “bought” homes they couldn’t afford when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were greasing their credit wheels.

We can look back and say, why didn’t those people pay attention to what Madoff was doing with their money? Or why did those people not pay attention to the details of their loans? They could have known. They should have known.

And so should each one of us know with certainty what God has made apparent about spiritual things. He is not hiding. Quite the opposite.

He announced ahead of time, what He was doing. He painted pictures with the lives of any number of people—Joseph as a savior of his family during a time of famine, Moses as a redeemer leading an enslaved people to freedom, David as a king freeing his people from oppression.

In addition, God sent spokesmen to prepare people for what He had in mind. Throughout generations He announced His plan, and when His Son fulfilled His work at the cross, He broadcast the fact that God completed what He’d foretold. And now He has a people who once were not a people, all commissioned to be His ambassadors, repeating the announcement—God is; His Son Jesus shows Him; and by His death and resurrection, believers can know Him.

Doubt and uncertainty? Those are not virtues when it comes to choosing someone to baby-sit your children. Why would they be virtues when it comes to thinking about God?

This post is a revised and updated version of one that appeared here in October, 2013.

Faith That Moves Mountains


Brown_Mustard_SeedJesus talked about faith that moves mountains. A couple times. Matthew records one instance in chapter 17 and then a bit later, in chapter 21.

The first time Jesus mentions it, He says, somewhat surprisingly, that the size of our faith is unimportant. Maybe even immaterial. The point He’s making that the very smallest amount of faith, the size of a mustard seed, is able to move mountains. Except, He couples their mustard seed-sized faith and what it can do with a chastisement—that their faith was too small.

I can only surmise that any faith smaller than a mustard seed had to be no faith at all. This idea seems consistent with the second instance in which Jesus challenged His disciples to have faith the size of a mustard seed. On that occasion, He added an important caveat: “if you have faith and do not doubt” (Matt 21:21b).

So I’m wondering if faith that moves mountains is pure faith, no matter the size or the amount, not gobs and gobs of faith with just a little doubt.

We’re big on doubt these days. We applaud people who are “honest” about how they feel concerning God and how He’s “let them down.”

Certainly we have examples in the Bible of people who didn’t have the kind of faith that moved mountains. If fact, in the first instance Matthew recorded, when Jesus talked about mustard-seed faith, He was answering why the disciples couldn’t cast out a demon during the time He was up on the mount of transfiguration.

Peter, right after he’d declared that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of the Living God, showed his ignorance and doubt in what Jesus said. No, no, Peter declared, you aren’t going to be killed like you just said. That can’t happen!

Jesus’s response is very telling, I think: “Get behind me, Satan.”

He wasn’t sympathetic or compassionate. He didn’t say, I know how shocking this must be for you to hear, and I understand why you doubt my word, but trust me on this.

I kind of wish Jesus had responded that way. I mean, I think Peter’s response was understandable, given what he believed about the Messiah. He was expecting a victorious king to come and defeat the Romans. But he let what he thought was going to happen affect what he believed about what Jesus told him would happen.

It sounds like such a little thing, this crack in the faith statement Peter had just delivered, but it obviously wasn’t a little thing to Jesus. He wants faith that’s untainted with doubt.

George-MuellerI’m reading a biography of George Muëller right now. When he was a young man, he became convinced that he was to live simply, and completely dependent upon God’s provision. He was a young pastor, and he gave up his salary. At the time, in the early 1830s, the church received payment from the richer congregants for pew rental, and that’s where they got money to pay their pastor.

Muëller believed none of the church members should be treated in a better manner than any other. And he believed God would supply all he needed. So he stopped the practice of renting the pews and he refused a salary.

His trust in God to provide for his needs extended to his ministry. First he started an institute that supported foreign missions, funded six Christian day schools, two Sunday schools, and an adult school, along with various outreaches to the poor. Later he added an orphan’s home, then a second, and a third. Even when he had over 100 orphans under his care, his method for raising money was to pray. He would tell God, and God alone, about their needs.

People gave generously to his work even though they didn’t know what his specific needs were. But the cool thing about what Muëller did was that he was intentionally walking by faith so that other Christians would see and believe that God meant what He said in His word.

His faith was contagious, and it continues to inspire people even to this day. It inspires me. I want to believe that God means what He says, without any doubting. He’s proved Himself faithful in the lives of so many others, in the Bible and throughout history. Why would I think He’s grow tired of caring for His children.

He who is the same yesterday, today, and forever, is certainly not going to change His mind when I bring my needs before Him. He’s not going to give me a scorpion when I ask for bread because He loves me with a Father’s love.

The thing God asks of us is to seek His kingdom and His righteousness. A la George Muëller. He wasn’t seeking for his own aggrandizement or comfort or ease. He was seeking to tell others about the love of Jesus Christ and the good news that He covered our sins with His robe of righteousness.

As a result, God expanded Muëller’s opportunities to reach people with truth. The mountain that Muëller moved was the piles of provisions needed for his ministries. When some of his workers asked, what do we do if we have no bread in the morning, he never offered a plan B. His plan A was for God to provide through the generosity of His people, and He never wavered from that plan.

The result was that his orphans were always properly fed and clothed. And that more and more people understood just how faithful God is.

Published in: on June 28, 2016 at 6:57 pm  Comments (1)  
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Doubt And Uncertainty


Airplane in flightMore than a few times I’ve encountered people who elevate uncertainty and doubt to the level of virtue–at least when it comes to God. I suspect those same people don’t want any uncertainty or doubt when it comes to the money in their bank account, however. When they deposit funds, they want to know with certainty money will be available to them when they write checks or make withdrawals.

The same is true about the planes these folks, and all others, I’m pretty sure, travel in. They want assurance that they have a fully trained pilot and crew, that the vehicle has been properly maintained and inspected. Doubt and uncertainty about the plan aren’t virtues. They are red flags.

Or how about doctors? Not many people I know are standing out on the street with a sign: “Doctor wanted, anyone willing to try will be hired.” Quite the opposite. When it comes to medical care, we want some assurance–via tests and second opinions–that the doctor who prescribes our treatment knows what he’s doing.

Few people are up to the task of building their own homes. They know they don’t have the expertise in electricity, plumbing, and basic architecture. When it comes to a house, they want something they have reasonable assurance will be standing in five years or fifty-five years–whenever they’re ready to move on–and that isn’t going to be a structure of their own concoction.

So why is it we are willing to accept the murky, the questionable, the uncertain, or the self-made when it comes to spiritual things? I can think of three possible reasons.

1. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty exists.
2. People who embrace uncertainty don’t believe certainty matters.
3. People who embrace uncertainty believe there’s freedom in it.

Undoubtedly some people who find virtue in doubting and questioning regarding spiritual matters do so with the idea that they are being intellectually honest. After all, are we really supposed to take the word of some musty book written thousands of years ago?

The thing is, intellectual honesty will dive into that “musty book” and study it to see if there’s truth within its pages.

Just today, I read a blog comment from someone who said they were struggling with the “indoctrination” they received as a child in a local church. Another commenter gave this advice: question everything, “and I mean everything. Make a note of your question and Google each and every one. Read Richard Carrier and the early works by Bart Ehrman, Christopher Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Brian Cox, Jerry Coyne, Neil Shubin.”

I found that answer to be odd. (I guess I’d start by questioning that particular advice! 😉 ) Why would someone who wanted to know about democracy dig into Hitler’s writing or Stalin’s philosophy or look at China’s Cultural Revolution? I mean, I suppose a person could come to the idea of democracy by rejecting failed systems, but wouldn’t it make more sense to study the thinkers and writers who played a part in establishing democratic societies?

Intellectual honesty will also embrace the possibility of finding answers. Doubt and questioning won’t be virtues for someone who is honestly looking for answers. Why would you look for what you don’t believe you’ll find?

Another group, then embraces uncertainty because they don’t believe certainty matters. These people, I suspect, haven’t thought deeply. They don’t want to think about what happens to a person when they die or whether or not people have souls. They would rather feel good.

They want pleasure, not pain, and thinking about death and dying is painful, or scary, at least. Thinking about God is scary, too, especially the idea that He can be a judge who ensures people receive just consequences for their actions. So, frankly, it’s easier not to think about God, and one way to dismiss Him is to say He can’t possibly be known. So why try?

Which dovetails to the third position. Some think there’s freedom in uncertainty. If I don’t know for sure that God is and that He rewards those who diligently seek Him, then I can fashion a god who will reward me for my doubts instead of for my belief, for my pursuit of my own pleasures instead of his glory. I can sound spiritual without having to deal with any unpleasant repentance business, without any “denying self” stuff.

So, yes, for some, uncertainty sounds like the preferred path when it comes to spiritual things. In the same way, some people “invested” their life savings with Bernie Madoff and his fraudulent scheme. Others “bought” homes they couldn’t afford when Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were greasing their credit wheels.

We can look back and say, why didn’t those people pay attention to what Madoff was doing with their money? Or why did those people not pay attention to the details of their loans? They could have known. They should have known.

And so should each one of us know with certainty what God has made apparent about spiritual things. He is not hiding. Quite the opposite.

He announced ahead of time, what He was doing. He painted pictures with the lives of any number of people–Joseph as a savior of his family during a time of famine, Moses as a redeemer leading an enslaved people to freedom, David as a king freeing his people from oppression.

In addition, God sent spokesmen to prepare people for what He had in mind. Throughout generations He announced His plan, and when His Son fulfilled His work at the cross, He broadcast the fact that God completed what He’d foretold. And now He has a people who once were not a people, all commissioned to be His ambassadors, repeating the announcement–God is; His Son Jesus shows Him; and by His death and resurrection, believers can know Him.

Doubt and uncertainty? Those are not virtues when it comes to choosing someone to watch your children. Why would they be virtues when it comes to thinking about God?

Published in: on October 14, 2013 at 6:13 pm  Comments (5)  
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