Archive for Doubt

Doubt: Part 5–Real/Not Real

“You love me. Real or not real?”
I tell him, “Real.”
Suzanne CollinsMockingjay

 

The key concept that must be grasped for a real relationship with God to be possible is to understand that your spiritual IQ is separate from your intellectual IQ.

 

No amount of life experience or number of college diplomas can get you any closer to God.  If anything, all that worldly knowledge gets you farther away from God, because the more stuff you’ve crammed into your own head, the more independent you feel.  You have moved WAY beyond your childhood belief that Mommy and Daddy are invincible.  You are making your own way, building your own life, and you don’t need anybody, not even God, to tell you what to do or how to live.

 

Except that you do.

 

Not all the time, but there are days and seasons where you reach the end of yourself and run out of answers, because your knowledge is incomplete.  When your spouse rejects you for another and you didn’t see it coming.  When you or a loved one get that diagnosis that only happens to “other people.”  When you lose your job.  When you get that phone call that no parent wants to get.  When the storms come leaving all your worldly possessions a pile of rubble.

 

The question is, what do you do then?

 

One of two things will happen.  Either you will become even more hardened and spiral downward from even the low place in which you have found yourself, or you will recognize that you are at rock bottom and look up.

 

Doubt happens.  Doubt is normal.

 

Doubt enters your mind the first time you encounter a fact that doesn’t coincide with your belief.  Doubt happens the first time you see your father cry.  It happens when you hear your parents fight.  It happens the first time you encounter someone who isn’t really all that concerned about your self-esteem.  It happens the first time you really watch the news.

 

Basically, there comes a day when the world doesn’t make as much sense as it did the day before.  And you start to wonder, “What else isn’t real?”

 

Now at this point, you have two choices.  You can make a list of what isn’t real or you can make a list of what is.

 

Most of us do a combination of the two, but I think our natural inclination is to lean toward the negative.  The problem is that going that way could be dangerous, because then our emotions kick in and overwhelm our logic.  Before long depression and apathy crash the party, and you just start not believing in anything.  This is frequently where God gets thrown out with the dishwater.

 

On the other hand, what would happen if you focused on what is real?  The positive things?  The things that don’t move?

 

This is the essence of being a Truthseeker, and the entire impetus behind my writing in the first place.

 

(What happens when you focus on the things that don’t move? Come back for Part 6–Abba (Father))

Doubt: Part 4–Faith

 

“I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it.”  (Mark 10:15 NIV)

 

Responding to God requires seeing things as they really are, even the part you can’t see (especially the part you can’t see), the way children do.

 

A child doesn’t worry about the same things an adult does.  Children trust that their parents are all knowing, all seeing and all-powerful, and even though that isn’t really true, they believe.  In that belief, they feel safe and comforted.  This is what is meant by “faith like a child.”

 

Now some might call this “blind faith,” since the children are believing something without questioning it and accepting as real something that isn’t.  However, nobody condemns children for believing in their parents.  Indeed, if a child sees a parent fail at too early an age, it is devastating to their emotional health, because they are not yet intellectually developed enough to understand their own limitations.

 

Therefore, it never occurs to them that their parents might be finite, that their knowledge might be incomplete, that they can be taken by surprise, that they might fail, that they might just. . .not. . .know.

 

No, nobody would condemn that child for believing in Mommy and Daddy, because they are children and do not know any better.  As they grow, their understanding of the world around them grows, and they figure out that Mommy and Daddy are people just like them.  And later, when they become the Mommy or Daddy, they really figure out how much their parents really didn’t know.

 

So why are people condemned for responding to God with the faith of a child, when that is exactly how Jesus said it should be done?

 

Well for starters, people who don’t know the Bible don’t know that’s how it is supposed to be done, and you can’t condemn them for simply not knowing.

 

More significant however, is the fact that these people don’t know that your spirit does not necessarily grow at the same rate that your body and mind do.  In other words, that faith like a child does not mean intellect like a child.

 

Children are going to grow older and taller without any effort on their part.  Physical maturity just happens (at least, to whatever extent anything just happens).

 

Mental maturity requires some input, however.  A child kept locked in a closet all their lives will still grow physically, but they won’t learn much.  To learn, you have to be exposed to knowledge.  As you get older and start thinking for yourself more, you become more skeptical of knowledge and you may doubt some things just because they “don’t sound right.”

 

Spiritual maturity, on the other hand, is a major workout.  Absolutely nothing will happen to your spiritual maturity unless you make it happen.  If you don’t, then even as your body grows, and even as your mind expands, you will still remain a spiritual infant.

 

(So how do you start on the path to spiritual maturity?  Come back for Part 5–Real/Not Real.)

 

Doubt: Part 3–Cloudy

 

Imagine you’re at a funeral on a cloudy day.  Then the sun comes out from behind a cloud.

 

Now if you are a scientific, buttoned-down, fact-based kind of a person, the first thing you would say is that the sun didn’t move–the cloud did.  You could give a meteorological explanation of prevailing winds, condensation, etc., and you would be factually correct in your explanation.  But you would be completely missing the point.

 

Now imagine at that same funeral on that same cloudy day, you are the grieving father standing over the grave of your first-born son.

 

You have never believed in God, though you have heard of him.  You have doubts about your child’s eternal destiny, because he hadn’t been baptized, and you don’t know what is real and what is bogus from a theological standpoint, because you have little intellectual knowledge of God.

 

All you know is that you turned your life upside-down to welcome this child into the world, and now he is gone, just as quickly as he came, and your world has been turned upside-down all over again.

 

Then, through the cloudy haze of your grief, you hear what the preacher is saying over your son’s grave.  You have never heard this minister before; you don’t go to his church, you have no idea what their Statements of Belief are.  But he is speaking words of peace and comfort, and even though you don’t understand what they all mean, they ring true.

 

As he finishes speaking, and says “Amen,” at that moment, the sun comes out from behind the cloud and a single sunbeam shines down on you, the child’s mother who is sobbing in your arms, the preacher, and the open grave.

 

And you feel warmth where there was only chill, and peace where there was only chaos—a peace that passes all understanding.  A peace that you have never felt before.  And your mind connects the dots for the first time.

 

And you know that God is real.

 

You are angry with him beyond measure for taking your child from you, but you can no longer deny His existence.

 

That was me on October 4, 1989.

 

The day of my son’s funeral was the day I buried my doubt.  I still wanted nothing to do with God, but I knew He was there.

 

It took five more years for God to break through my stubbornness and get me to listen to Him, and another eight for me to finally surrender my life to Him.  Fortunately, God is patient.

 

The point of this illustration is that on that cloudy day, at that funeral, I believed, and had peace.

 

Just like when I was three years old and my parents told the noise I heard was just the wind howling through the trees and not some phantom coming to yank me out of bed, throw me around like a dog with a chew toy, then drag me off to who knows where.

 

I was not able to see the wind, but my parents told me, and I believed.  Though I did not actually know, the belief was good enough to get me to sleep.

 

(How significant is the belief of a child?  Come back for Part 4–Faith)

 

Doubt: Part 2–Seeing the Wind

The wind is invisible, but you know it is real.  You can feel a spring breeze blowing gently through your hair (or in my case, across your head).  In autumn, you can see tree branches bending and hear the rush and rustle of the leaves.  In the winter, you can feel the sting of snow and sleet on your face as you lean into the driving wind.  In the summer, sometimes you see the damage the wind can leave behind—fallen trees, flattened barns, roofs torn asunder.

 

Nevertheless, you can’t see the wind itself.  So how do you know it’s there?  It leaves evidence of its existence.

 

If we are going to live solely in the realm of fact, we cannot define the wind.  We can measure its speed, we can observe its results, but we can’t catch it in a jar and look at it.  As Jesus told Nicodemus:

 

The wind blows wherever it pleases.  You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.  So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.  (John 3:8 NIV)

 

Nevertheless, a meteorologist will not tell you that they “believe” in the wind.  They will tell you that they “know” there is a wind, because they can measure its effects scientifically.

 

This is perfectly logical.  However, my question is that if it makes sense to call something that can’t be seen or measured in and of itself a scientific fact, why do people not use that same logic with God?

 

God is also invisible.  God also cannot be contained.  With His unseen presence, we feel joy with the spring breeze.  When we see the wind blowing leaves off the trees in November, knowing that they will be back in April, we are reminded of the mortality of our bodies and the immortality of our souls.  We feel His comfort and warmth in the bleak winter and His calming presence in the storms of our summers.

 

But the thing is, you have to know about God to really experience these things.  The first time you feel wind on your face or see the tree branches or the green wave of cornfields blowing, someone has to tell you it’s the wind.

 

When a child hears an eerie moaning in the night, and does not know that it’s only the wind, he experiences fear.  Then his parents tell him about the wind, and he believes.  He still does not see the wind, but he believes; therefore, it is real to him.

 

So it is with faith.  Although we are all hard-wired to respond to God, emotionally and spiritually if not intellectually, we still have to be told about Him.  There has to be a mental connection before the feelings become real.

 

Even then, we still don’t see God, but we start to notice the evidence, and things start clicking.

 

(For a personal example of this evidence, and for more weather-related metaphors, come back for Part 3–Cloudy)

 

Doubt: Part 1–Object Permanence

 

As Christians, we should not be surprised when people have doubts about Jesus and God.  There were some who saw the risen Christ with their own eyes and doubted.  I’m not just talking about Thomas; some watched Him go up into heaven and STILL doubted!  As Ron Weasley would have said, “How thick could you get?”

 

There is nothing wrong with doubting in and of itself.  For example, healthy doubt and skepticism can keep us from being victimized by liars.  Nevertheless, what matters more than whether or not you doubt is what you do with your doubt.

 

It makes perfect logical sense to doubt the existence of a God you can’t see.  When we walk by sight, that is, if we will “believe it when we see it,” then it follows that we don’t believe in what we cannot see.

 

This goes all the way back to the concept of object permanence that our brains learn when we are infants.  If we can’t see Mommy or Daddy, then they have left us forever, so we cry.  But then Mommy or Daddy always shows up.  Eventually we figure out that Mommy and Daddy are real and permanent (relatively speaking) even when we can’t see them.

 

It’s really the same way with God; the only difference is how we go about seeing.  With object permanence, seeing is believing.  However, since God cannot be seen, this concept will not work.  To “see” God, you have to exercise not your eyeballs but your spirit.  This takes some learning.

 

First, you have to be aware that you even have a spirit.  We are all hard-wired to know this, but we still have to be aware of our instincts to act on them.  In other words, faith is useless if you don’t know what it is.  The Amplified Bible gives the best definition I have seen:

 

Now faith is the assurance (the confirmation, the title-deed) of the things [we] hope for, being the proof of things [we] do not see and the conviction of their reality—faith perceiving as real fact what is not revealed to the senses. (Hebrews 11:1 AMP)

 

Therefore, if walking by sight means you’ll believe it when you see it, then walking by faith means you’ll see it when you believe it.

 

This is foolishness to those folks who consider themselves “fact-based.”  These people will tell you that nothing is real unless they can hold it in their hand and tell you what it looks like.

 

I’ve always liked how Billy Graham answered this contention:

 

Can you see God?  You haven’t seen Him?  I’ve never seen the wind.  I see the effects of the wind, but I’ve never seen the wind. There’s a mystery to it.

(So can you see the wind? Come back for Part 2–Seeing the Wind. That was kind of obvious, wasn’t it?)