Does My Doubt Disappoint God?

Uncertainty is much more easily addressed in childhood. Remember the magic eight ball toy? You could ask it anything, give the ball a couple of shakes, and an answer would mysteriously float to the top. Another option for finding answers to life’s deepest questions was the folded paper fortune teller game. It was as easy as picking a number, watching a friend move the contraption back and forth a few times with their fingers, and lifting up a folded flap to reveal the answer. And what about twenty questions? We could easily pass hours on a road trip when my boys were young discovering answers through the process of elimination.

When it came to learning about God, I was fully immersed in church as far back as I can remember. My Sunday school teachers and youth leaders prepared lessons and engaging activities that taught me stories from the Bible with application on how to live from a Christian worldview. I don’t know if it was explicitly or implicitly implied, but in my mind, faith was defined as “just believing hard enough.” My typically compliant and trusting nature compelled me to unquestioningly take for granted the stories, verses, and Biblical principles authority figures diligently and lovingly taught me. I did believe then and I do believe now, but I now know that faith is more accurately defined as trust in what I have good reasons to believe.

The problem for me, and I’m guessing for others, too, is that life happens, and difficult circumstances require us to dig deeper for answers beyond “just believing hard enough.” As we grow up and experience broken relationships, disappointing losses, and confusing circumstances, we find that answers are harder to come by. Simple bumper-stickered or Instagrammed Bible verses are no longer enough. We seek to reconcile what we feel within us with the reality around us. This often leads to tilling up the soil of our minds, planting seeds of truth from God’s Word, and waiting for those seeds to grow roots deep down into our hearts. This process can be painstakingly slow and while the roots grow, weeds of doubt may unexpectedly spring up.

Defining Doubt

Doubt means to “feel uncertain about.” Is God disappointed in us for seeking more certainty by asking questions? I don’t think so. Dominic Done says in his book, When Faith Fails: Finding God in the Shadow of Doubt, “Doubt presses you to reevaluate the story of your life…Doubt is essentially neutral; it’s what you do with it that counts.” Doubt is neither the villain nor the hero of our story. Rather, doubt can be used as a tool to propel us into a deeper faith in Jesus, who is our hero, as He rescues us from the perils of unbelief. As the father of the child with the mute spirit says to Jesus in Mark 9:24, “I believe; help my unbelief!”

So how can we view doubt in a spiritually healthy way? I don’t believe it is healthy to take the approach that “God said it. I believe it. That settles it.” That implies that we should be ashamed of our questions. There are lots of things that I believe with all my heart, but that doesn’t mean they are completely settled in my mind. I believe down to my core that God loves me, but I still haven’t completely resolved why He doesn’t always answer my prayers the way I want Him to. I absolutely trust God’s sovereignty, but I am still uneasy with the senseless pain and suffering I see all around me. Does that mean I don’t believe? Certainly not. My human nature compels me to ask questions, and God is using my wrestling with these issues to sanctify and conform me to the image of Christ.

Relating to God in Our Doubt

God relates to us as our Heavenly Father, mirroring the way in which we relate to our own children. As parents, we realize that they are born with an innate desire to ask questions. “Why is the sky blue? Who made God? Where do babies come from?” And a personal favorite asked by my older son, “Does God have legs?” Just as we patiently answer the daily barrage of questions from our children, God in even greater measure awaits and anticipates our questions. They don’t take Him by surprise. In fact, Jesus says in Matthew 18:14 that we are to come to him with the humility of a child. It is a humbling process to admit that we don’t have all the answers, and to instead lay our questions down at the feet of the one who does. Just as we don’t think less of our kids for asking questions, our Heavenly Father, who loves us even more than we love our own children, doesn’t either. I think it would be more concerning as a parent if my children were not asking questions. Apathy is a dangerous place to settle in and become comfortable.

God designed us as rational beings who learn by asking questions. We often learn best by struggling with hard issues. God, being the omnipotent creator that He is, could have created us as robots pre-programmed with all knowledge necessary to thrive in the world. If He had created us this way, we would willingly obey Him at all times and would have no need to question anything. He chose instead to create us with free will, giving us the freedom to make choices for good or evil. And if our will is free, then we are also free to question. But God doesn’t fear our questions because the Christian worldview is capable of withstanding any scrutiny. Even the design of creation invites questions. Who hasn’t looked at the stars and wondered at their brilliance, or listened to the roar of the ocean and been in awe of its power? From the tiniest cell in the human body, to the vast expanse of the universe itself, our Creator calls us to explore, discover, inquire, and seek out meaning.

Mary Jo Sharp says in her new book, Why I Still Believe, “To question my beliefs takes trust…it takes the control away from me and hands it over to God.” When my younger son was around three years old, he followed a very predictable pattern every night which could be timed almost to the minute. Our bedroom was directly down a long hallway from his, and at the same time every night he would grab his blankie, his pillow, and his dog (yes, a real live dog), jump out of bed, and hit the floor at a full sprint. We would hear his feet pounding all the way down the hardwood hallway, and he wouldn’t stop until he reached the end of our bed. At that point he would propel himself, his blankie, his pillow, and his dog up onto the bed where he would join us for the rest of the night. We were his safe place in the darkest hours of the night when anxious thoughts enveloped him. God wants to be our safe place, too, when uncertainty creeps into our lives. He welcomes us with open arms when we run toward Him, trusting that He will answer our questions in His time and in His way.

Dealing with Doubt

The Bible is full of accounts of honest truth-seeking doubters who questioned and wrestled with God amidst troubling and confusing circumstances. Sarah laughed in disbelief when God told her she would give birth in her old age (Genesis 18). Moses doubted whether or not God had chosen the right man when He called him to lead the exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt (Exodus 3). Job questioned God in the midst of his time of trial (Job 3). The Psalms are full of questions as David cries out to God (Psalm 22 and others). John the Baptist even wondered whether or not Jesus was the Messiah (Luke 7:20). Finally, there’s Thomas, the disciple most defined by his doubt (John 20:24-25).

Jude 22 says, “And have mercy on those who doubt.” Having experienced periods of doubt in my own life, even since I’ve been a pastor’s wife, I can attest to the fact that it can be a lonely place. But I can also say that my faith was ultimately strengthened as I honestly sought out answers through prayer and the study of God’s Word. As we experience doubt both in our own lives, and walk with others through times of doubt, the Bible is clear that we shouldn’t condemn, but rather lovingly guide toward truth. As we question, wrestle, struggle, and contend for the faith, we can be assured that God will be faithful to complete His work in us and even create something beautiful out of our confusion.

Purposeful Parenting

With the launching of my firstborn son into independent adulthood, I’ve been wrestling with how parenting is a bittersweet intermingling of celebration and sadness. From the moment a baby is placed in his parent’s arms, they wrap their arms tightly around him, knowing that the ultimate goal is to let him go one day.  As parents, we pray for our child’s good, but know that it will eventually lead him out into the world to pursue God’s purpose for his life.  When he leaves home, we simultaneously throw one hand up in triumph while discretely wiping away our tears with the other. We gently push him out of the nest, struggling against the instinctive desire to pull him back in for shelter under our wings. We cautiously observe those first tentative toddler steps, and then applaud a confident sprint to adulthood. As I pondered the paradox of this parenting moment, some questions came to mind that might be helpful to consider as we raise our children: Whose voice are we tuning their ears to listen to? What foundation are we planting their feet on? Where are we teaching them to look for guidance? Which appetites and values are we feeding and cultivating?

Discernible Voice

The parent’s voice is the first one heard by a child. He becomes familiar with it as he grows in his mother’s tummy for nine months, and this familiarity instills comfort as he hears it sing the first lullaby. He hears this same voice whisper, “I believe in you,” when he lacks confidence in himself. He recognizes this familiar voice as it prays over him during the darkest hours of the night. As familiar as our voices are to our children, God’s voice should be even more discernible. It is critical that we train them to listen for the voice of truth among all the lies of the enemy ringing so loudly in the world today. As in the process of tuning an instrument, they will only be able to recognize the dissonance of the wrong pitch when they have first been taught how to listen for harmony of the right one. When we spend time with them in God’s Word, the very definition of truth, they will recognize this truth when they hear it. As they see us valuing and prioritizing the Word in our own lives, they will be encouraged to do the same. They will then hear God clearly whispering into their souls in the dark when we are no longer physically present to do so.

Firm Foundation

Learning to stand and walk is a progressive endeavor. It begins with pulling up on a steady object, taking the first uncertain steps while holding onto a parent’s hands, and then bravely letting go to walk independently. When a toddler first attempts to let go and walk on his own, he wobbles along with a tentative trust in the ground beneath his feet. As he discovers the perfect combination of coordination, balance, and strength, he is eventually able to take a few steps away from us and gains confidence that the foundation he’s standing on is not going to give way. Similarly, we must build our child’s trust in his spiritual foundations through the practice of disciplines that encourage him to love God with his heart, soul, mind, and strength. As he discovers that the Christian worldview provides a firm foundation that is both reliable and unshakable, he is then able to step out into the world with calm assurance, knowing that this worldview is undergirded with solid evidence to back up its truth claims. He is able to walk confidently, having placed his faith in the One who set the foundations of the world in place.

Steadfast Guidance

Our children begin life looking to us to meet their every need. We feed them, clothe them, shelter them, and comfort them when they are afraid. But there comes a time when we will no longer be around. If we have modeled the Christian life faithfully, they will look to God, as revealed in His Word, for guidance. Otherwise, they may be tempted to look to worldly ideologies to guide them through life. Celebrities, politicians, athletes, or online personalities are more than willing to exercise influence if we let them. Or they may even look within at their own emotions to tell them which way to go, and that is a dangerous path to follow. Emotions shift from moment to moment and provide no absolute certainty. Just as a compass is magnetized to point to true north, we must magnetize their internal compasses to point to the truth. As we teach them that the Bible is sufficient to guide them in every area of life, it will become their go to navigational tool when they inevitably become lost at some point along the way.

Healthy Appetites

Our children are born with innate cravings and preferences. My son once told me I was ruining his whole life when I made him eat green beans. He obviously was born with a distaste for green beans. He did eventually eat his beans at my insistence because I knew they were good for him. I’m also happy to say he survived the ordeal, and his whole life was not ruined. Sometimes we have to cultivate a taste for certain things in our kids’ lives in the way of habits or entertainment choices. They may not initially like something that we know is healthy for them, but we encourage them to consume it anyway, and to stay away from unhealthy choices. It works the same way with values. If they see us acting kindly and charitably toward others, odds are they will imitate this kind and charitable behavior. If they see us acting with indifference to those in need, they will likely follow our lead. Just like when we eat our veggies, if we model the behavior we want to see in them, they are more likely to do the same.

Sending Them Off

As difficult as it is to see our children walking out into the great unknown, we can be assured that they and their future are fully known by God. Eyes that once looked to us for guidance now peer off into the distance to discern God’s direction for their lives. Ears that once listened to our words of wisdom now listen for God’s voice to follow where He leads. Feet that once tottered along with uncertain steps now walk away confidently to a world that desperately needs to know the only firm foundation. And that makes a parent’s heart happy.

The Sticks and Stones Fallacy

“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Many of us heard these words spoken repeatedly on the playground as children. While it is a well meant sentiment intended to build resilience in the face of brutal verbal bullying, it couldn’t be farther from the truth. Such a statement is logically unsound, implying that only physical acts have consequences; however, words do have the power to move us to action. In history’s very first recorded words, God spoke light into existence. In His omnipotence, He could have chosen to snap His fingers or illuminate the world with a silent thought, but He spoke, indicating the importance He places on the spoken word. While we don’t possess the creative ability of God, our spoken or written words have the capacity to inspire chaos or calm. Consider Proverbs 15:1 which tells us that “A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up wrath.” As much as we would like to think otherwise, words do have consequences.

Words are a currency that once spent, cannot be refunded. Many times I have wished it were so, but it’s impossible to snatch them out of midair once they leave my mouth. They are instantly etched on the heart and inscribed on the mind of the recipient. My grandfather had the following statement scribbled on the inside cover of one of his Bibles: “I’ve regretted often the things I’ve said…but I’ve never regretted my silence.” He was a wise man. Words can be wielded with the precision of a surgeon’s scalpel when spoken by a friend for healing, or with the carelessness of a machete when employed by an enemy for harm. Proverbs 16:24 says, “Pleasant words are a honeycomb: sweet to the taste and health to the body.” Technology further weaponizes words in online culture as we celebrate mic drops, revel in putting others on blast, and encourage the lobbing of truth bombs. WE OFTEN FEEL THE NEED TO GO INTO ALL CAPS MODE TO FURTHER EMPHASIZE A POINT. Given the arsenal at our disposal, it’s more important than ever to remember the power of words. My words matter, our words matter, and most importantly, God’s Word matters.

My Words Matter

Research reveals that women speak between 10,000 and 20,000 words per day. If I allow myself a very generous eight hours of sleep per night, that means I speak an average of 625 words per hour that I am awake. As I engage in conversation with my daily allowance of words, my main goal should be to point others to Christ. While the name of Jesus doesn’t necessarily come up in every conversation, my words are certainly an outward manifestation of Christ’s work in me. We are admonished in Colossians 4:6 to, “Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you should answer each person.” Just as salt enhances the flavor of the food it seasons, my words should enhance the flavor of a life lived by grace through faith. Only then am I able to gently and respectfully give an answer for the hope that is in me (I Peter 3:15). Christian apologist Ravi Zacharias reminds us that behind every question is a questioner. Only when I have taken the time to listen to the person on the other side of the conversation can I chose words that adequately address the doubt, pain, or fear behind her questions. My words matter as I speak life to those divinely placed in my path each day.

Our Words Matter

With the advent of social media, we say things to each other online that we would never say face to face. We quickly tap out words on a keyboard, add a clever emoji or GIF, and press send before considering the impact on the person at the other end of the digital pipeline. Many times we are more interested in being witty or right than we are in being kind. Arguments escalate at gigahertz speed, and we forget that it is possible to disagree without being disagreeable. Colossians 3:16 provides a different approach as we are encouraged to “Let the word of Christ dwell richly among you, in all wisdom teaching and admonishing one another through psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts.” As we consider that the living Word, Christ Himself, dwells among us, we become more aware of how we speak to each other, online or in person, and are inclined to treat each other with greater deference. We then understand that we can charitably seek clarity without insisting upon complete agreement in all things. The words we share between us matter because they are the outward demonstration of the emotions and thoughts we have settled in our hearts and minds.

His Word Matters

John 1:1 states, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” Jesus, the Word wrapped in flesh, was with the Father when He spoke the world into existence. As the breath of God moved each inspired stroke of the pen, His earthly messengers inscribed this very Word throughout the pages of scripture. This Living Word then came to earth, lived sinlessly among us, died an excruciating death, and was resurrected on the third day. For us, the Living Word leaps off the pages of God’s written Word and embraces us with the truth of the gospel. As beneficiaries of God’s grace, the light of the gospel safely guides us through the dark valleys of this world, and serves as “a lamp for our feet and a light for our paths.” (Psalm 119:105) God’s Word, the gospel, matters most of all because it is the “power of God for salvation.” (Romans 1:16)

If words are so important to our Heavenly Father, shouldn’t we be more careful about how we use them in our daily interactions? We should select our words with precision, and consider their potential for both building up and tearing down. Just as a skilled sculptor chips away at the marble to reveal the masterpiece hidden within, our words have the power to bring the best in each other to the surface or to dredge up the less desirable attributes in our fellow image bearers. Keeping this in mind, let’s choose our words wisely, speak to each other kindly, and follow the light of God’s Word daily.

A Tale of Two Worldviews

In my former life as a high school English teacher, I enjoyed reading the Charles Dickens classic, A Tale of Two Cities, with my students. It is a work of literature rich with symbolism, allegory, and contrast, beginning with the famous line, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” I believe that sentiment to be true today. We live in the best of times in terms of the wealth of information available to us. Anything we want to know more about is literally at our fingertips as we press a button and open up the World Wide Web. But this also puts us at serious risk of stumbling upon unhealthy and often dangerous information shared through the lenses of questionable worldviews. 

If young people unwittingly consume this information before being taught to think critically about it, they are susceptible to skepticism and doubt, wondering which truth claim they now believe will later be debunked by some new revelation. C.S. Lewis says in The Abolition of Man, “The best defence against false sentiments is to inculcate just sentiments.” So what sentiments and values are we imparting to our children as we prepare them to interact with people whose worldviews may be different from their own?

I attended two graduation ceremonies this Spring, the first at a public high school and the second at a private Christian university. The high school commencement highlighted the theme of self-helpism, a philosophy that claims that we have within ourselves all we need to succeed in life. The salutatorian claimed that, ”We are makers of our own success.” The school board member who conferred the degrees encouraged the graduates to ”Embrace being the captain of your own ship.” While I understand the encouragement toward personal responsibility, this struck me as a very self-centered philosophy.

By contrast, the speaker at the second ceremony advised the graduates to demonstrate three qualities as they entered their chosen vocation: objectivity, humility, and civility. Cultivating these qualities leads to the acknowledgement that there is an objective source of truth against which we measure our accomplishments. It also leads to the realization that we can only be truly successful when we put others before ourselves and treat them with kindness. Examining these two worldviews through the lens of scripture reveals how to most effectively engage the culture around us and point others to Christ.

Worldview #1:  Self-helpism 

Self-helpism (making our own success) is an empty philosophy cloaked within the false promise of self-confidence. It casts a broad net under the banner of “the power of positive thinking” through books, podcasts, blogs, and celebrity personalities. The message sounds appealing and often reels us in unaware of the consequences of adopting this worldview. Self-helpism ultimately promotes insecurity by placing the responsibility for success or failure squarely upon the individual’s shoulders. Self-proclaimed success is fertile ground for pride, while failure whittles away at self-worth. Contrary to popular belief, the Bible never claims that “God helps those who help themselves.” God’s Word instead says that His power is perfected in my weakness (2 Corinthians 12:9.) A Biblical worldview promotes confidence when we teach our children that their strength comes from God, and that their success is not dependent on them after all. It removes the burden from them and places it on Him. 

Worldview #2:  Biblical Objectivity, Humility, and Civility

Jesus says in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” If this is true, then there is only one source of objective truth. It is this source of truth by which we are to define success. By contrast, if we believe that we are makers of our own success and captains of our own ships, then objective truth loses its significance. We need no outside measure of truth, and are tempted to subjectively define truth in whatever way best suits us at the moment. We remake truth in our own image to fit our own purposes; however, when my truth doesn’t line up with your truth, we stand at odds with each other for lack of an objective standard. This naturally lends itself to chaos and conflict, while the acknowledgment of an objective source of truth points us in the same direction and leads to harmony.

Philippians 2:3 instructs us to, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.” This is not a philosophy conducive with being the captain of my own ship. Any captain worth his salt puts the needs of his passengers and fellow travelers above his own. If we are to humbly travel through life, we must look around us and notice ways to build others up, rather than focusing on ways to make our own success. A self-centered attitude turns our focus inward and away from those traveling alongside us. This leads to a tunnel vision that blinds us to ways to follow the second greatest commandment, to love our neighbors as ourselves.

Paul says in Colossians 3:12, “Therefore, as God’s chosen ones, holy and dearly loved, put on compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience…” If we view ourselves as being makers of our own success, we tend toward an “end justifies the means” mentality, and civility is the farthest thing from our minds. After all, it’s a dog eat dog world out there, so we’d better look out for number one to ensure success. On the contrary, if we clothe ourselves with kindness, we recognize that true success is achieved by demonstrating love as we interact with others. Ordinary and consistent acts of grace point our fellow travelers to Christ, which is the ultimate goal in all we do during our journey through this earthly existence.

Looking to the Horizon

As our children embark on the journey of a new school year, will they be lighthouses built on a solid foundation of truth or battleships ready to plow down everyone in their paths? As we encourage them to engage the culture through Biblical objectivity, humility, and civility, the focus shifts away from them, and toward the one who has gifted them with all they need to succeed in life. God becomes the maker of their success and the captain of their ship. The one who spoke the oceans into existence is more than capable of guiding them through both the stormy seas and quiet waters of life. He sees every yesterday and every tomorrow as if it were today, and needs no compass to assist Him in guiding His children through the course of their lives. He only needs willing passengers who place their complete confidence in Him.

Whatever Is True

I am an over thinker in every sense of the phrase. In fact I’m sure I over thought how to begin this post, and I can assure you that after I publish it I will have thought of a million other ways to express what I intended to say. I can take hours to decide whether or not to buy a simple pair of shoes. Seriously. I’m not kidding. Just ask the men in my life who get dragged along on my shopping excursions. Sometimes over thinking can stop me dead in my tracks because my logical thoughts transition into fear. Emotions about a situation have the potential to overtake what the mind knows to be true. It’s no wonder that Paul exhorts us to think on “whatever is true” in Philippians 4:8. He also encourages us in Ephesians 6:14 to “fasten on the belt of truth” as the first piece of our spiritual armor when we go to battle against the enemy. Rehearsing truth has helped me stay sane in the midst of daily struggles when my emotions try to take me down a winding and dangerous path.

Christian speaker and author Ravi Zacharias provides a helpful illustration in his book Cries of the Heart. He describes knowledge and feelings as follows, “I see feelings more as a person walking alongside you, always held in the clasp of your knowledge. If that person reverses the grip and your knowledge is clasped by the person of feeling, trouble begins.” God made us with emotions, but He also gives us the truth of His Word to guide us. Feelings can be irresponsible tour guides for life. They never tell us to buckle our seat belts or to keep our arms and legs inside the vehicle at all times. Truth, on the other hand, keeps us safe and makes sure we have all the facts when navigating through unfamiliar territory.

I am reminded of an incident that happened with my older son when he was about eighteen months old. Our morning church service had just dismissed, and he was standing outside the front door of the sanctuary. A friend of mine was holding onto his hand while I was having a conversation at the bottom of a flight of concrete steps leading down from the entrance. Despite being held in her protective grasp, my son, in all of his toddler wisdom, decided to wriggle his tiny fingers free and exert his independence. As he did so, the force of jerking his hand loose sent him tumbling perilously down the steps to the sidewalk below. I caught the incident out of the corner of my eye, and though I can now picture it in slow motion, I was unable to reach him in time. He landed at the bottom of the steps battered and bruised because he let his childish impulsivity reign in the moment. Following the investment of a substantial emergency room copay, we discovered that he was fine, other than a few bumps and scrapes, but he had learned a painful lesson about the physical properties of concrete.

How often do we let our feelings fling us to the ground instead of remaining firmly within the grasp of truth? When we let our feelings dictate the way we react, the results can be disastrous. As a woman, I know I am particularly vulnerable to this scheme of the enemy. In the emotion of the moment, I develop temporary amnesia and forget things like who God says He is, who He says I am, and how I am to conduct myself as His child. If the enemy succeeds in getting me emotionally wrapped up in a situation, my mind spins out of control like a tornado on an Alabama spring afternoon, and I am capable of leaving a lot of wreckage behind.

This is precisely why it is so important to keep our minds immersed in God’s word and meditate on it daily. When our minds are permeated with the truth we find within the pages of scripture, our feelings don’t have a chance to extricate their little fingers out of the grasp of the One who is the source of all truth. As we find ourselves in the midst of daily struggles, let’s continue to keep our minds on “things above”…held within the sure and steady grip of our heavenly Father.