Wednesday, January 11, 2012

What Should We Do About Doubt?




I doubt if there is anyone who does not on occasion doubt.  At least himself.  I know the illustration: we don’t think about whether a chair is going to hold us up; we just sit. But I also know that sometimes we just miss the chair altogether and we’re on the floor in pain and it is just there:  a chair. A mocking chair.
Rather than admit to doubt, some of us parade in false confidence. Others of us, long past admitting doubt and trending dangerously toward defeat, tread back and forth on a path that doesn’t quite go anywhere, like a see-saw in a lonely park. 
Unfortunately, whatever our current shifting state may be – bravado or brokenness – some are ready to take advantage, projecting a self-assuredness that begs you to doubt anything but what they say. If they’re on the side of truth, your doubts are eased; if not, they’re doubled and your doubt will double-back on you.
The arguments are pretty loud these days, preying on the doubts of those who struggle with sexuality. The gay community says you are wrong to have any doubts at all as to whether God intended you to embrace homosexuality and dance freely in your self-definition. The church will have you doubting your very salvation if your dalliance with decadence does not diminish overnight as soon as they point out that you have tainted all of Christianity with your sin because it is so much worse than any of theirs. Lest you doubt that to be true, just tempt fate by yielding to temptation.  Many churches adhere strongly to a catch and release philosophy.
Anyone with a significant struggle, such as same-sex attraction, deals with doubt.  Self-doubt, sure.  But, also the doubt others have in his or her ability to change . . . or even to doubt that the person – you -- really wants to change. Sometimes this doubt is not truly expressed, but is instead hidden behind the "we're with you" smiles, which can so quickly become "we knew it" frowns at the very first sign of a fall. How nice it would be for all involved if this battle were but a minor skirmish with a certain outcome, instead of one of those "well, I had my doubts all along" battlefields, littered with the wounded, some doubting they can get themselves back up again to move forward, some doubting if anyone even cares anymore if they do.

I had a friend in college who lived with no doubts. His was always sure his project would be the best.  He would sing the song just fine.  His parents would, of course, send the money.  His car would run.  His jokes would always be funny and people would laugh.  He would always be understood. His friends would ever be loyal and everything would complete itself perfectly, right on time.  He was never timid or understated because he never doubted.  But, he was also pretty much tied up in secret knots of frustration.  He'd exchanged doubt for denial.  When he didn't win first place or his joke fell flat or the check didn't arrive or the tire went flat or a friend let him down, he would bottle up inside and close down. What most of us might have lived through as dashed hope he died to as devastation.  His forced-open eyes would fill with tears of anguish.  He definitely needed some doubt.

I haven't seen him in many years, but I "doubt" he is as certain of everything as he used to be.

Some might say my friend had faith.  But the presence of faith is not the absence of doubt.  Faith is based on a belief in hope.  It involves assurance . . . and trust.  This friend lived on assumption, not assurance.  A little too much "it'll be all right," and a little too little "what will be will be."  He had no faith to test because he allowed no doubt.

But what if we have a lot of doubt?  Does that mean we have little faith?  I remember I used to sit on the curb in front of our house on Saturdays when I was a little boy.  I doubted my dad would show, but I had faith that he would.  Could the measure of each  -- doubt or faith -- be determined by how long I sat with my chin on my knees looking to the left and right to see if he might come walking up the street?

I have no doubt God clearly knows the difference between doubt
and faith.  I'm not sure we always do.  On our own, we usually reward our doubt with our deepest fears.  Our faith, on the other hand, is usually God-tested and leads us to our greatest joy.  "A little while" of testing can feel like a long time . . . and produce an awful lot of doubt.

In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. -- I Peter 1:6-7

It used to bother me that, of all the Biblical characters, I was named Thomas.  The doubter.  I know my mother did not really name me Thomas because she was debating which Biblical character I would be like.  After all, my brother's name is Mike, and my sisters' names are Deb and Sue.  Mother was merely reflecting the popular name choices of the decade in which we were born. We could have as easily been Bob and Gary and Judy and Peggy.  But I was Thomas, the doubter.

I think God loves those who doubt.  In dealing with our sincere doubt, He demonstrates the truth that He is patient and kind. It is a wonderful truth that the greatest doubters often become the greatest believers.  Our honest doubts can become the bedrock of our faith.  Truth that comes rampaging in to dispel doubt is sweet and strong.

Maybe we should think less about what doubt is . . . and less about who doubts us . . . and instead think about what doubt may do.  How does it motivate us?  Does our doubt send us searching or hiding?  Revealing or masking?

Doubt is like looking out the window and seeing the sun go down for the gazillionth time, knowing once again that the darkness will follow, mimicking the darkness inside us.  We might forget momentarily that the sun is only gone for a while.  It does not yield its place to darkness in God's creative balance.  Through grace, the light comes back around to overwhelm the darkness . . . lest anyone doubt.  We strive hard to resist letting our sexual sin define us; let's not let our doubt do it either.  You've read the Bible.  Yes, people wander, but they are never beyond the gaze of God. 

But what of those who doubt us or the sincerity of our quest for freedom?  I say, let each doubter bear his own.  Sometimes we expend so much energy trying to dispel the doubts of others that we have too little energy left to put on the armor for our own battles.  Let them doubt.  God can deal with that.  And, if they want someday to put their hands in your scars, scarcely believing this new you is . . . you . . . then let them do so and forgive their doubt as you forgive your own. Maybe they tell us we've used up all our chances.  They've moved beyond doubting to knowing.  "You can't change."  Well . . . life is not a game of chance; it is a reality of faith.  Let them keep their assumption; you have your assurance.

I am thankful for doubt.  Anyone who struggles with temptation knows that doubt is a glimpse of freedom. If we can doubt, we can seek.

Doubt leads us to the door.  That door where you knock.  Where you ask.  That door that opens.  Behind which no despair lingers.  Where doubt no longer dwells.
"Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; he who seeks finds; and to him who knocks, the door will be opened. -- Matthew 7: 7-8

Above, I mentioned a couple of common reactions to the issue of sexual brokenness, particularly homosexuality:  accept it as "you" and get on with your life . . . or get over it fast while we can still stand to be near you even if we can't stand with you.  There is a third option. Find a ministry that believes in the truth of God's Word and also believes in the healing power of Christ's love. Look for a ministry in your area. For an example, visit Truth Ministry or First Stone Ministries. Then see what is available where you live.



Remember, everyone who asks receives. God leaves no room for doubt when it comes to loving His own.  And if for some unfounded reason you doubt that the word "everyone" includes you, then let that doubt lead you to the door. It will open . . . no doubt.

God Bless,

Thom
Read more in Surviving Sexual Brokenness: What Grace Can Do, available at Amazon.com for only $11.16.

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