The idea to write this post has been inspired by another, Doubt, written by another. A younger version of myself was raised in a dictatorial ministry. A dogmatic and exclusivist ministry that helped to develop my wrongful and frightening perception of God. A ministry that capitalized on fear mongering and hateful rhetoric. This ministry capitalized on fear. I have witnessed fear exist as the platform for moralistic and legalistic preaching. I think that many men and ministries have instilled fear in congregations. For example, I believe that some leaders do not have confidence in their congregation to make right decisions, or absolute acceptance of the doctrine of believer priests. Such philosophy leads to fear indoctrination, moralistic and legalistic preaching, and autocratic leadership suffering from a cult of personality. As a result people have questions and doubts, but are afraid to speak. I believe that there are people, young and old who are generally interested in Christ-likeness but are struggling with certain doubts. But they cower and continue to live superficial lives because they are afraid of being condemned, shunned, gossiped about, and unaccepted.
For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind. 2 Timothy 1.7
My experience has made me skeptical and even cynical. I confess this immediately, lest someone hastily brand me as a bitter saint. Which of course, I have been bitter, and I fight bitterness regularly. I am sympathetic to those who need answers but do not get them; I am sympathetic to those who experience tragedy and ask, why God? I don’t doubt God’s faithfulness, nor do I encourage anyone to doubt His goodness. I am sympathetic to those who live in fear of never living up to someone else’s standard, someone other than Jesus. I am opposed to the kind of dogmatism that suggests we should never run to our loving father and ask for reason or clarity. I have faith in our incarnated Lord, His atoning work, and His powerful resurrection. Because I have such faith, I am certain that my faith will continue to grow as the Spirit of God grants it to me. There are times that I doubt my full understanding or interpretation of a biblical text, times that I doubt the preferential and doctrinal dogmatism I have heard preached by others. Doubts that I consider healthy. Doubts that others would judge me for. Faith is an interesting thing.
Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. For by it the elders obtained a good report. Hebrews 11.1-2
Faith is not summoned up by our strong and determinative will (As supposed by the suggestion, you do not have enough faith or you need more faith, just believe.). Faith is given to us, produced in us but not by us (Looking unto Jesus the author and finisher of our faith). Faith by biblical definition is hoping, expectation. Which is one reason why we ask God for Faith, we hope He gives it to us; we expect Him to give.
But without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him. Hebrews 11.6
Faith is rooted in God. He is unpleased when we doubt His faithful response. We come to Him and diligently seek Him because we have doubts. He will never tire of our endless need for security and faith. He knows who we are; He knows we are weak. Every day He is prepared to serve us a helping of His faith.
Let’s look at the example of one family.
By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God. Through faith also Sara herself received strength to conceive seed, and was delivered of a child when she was past age, because she judged him faithful who had promised. Hebrews 11.8-11
Abraham went to Egypt without consulting God, he lied about his wife on two occasions, and had a child with a bondwoman. Sara laughed when she heard that she would have a child in old age and persuaded her husband to have illicit sex (adultery) for procreation, despite God’s promise of a child. Yet both Abraham and Sarah are recognized for their faith.
Let’s look at other examples
Barak-Depended on Deborah’s faith
Jepthae-Murdered his daughter
Samson-Seduced by a pagan woman
Yet all of these examples are mentioned in Hebrews 11, in the great hall of faith. Did they demonstrate faith at all times? No, but they did practice faith. Our faith grows as we respond in faith to what God reveals to us through his word. Since we are all different growth happens at a different rate. It is easy for you and I to look at someone and judge their faith, but we are not God, and therefore we are not qualified to judge. Many years ago, when I was more ignorant than I am now, a friend of mine developed cancer. This friend unraveled, doubt ensued closely behind. I remember thinking, where is your faith? After judgment I found my friend guilty of doubt, lacking faith. I considered this friend fragile, and I supposed weak faith. Since then I realize fragility is consistent with humanity and everyone’s faith is weak at times. Then there are times when we observe, hear, or read about amazing and unbelieveable faith.
Healthy relationships include the ability to share our doubts with each other. Even when we think doubts are petty we should be willing to encourage with the word of God, encouragement is better than judgment and more conducive to healthy relationships. I can recall a time when a friend of mine asked the pastor, “did God create evil?” The pastor responded, “what kind of stupid question is that?” My friend was determined and answered, “a question that deems an answer.” After the service I witnessed the Pastor make a beeline for my friend. I have no doubt the pastor raced towards him to offer an apology. The point, we shouldn’t experience fear, judgment, sarcasm, or rudeness when we approach others or leadership with questions or doubt. I am almost certain that we do not offer real freedom for others to express how they really feel. Within some environments there is an expected, unwritten law for others to believe what we believe, think what we think, and and have the same bedrock faith that we have, or else.
I wrote this blog post to encourage others and myself to be patient with people. To accept and even enjoy a certain amount of flexibility and difference. Don’t be afraid of questions or doubt, embrace doubt as an opportunity to brag about the faithfulness of our God. Don’t be so dogmatic about things that are uncertain, we have nothing to prove. We don’t have to be right about everything. We need to respond in faith to God as He reveals himself to us, what he reveals to you and I is different, and different than what he reveals to others. What God answers, when He answers, and how He answers is dependent on who He answers.
Romans 10:17 So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.