There are days that I have doubts…
There are days I question the goodness of God….
There are days I look around the world and wonder…
As a believer in God, a follower of Christ, and especially, as a pastor, I’m sure some think I’m not supposed to have any doubts. But the reality is that, at times, I do.
Why do we think that faithful followers of Jesus shouldn’t have doubts? We look at Peter and his faults and are encouraged that Jesus restored him and used him greatly. We admire Paul who was a persecutor (terrorist and murderer) of the church and celebrate how Jesus transformed him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9). But when we consider Thomas, who doubted the physical Resurrection of Jesus until he saw Him and touched Him, we conclude that we’re not supposed to have doubts. But the reality is, we all have both believing and doubting inside us. And it’s during those days of doubting that we have a choice to make – to believe God’s Word or trust our feelings, observations, or circumstances.
Belief is only a necessity when we don’t know with certainty. Only when we have doubt is faith needed. Where there is complete knowledge, there is no need for faith. If I told you that I had a $20 bill in my pocket, would you believe me? Probably. If I showed it to you, would it still require faith? No. Seeing is not believing – seeing is knowing. When doubt is gone, so is faith.
“Faith is the reality of what is hoped for, the proof of what is not seen.” (Hebrews 11:1) It’s the uncertainty of “what is not seen” (doubting) that causes us to exercise faith (believing) and grow in our faith (maturing).
So a crucial question to ask ourselves is, what do I really believe? There are great beliefs, great creeds of the church, that, for centuries, people have devoted their life to studying. There are beliefs that people have defended with their lives, sacrificed over, and even died for. In Psalm 73, Asaph begins with a statement of faith, “God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart.” He says that in spite of evidence to the contrary, God is good to those who are totally committed to Him. Like the psalmist, we all carry convictions about what we believe. We can talk about them in three ways:
- What I say I believe (publicly). These public convictions are the beliefs that I want other people to think I believe, even though I may not really believe them. For example, guys, if a certain someone asks you, “Does this dress make my hips look too large?” What you say you believe is, “No. I didn’t even know you had hips until you mentioned them.” We make such statements for “PR” purposes, regardless of whether or not we really believe them. We get frustrated with politicians for replacing truth with things that sound true, but the reality is that we all have an inner politician who puts in overtime and his main job is crafting and communicating public policies to help us look good and get what we want.
- What I think I believe (privately). These private convictions are the things that I sincerely think that I believe, but it turns out they may be fickle. When circumstances change, our private beliefs are revealed to be shallow. When our health, or jobs, or relationships change, what we feel causes us to behave, and believe, differently. When the going gets tough, we jump off the bandwagon for things we think we believe.
- What I really believe (personally). These are the convictions that really matter. Our personal beliefs are revealed by our daily actions – by what I actually do. I don’t have to wake up and say, “Today, I’m going to demonstrate my commitment to my belief in gravity.” My attitudes and actions are always the result of what I really believe. What I really believe is what I’m fully depending upon.
So we have three different kinds of beliefs, what I say I believe, what I think I believe, and what I really believe, and that’s were life happens. How do circumstances reveal what I really believe? In Psalm 73:2 Asaph wrote, “But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray.” Asaph publicly said he believed in God, but when he began to look around as his private circumstances changed, he began to have some serious doubts about God’s goodness and justice.
- Doubt begins with material envy. Asaph said, “For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked.” (Psalm 73:3). Later on he wrote, “Look at them—the wicked! They are always at ease, and they increase their wealth” (vs. 12). We see the rich getting richer. Cheaters winning. Liars are getting promoted. Everything seems to be going their way.
- Doubts surface with physical suffering. “They have an easy time until they die, and their bodies are well fed. They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.” (Psalm 73:4-5) When our wealth and then our health declines we begin to wonder, get discouraged, and doubt. Others who reject God altogether seem more care-free and don’t seem to have the same problems we have. They don’t have as much physical suffering as believers do. Their bodies are healthy and sleek (naturally—they can afford the best of everything). They escape many of the troubles and tragedies of decent people like ourselves. And even if trouble should hit them, they are heavily insured against every conceivable form of loss. Regarding the wicked, British preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon, wrote in the 19th century, “They have a quiet death; gliding into eternity without a struggle”
- Doubts are sustained from the verbal mistreatment by others. “They mock, and they speak maliciously; they arrogantly threaten oppression. They set their mouths against heaven, and their tongues strut across the earth.” (Psalm 73:8-9) The wicked and the selfish boast proudly and act as if God doesn’t care how they live.
- Doubts are solidified from the personal afflictions we experience. Why do bad things happen to good people? Like the psalmist we question, “Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing? For I am afflicted all day long and punished every morning.” (Psalm 73:13-14) Like Asaph we begin to wonder, “What good has it done me to live a decent, honest, respectable life?” The hours I’ve spent in prayer. The time spent in the Word. The time and money I’ve given to the Lord. The active testimony for Jesus, both public and private. All I’ve got for it has been a daily dose of suffering and punishment. Is this life of faith really worth the cost? In the face of doubts, we have a choice to make.
Why should I really believe? I believe God during days and nights of doubt because things in life are not always as they look or feel. “When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless… until… I entered God’s sanctuary… then I understood their future destiny…” (Psalm 73:17-18). When we step back and get God’s perspective, then we realize the outcome of the deeds, the wickedness, the selfishness, and the faithlessness of those who reject Him. More importantly, when we step away from what’s going on and look up to God, we find He is good, He is loving, He is faithful.
Faith involves certain beliefs. Faith involves an attitude of hope and confidence. But at it’s root, faith is trusting a Person. Go back and read that again. Faith is trusting God and His Word. Only when we depend upon God and His Word can we understand life completely and know Him intimately.
Don’t miss how the psalmist repeatedly speaks directly to God with the pronouns “I” and “You” in the following verses:
When I became embittered and my innermost being was wounded, I was stupid and didn’t understand; I was an unthinking animal toward You. Yet I am always with You; You hold my right hand. You guide me with Your counsel, and afterward You will take me up in glory. Who do I have in heaven but You? And I desire nothing on earth but You. (Psalm 73:21-25)
Asaph is dealing personally and directly with God. He was talking with God at the heart level. Why should we really believe in God? Consider the following:
Regardless of how we feel, God is faithful to us in our failures. Even when we have doubts, become bitter, or become totally consumed by envy of others, Jesus never leaves His followers. The Good Shepherd waits for us and often pursues us. We begin the Christian life by seeing God’s grace and love in spite of our sin. And as we try to live the Christian life, we sometimes have doubts – like the psalmist and like Thomas. When we come to our senses again, we realize in a fresh and deeper way His faithful love and forgiveness of our sin.
In spite of evidence to the contrary, God satisfies our deepest longings and supplies our greatest needs. When we’re struggling with life, the Lord wisely and tenderly lead us and blesses us. Sober reflection reminded the psalmist that God had not forgotten him but would one day provide the good things He presently withheld. God is faithful, even in times of doubt when I can’t see Him or feel Him. My heart may have doubts in the present, but God is the heartbeat of my future.
Why should we believe in God? Because He has rescued us from judgment and is our refuge from troubles. “As for me, God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all You do” (Psalm 73:28). We once were far from God. We once were unfaithful to Him. We once were headed for eternal punishment. But God in His mercy reached down to us with the love of His Son, Jesus, and rescued us from His judgment. Those who do not follow God faithfully will suffer eventually. However, when we depend upon Him by faith we’ll experience His blessing in the end, regardless of our present circumstances.
There are times when a decision to believe requires commitment when we don’t have complete certainty. For the most important decisions in life, this is almost always the case. When a young, naive couple vows to love and honor one another for the rest of their lives, they have no clue as to what challenges they will face. What matters is not certainty, but faithfulness. When certainty is not possible, faithfulness becomes a choice.
This is true about the most important decisions of doubt and faith. Trusting God can lead us to deeper faith in Him and greater dependence upon Him. Contrary to how things often appear, God is indeed good to those who are pure in heart, those who are clinging to Him and His Word.
Fully devoted followers of God’s Son are not people who never doubt. We are disciples of Jesus who doubt and worship, doubt and serve, doubt and forgive, doubt and help each other with our doubts. We completely depend upon God and His Word while we wait for our doubting to – one day– turn into knowing.
Follow me… as I follow Jesus Christ.