Word on Wednesday – by John Mason
‘Doubt…?’ – November 7, 2018
Some people say that to ask questions and have doubts is a lack of faith. In fact, doubt is not the opposite of faith. Logically we can only doubt something we actually believe.
When God’s people are prepared to engage with doubt honestly, they usually find their relationship with God grows stronger as a result. Psalm 73, the first psalm in Book III, provides us with an encouraging example.
In the opening lines we read: But as for me, my feet had almost stumbled; my steps had nearly slipped (v.2). Yet by the end of the psalm the poet tells us he feels closer to God than ever before: But for me it is good to be near God; I have made the Lord God my refuge, that I may tell of all your works. And in between, he tells us of the way he progressed from doubt back to full confidence in God.
His first theme is his reason for doubt: Truly God is good to the upright, to those who are pure in heart.
However, he observes that life doesn’t always work like this; the godless are the ones who seem to succeed and prosper. Though proud and cruel, they do not seem to be called to account: For I was envious of the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,… he observes (v.3). And he further comments: And they say, “How can God know? Is there knowledge in the Most High?”
The issue of justice disturbed the poet. And we can understand this. We read of leaders in the political or corporate world who have exploited people and yet who are heartless about the resultant suffering.
All in vain I have kept my heart clean and washed my hands in innocence, he tells us. For all the day long I have been stricken and rebuked every morning (vv.13-14). The psalm-writer’s reflections are true for many today. We share the poet’s reflection: I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. But to think this way, to doubt and ask questions, is not a sign of unbelief, but rather a mark of faith.
Which brings us to the second theme – the solution to doubt.
The psalmist reflects, If I had said, “I will talk on in this way,” I would have been untrue to the circle of your children. But when I thought how to understand this, it seemed to me a wearisome task, until I went into the sanctuary of God; then I perceived their end (vv.15-17).
Why was going to ‘church’ – the sanctuary of God – so important? Good churches are places where God’s Word is read and taught. Good churches put God and his King, the Lord Jesus, at the centre of our vision.
Good churches can deliver us from a distorted self-absorption, for where the Bible is believed and faithfully taught, we begin to see life from God’s perspective. Indeed, the first step from doubt is to turn away from the problem and catch a glimpse of God.
The psalm-writer sees anew the transitory nature of life: Then I perceived their end, he writes. Truly you set them in slippery places; you make them fall to ruin (vv.17b-18).
Our trouble is that we often ignore what we can’t see. We also tend to live only for today. Indeed, we so often overlook Jesus’ words: ‘What does it profit if you gain the whole world and you lose your soul?’
Talk of judgement is not at all popular these days. However the Bible, and Jesus in particular, assure us that judgment is a dreadful reality. And when we think about it, if it wasn’t real, there would be no hope for goodness in the world. It is only because God who made the world intends to give his moral verdict on us all that we dare to believe that goodness matters.
Sitting under the Scriptures the psalm writer saw things from God’s perspective: They are like a dream when one awakes; on awaking you despise their phantoms (v.20).
He also learned that despite his doubts and questions, he was a child of God: Nevertheless I am continually with you; you hold my right hand. You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will receive me with honor (v.23f).
To hear God’s Word in the company of others is a powerful gift from God. Such ministry enables us to face our doubts. It opens our eyes to the meaning of faith. Taking us by the hand, God promises to guide us with his counsel and bring us to glory.
© John G. Mason – www.anglicanconnection.com