Overcoming Doubt


John 20:26-29

A young skeptic in the congregation once interrupted Billy Sunday with the question: “Who was Cain’s wife?” The Evangelist answered in all seriousness: “I honor every seeker after knowledge of the truth. But I have a word of warning for this questioner. Don’t risk losing salvation by too much inquiring after other men’s wives.”

2,300 federal employees in 12 Washington agencies who were shown a quotation from the Declaration of Independence, without being told what it was, were asked to sign the document, 68% refused to sign. Some claimed the quotation was from, among other sources, the Christian Science Monitor and the Communist Manifesto. The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt. — Bertrand Russell

There is no such thing as a good hand-me-down religion. To be vital, to be the best of which we are capable, our religion must be a wholly personal one, forged entirely through the fire of our questioning and doubting in the crucible of our own experience of reality. M. Scott Peck said, “Knowledge is gained by learning; trust by doubt; skill by practice; and love by love.” During his long career as pastor of New York’s Riverside Church, the late Harry Emerson Fosdick spent many hours counseling students from nearby Columbia University. One evening a distraught young man burst into his study and announced, “I have decided that I cannot and do not believe in God!” “All right,” Dr. Fosdick replied. “But describe for me the God you don’t believe in.” The student proceeded to sketch his idea of God. When he finished, Dr. Fosdick said, “Well, we’re in the same boat. I don’t believe in THAT God either.”

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.
This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. (Hebrews 11:1) Were there no room for doubt, there would be no room for faith, either.

Now Thomas, one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” Jesus met Thomas’ demands even before He heard them from Thomas’ lips: Thomas’ Demand and Jesus’ Command Unless I see His hands . . .See My hands. And put my fingers where the nails. . .Put your finger here. And put my hand into His side . . .Reach out your hand My side. I will not believe . . . Stop doubting and believe.

We are born questioners. Look at the wonderment of a little child eyes before it can speak. The child’s great word when it begins to speak is “why”.
Every child is full of every kind of question, about every kind of thing that moves, and shines, and changes, in the little world in which it lives. That is the incipient doubt in the nature of humanity. It is an inevitable thing. It is not a thing to be crushed. Doubt is the prelude of knowledge. If you would be a real seeker after truth, it is necessary that at least once in your life you doubt, as far as possible, all things.

We all have a little doubt in us. But there are two kinds of doubt. There’s the doubt that undermines our faith and the doubt that leads to and builds up the faith. The deviation of a ship’s compass from the true magnetic meridian is caused by the near presence of iron. This disturbing influence must be neutralized or the compass becomes worthless. The deviation of the soul from its God-ward course is caused by the presence of sin, and as long as we remain unbelieving concerning our crucifixion with Christ, we shall be alive to its power and therefore not truly alive for God.

That is the trouble with keyholes. You don’t always see enough to come to a conclusion, but once you’ve seen a little it’s difficult to resist trying. This mistake is the essence of keyhole theology. There are times when we see glimpses of God’s ways but not enough to allow us to make conclusions about what he is doing and why. Yet we cannot resist jumping to conclusions. Being insistent as well as inquisitive, we refuse to suspend judgment and our wrong conclusions so misrepresent God that we end by doubting him.

Whenever I am tempted to be impatient with someone I try to observe the “one fact rule”: I have learned to look for at least one hidden fact that might offer a logical explanation for his obnoxious behavior. This always seems to help me give other people the benefit of the doubt and maintain my commitment to always “believe the best” about them. Doubt sees the obstacles; Faith sees the way! Doubt sees the darkest night; Faith sees the day! Doubt dreads to take a step; Faith soars on high! Doubt questions, “Who believes?”

It seems this particular woman was always volunteering to help with the chores on her daughter and son-in-law’s farm. On one such occasion she found herself face to face with a bull. Unknown to her, the bull was nothing but a big pet, lovable in every way. However, when he came trotting toward her, this woman ran screaming and managed to clear the six-foot gate just in time. As she stood there breathless and shaking, she spotted her husband and yelled: “Why didn’t you warn me about that bull?” And he replied, “Okay, I will. Look out behind you!” Sure enough, there stood the bull waiting to be petted and no doubt comforted. The woman had startled the bull with her performance and he apparently thought he had better run from whatever she was running from, too. So the bull had jumped the fence just as she was climbing over the gate. How often have we tried to run from the consequences of our actions or the things we fear the most, hurdling some great fence only to look back and see that we were followed?

I see that I am inwardly fashioned for faith and not for fear. Fear is not my native land; faith is. I am so made that worry and anxiety are sand in the machinery of life; faith is oil. I live better by faith and confidence than by fear and doubt and anxiety. God made us that way. Therefore, the need of faith is not something imposed on us dogmatically, but it is written in us intrinsically. We cannot live without it.

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