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Monday, March 25, 2013

Doubt

It's that time of year again. We will all get our fill of interpretations of Jesus over the next few weeks. It's inevitable- every Easter we hear some new or re-imagined life of Christ which attempts to show how he was different than our preconceived ideas of him. Mostly, these special articles, tv programs, and lectures serve to show how orthodox Christians are wrong in some way and need to convert to the newer paradigm.

I'm kind of tired of these. Everyone has an agenda anymore it seems. I used to care a lot more about all of these ideas. Many of the best writers have compelling stories to tell. It's just that the coherence seems to come apart.

I just don't care that much anymore. It's not as if I don't have doubts. I do. I doubt a lot of things, but when I come back to Jesus, I keep discovering a compelling and believable story.

Doubt has been healthy to my faith. Learning and exploring different ideas is challenging and interesting. It's just that the skeptical doubt is not as interesting as Jesus.

James tells Christians to ask in faith without doubting (James 1:6). Many have taken this verse (and others similar to it), and assumed it referred to all doubting. In particular, when they apply it to faith some people believe we should not doubt our faith and just accept it unconditionally without revision.

The problem to this approach to faith and doubt is that it misses the core of rational belief in Christianity. We must have a noetic (intellectual belief) system which incorporates doubt. Doubt allows us to question our preconceived ideas and embedded culture. By doing so, we can come to a better understanding of truth which is universally applicable in nature. As Christians, we must believe truth is a person (e.g. John 1:1).

How do I square this with what James says? Easy, James is addressing Christians who are going through a time of hardship and suffering. These Christians need wisdom. Wisdom, I would argue, is the personification of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. This is what we are to ask for without doubting. So, when James tells us to ask for wisdom without doubting he is telling us to approach God with full-abandonment.

The lack of doubt he refers to manifests itself as a life which wholeheartedly seeks God. This is not what I mean, or many other people mean when they say "doubt." We mean something like- questions we have concerning the nature, character, or reliability of God, Jesus, or the scriptures.

James urges us to seek God first. Don't hedge your bets when you need help, seek God and what He has given you. This is a radically different topic than the intellectual exercise which considers things like historical truth or reliability.

For example, when we approach the Gospels with an attempt to learn because we are unsure what we believe, we may actually do so in a way that is consistent with what James advocates for Christian living. However, the locus of this intellectual doubt is not holding to some impossible idea of impartiality or empirical non-subjectivity. Instead, it is an abandonment to the search for truth while realizing that truth must be a person.

The doubt of a person of faith seeks understanding. It is the prayer of the father in Mark 9:24, "I believe, help my unbelief!" Only in Jesus do we find fulfillment and resolution to our doubt.

As I finish a season of preaching/teaching about the person of Jesus (I just spent 12 weeks on the subject with my students), I return to Jesus full of doubt and full of faith. My doubt has always sought Christ, The Lord, the Son of the Living God.

It is my prayer for my brothers and sisters in Christ that they will have some doubt as they think about Jesus this Easter.

I cannot help but have doubt as I approach the cross on Maundy Thursday and Good Friday. Have I forsaken my Lord? Do I continue to forsake Him? Is my prayer really any different than the thief who wanted to be with Jesus in paradise?

My doubt never ends, leads, or finds it source in my own questions. My doubt comes from being in constant contact with Christ. This is the second part of my prayer; may our doubt come from knowing Christ and His death and resurrection. This is the intellectual doubt which says, "How can this be?" This is the doubt which produces genuine faith. This is the doubt which affirms His resurrection and looks into the tomb.

My doubt is found in the uncertainty of the present moment.

My doubt is not guided by inaction.

My doubt is not held in suspension.

My doubt is not based upon the wisdom of this world.

My doubt finds itself next to The Lord and says, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom!" (Luke 23:42).

It is a cry of desperation and hope. It holds nothing back. Even in my darkest hours, I say "I believe, help my unbelief!" This should be a humble and biblical prayer.

in Christ,
Christopher