The Enemy of Faith (Part 3)

Our study has indicated the great enemy of faith is doubt. How are we to assert our faith when doubts assail us seeking to kill our faith or in the least to disable and weaken it? God has armed us with His command to be thankful. To express thanksgiving in everything calls us to assert our faith. When providence smiles upon us thanksgiving is easy, but experiencing the frowning face of providence calls for one to assert faith even sometimes in the face of evil and irrationality. Why would someone thank God for seemingly bad things? Besides such thanksgiving, we must also learn of the courage of faith.


The Advantages of Doubt
     Scripture promises that for those who love God all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28), and we are to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). We must include even our doubts within these boundaries. 

     Doubts serve a purpose in strengthening our faith, if they are used as a springboard for seeking out answers. As mentioned above we cannot always answer all the questions the skeptical mind may conjure, consequently, we must say from the outset that to the mind of faith doubts are never an end but only an impetus to search. Some doubts we will find through our searching are quite hollow, dismissed by solid answers of a broader knowledge and deeper understanding. They are like pebbles in our shoes which can be easily removed and should be removed making our way much easier and healthier.

     Other doubts may require more arduous searching but build us and educate and grow us. Another divine use of doubts is that often in these searches we find a “serendipity.” We fortuitously find a greater treasure, than what we originally set out to find. In still another way, the searching out of doubts helps us to understand the skeptical mind both our own and that of others. Also, many times we are led by our searches to realize the truth of Deuteronomy 29:29, The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever that we may do all the words of this law. This verse teaches us very clearly that there is a divine limit to what we can know. We are faced with mystery and unanswered questions, and a healthy faith must learn to accept these limitations and acknowledge that a Biblical and robust faith must learn this lesson. It must learn to be still and know that I am God (Ps. 46:10), and learn to Trust in the LORD with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding (Prov. 3:5) and In the path of your judgments, O LORD, we wait for you (Is. 26:8; 40:31). Doubts have their place in teaching us how to exercise our faith in the face of them. For these reasons and more we must learn not to fear the questions of doubt. In truth faith in God and Christ swallows these doubts demonstrating that faith is greater than doubts. How? Let faith do its work by being thankful for doubts (1 Thess. 5:18) and acknowledge they are part of God’s good plan (Rom. 8:28). In all these ways doubts serve the greater growth of faith.

     Here is when faith takes the form of thanksgiving. This exercise of faith changes us. It is the Spirit applying the Word of God that enables me to assert my faith based on God’s commands. Scripture promises that for those who love God all things work together for good (Rom. 8:28), and we are to give thanks in all circumstances (1 Thess. 5:18). That enablement comes in my obedience to the command to be thankful for everything. Then I am reminded that my God is absolutely sovereign over all things, therefore I can give thanks for everything! Only because He stands in absolute control of everything can I sanely say thank you for everything. But thanksgiving reorients me to see that God is not my servant. He is not my genie to deliver my wish list at my beck and call. I am His servant to glorify Him in my every circumstance, whether I have a lot or a little or none. Thanksgiving is true faith building for my soul.

     Because we know that all things come into our lives by God’s purpose and plan, and that all things serve His good purpose, then even our doubts and fears can be a point of thanks. Recently, I was journaling and realized a long list of fears that were weighing me down. When I began to thank God for them, they not only became diminished in my mind’s eye, but I also was enabled to see some of God’s purpose for them in my life. They brought me to prayer. They called me to rest in God’s providential care. They taught me that I had to practice caution in some areas of my fears. They indicated areas that God wanted to stretch and grow me and make me an overcomer, a conqueror. They also taught me that I needed to gratefully accept what God has given me. Remember Job’s rebuke to his wife, "You speak as one of the foolish women speaks. Shall we indeed accept good from God and not accept adversity?" (2:10). Even our doubts and fears are an opportunity for the building of our faith through thanksgiving, and our doubts and fears reorient us so that we think properly, with faith, about all things which come from the hand of God.

     There is another facet to doubt found in the essential nature of faith. The Hebrews writer teaches us, Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (11:1; cf. Rom. 8:18-25). Faith is what we have until we have what we hoped for and until the unseen things become seen. We don’t have in our grasp yet what has been promised, and because we do not possess it yet, there is the possibility that we will not receive it and that is why faith is require to assure that we will receive what has been promised. Because we do not yet have what was promised, we could doubt that we will receive it, but faith answers and inserts itself in the place of such doubt. Doubt is what happens when there is no faith, and faith is that which displaces the uncertainty of doubting about which we hope. In this way faith and doubt are related. Doubt and uncertainty always live in the shadow of faith. They always lurk there waiting to insert themselves upon faith or any weakening of it.

     Paul Tillich, a well-known liberal theologian and philosopher of the mid-twentieth century, in his philosophical work, Dynamics of Faith, touches upon this inherent relationship between doubt and faith, certainty and uncertainty, pointing out a critical feature of faith. “This element of uncertainty in faith cannot be removed, it must be accepted. And the element in faith which accepts this is courage.”1 The Apostle Paul teaches us this truth, But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience (Rom. 8:25). The Greek word2 used for patience literally means “to abide under” suggesting someone under the load of some great burden. He or she is faced with a choice to remain under the burden patiently, or to cast it off and escape it which is impatience. The word implies more than just passively waiting to have the burden lifted off. Rather, it refers to a “courageous endurance,” a “victorious steadfastness,” a “tenacious perseverance.” This patience will not be defeated, it will not stop living and striving until it gains the victory. This patience is driven by the courage of faith in what is hoped for and what is not seen.

     We see this kind of courageous faith in Jacob’s wrestling with God. Esau was coming for him, and he feared the worst. He sent his family and company ahead of himself. He was alone at the ford of the Jabbok. He faced a man who engaged him, and they wrestled. Jacob would not relent. He persevered through the night, and his aggressor could not gain the advantage. Finally, he touched Jacob’s hip dislocating it, but still Jacob would not relent. The man told Jacob to release him because the day was breaking, but Jacob still would not relent saying, I will not let you go unless you bless me. Finally he was rewarded for perseverance. The man blessed him, ‘Your name shall no longer be called Jacob, but Israel, for you have striven with God and with men, and have prevailed’ (Gen. 32:26, 28). Jacob exemplified this tenacious courage which must be the heart of faith. When faced with doubts and fears, anxious thoughts and despair, we have to say, “I want my name to be ‘Faithful,’ and I will not relent until I have the victory and hope in hand.”

 

Endnotes

[1] Paul Tillich, Dynamics of Faith (San Francisco: Harper Torchbooks, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1957), 16.

[2]Hupomonē, hupo = under + monē = to abide > to abide under, endure, persevere, patience.

The Enemy of Faith (Part 2)
 

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Saturday, 21 October 2017

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