Have you ever struggled with doubts about God or the Bible? How normal is it to doubt? And if you do doubt, what should you do about it?
INTRODUTION/WE MASK DOUBT
Morning. David Sorn. Lead Pastor here at Renovation Church…
and…sometimes I doubt.
Now, in some churches, I’d be fired on the spot for saying that.
Hopefully this isn’t one of them.
But sometimes, in my head, I think:
“Maybe I just made this whole God thing up”
I think, “It’s really hard to trust the Bible’s teaching on this right now”
Or I think, “Do I actually really believe God can do this thing that I’m teaching about?!”
Now, most of the time…those haven’t been prolonged thoughts in my life.
And more often than not, they’ve led to me digging deeper into real answers & into God.
And what I want to do this morning is help you see that DOUBT is something that EVERY Christian deals with..
And I want to show you that if you handle it well, it can actually make you a stronger believer.
And we’re covering this topic in the midst of our series, “The Gilded Age,” which is named after a time period in America (1870-1900) where everything appeared much more golden than it really was.
Gilding is where you apply a thin gold layer over a solid substance like wood.
And I believe that one of our most common gildings today, as Christians anyway, is a spiritual one.
We put on spiritual masks…pretending to our family members, our Christian friends, and a watching world that we are much more spiritual than we really are.
As we’ve been saying in this series, most of us put our best-self forward…whether that self is real or not.
And one of the ways that we do this spiritually, is we put a mask on to hide our doubt.
How often do you hear Christians honestly say:
“I’m just having a hard time believing hell exists.”
“I’m having a hard time believing in God because of all the evil & suffering in the world”
“I’m having a hard time believing in God because…I just don’t really feel Him”
WE ALL HAVE DOUBTS
And yet even though we rarely hear people talk out loud like that…we all have doubts.
Strangely enough, God and the Bible, are much more tolerant of doubt than many churches are J
God asks him to lead the Israelites out of Egypt and away from Pharaoh.
And yet, in just two chapters (3 & 4) of Exodus, he says:
“You must have the wrong guy!”
“What if they don’t believe me when I ask them to go?”
“Yeah, but I’m not good at speaking!”
And then finally, “Please send someone else”
Gideon, the great leader of Israel doubts, and he says, “Look God, if this is really you talking to me, and I’m not going crazy, put some dew on just this fleece…and not on the ground”
Elijah the great prophet doubts…he doubts God can remedy the situation in his life…and his land. He’s lost hope.
The disciples doubt.
That Jesus can save them from the storm
Some even doubt his resurrection.
Many of the Christians that we admire from the last century were doubters too.
C.S. Lewis writes of his doubts he struggled with.
In her journals, Mother Theresa writes of her doubts that sometimes crept up in her mind.
Doubt is one of the many things that we as humans struggle with, but we rarely publically own up to.
Our gilded spiritual masks don’t allow us to.
But what I want to show you is that hiding your doubt isn’t necessary, and it isn’t ultimately fruitful.
For one, doubt is a normal process of growing in your faith.
Think about the intellectual development of a child.
Isn’t the process of learning just a constant readjustment of what you believe to be true?
My kids are really into the sun and the moon at the moment.
Right now, they believe that the sun just appears…and “goes bye bye”
I thought about explaining rotations and orbits, but figured I’d wait until they were three.
But a time is going to come…where they’re going to doubt…that the sun simply goes “bye bye”
Maybe someone…a teacher…a friend…says something to the contrary.
And their doubt…can actually going to lead them to a greater truth.
But if we never allow ourselves to question, we become intellectually stunted.
The same thing is true spiritually.
If you’re going to grow…you’re going to need to ask hard questions of your faith along the way.
But this makes a lot of people nervous.
And I think this why the church, historically, has such a contentious relationship with doubt.
But, see, it’s not any better to just dogmatically accept a bunch of truths someone force fed you.
I’ve talked to just 2 people in the last 2 weeks who said, “I went to church growing up…Sunday school, confirmation, Christian education classes…and I got so sick of people telling me what to believe…that I walked away”
We have to let people question.
Asking questions, if done in a healthy way (with the right people), should actually deepen your faith.
It allows you to start building walls and support beams to the initial foundation of your faith.
If you don’t ever build onto your house of faith by exploring your questions and finding answers…then…
Someday…somebody will ask you some question…or life will throw you some wrench, and it will collapse the fake house of faith you’ve building up.
Don’t put a mask over your doubts…build your faith
And here’s what I want you to see.
We shouldn’t fear questions.
If Christianity isn’t true, then you shouldn’t believe in it.
But I think it IS true…and I believe if I steward my questions and my doubt well…it’ll lead me to a greater truth of God.
Examining your doubts should really be a natural progression of any faith journey.
For most people, what you’re doing is merely moving from an inherited faith of your childhood…to an adult faith that is actually your own.
And if that’s going to happen, you’re going to doubt along the way and ask some hard questions before it actually becomes your own.
The same is true for those of you who came to Christ as an adult.
For most people, the decision to follow Jesus was actually more emotional than it was intellectual.
And yet, there will come a time, as your faith becomes more and more rooted in truth, that you too will have to doubt, and ask hard questions along the way.
But if Christianity is indeed the truth (and I believe it is), I believe your questions will lead you to truth (if you steward your questions right…which we’ll talk about)
(Matthew 7:7) – NIV
7 “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.
We can’t be afraid to seek!
FAITH & DOUBT ALWAYS CO-EXIST
We’re always going to be seeking for more truth…more assurance…more faith.
And often, it’s our doubts that are the catalyst for us seeking more faith!
Frederick Buechner (Beekner) says it this way:
“Whether your faith is that there is a God or that there is not a God, if you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving” – Frederick Buechner
I want to begin to show you the interplay of faith & doubt…so you can learn not to fear it so much.
Let’s do so by looking at the interaction that took place between a desperate father and Jesus
(Mark 9:14-25) – NIV
14 When they came to the other disciples, they saw a large crowd around them and the teachers of the law arguing with them.15 As soon as all the people saw Jesus, they were overwhelmed with wonder and ran to greet him. 16 “What are you arguing with them about?” he asked. 17 A man in the crowd answered, “Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. 18 Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not.” 19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied, “how long shall I stay with you? How long shall I put up with you? Bring the boy to me.” 20 So they brought him. When the spirit saw Jesus, it immediately threw the boy into a convulsion. He fell to the ground and rolled around, foaming at the mouth. 21 Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?” “From childhood,” he answered. 22 “It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” 23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 25 When Jesus saw that a crowd was running to the scene, he rebuked the impure spirit. “You deaf and mute spirit,” he said, “I command you, come out of him and never enter him again.”
What an incredible phrase by that father: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!”
Notice: his doubt and his faith coexist together.
He believes Jesus can do it…yet, he honestly tells Jesus…there’s a part of him that doesn’t believe…that doubts
The boy’s been sick his whole life. This has been a long road.
Nobody’s been able to help him.
In fact, Jesus’ own disciples couldn’t even help him.
(secretly grab granola bar wrapper out of your pocket)
He’s thinking, “Jesus, I know you’re great…I believe you can do it. But if I’m honest…I’m not certain.”
“There’s a percentage of me that doubts.”
And what I want you to see is this: That the coexistence of faith and doubt…is normal.
Let me show you what I mean:
How many of you believe me right now, that I have a granola bar wrapper in my hand?
Raise your hand if you have faith that I have a granola bar wrapper in my hand?
I’m about to destroy your faith.
(open up my hand and show the granola bar wrapper)
See, now, you don’t have faith that I have a granola bar wrapper in my hand…you have KNOWLEDGE.
You know it to be absolutely true.
You don’t need faith anymore.
Faith is only required when we have some doubts…it’s required when we are not absolutely sure
That’s why it’s called “faith.”
It’s to be confident in something or have trust
But faith ALWAYS co-exists with doubts.
Even if you’re 98% sure, you still have 2% doubt.
If you’re 100% sure, it’s not faith.
Faith and doubt go together like courage and fear.
Courage is doing the right thing in the face of fear
But see, without the presence of fear, there is no courage.
Likewise, without doubt, there is no faith.
Paul makes this point in his letter to the Corinthians:
(1 Corinthians 13:2) – NEW LIVING TRANSLATION!!!!!!
Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
And I’m not saying that you shouldn’t believe…or that this isn’t true.
Not at all.
But I’m saying, faith by definition, coexists with doubt.
And if that’s true…let’s stop covering up our doubt with a Gilded Mask…when we ALL have doubt.
#1 - TAKE YOUR MASK OFF
So what do you do…if you’re like, say, 100% of people in the room…and you have doubts? J
I want to give you 3 steps today…but these are not easy, simplistic, or quick.
Dealing with doubt is difficult, and because of our definition, it’s something you’ll deal with until “the hand is opened” and you see Jesus face to face.
But I think these 3 things will help.
#1: Take Your Mask Off.
The best thing you can do is to take your mask off…and be honest with some other Christians.
And let them know that you have some doubts…some questions.
Let me tell you the worst possible thing you do with doubt: nothing.
The worst thing is to not do anything.
If you hide your doubt in the dark…it grows.
It’s like mold…it thrives in the dark.
The dark is Satan’s playground.
If you’re not in an environment where you can be yourself and take your mask off…those questions of doubt will constantly pull at you…and finally you’ll say, “this isn’t real.”
But if you take the mask off, and you ask your questions…you share your doubts…
People can help you.
Maybe they’ll even surprise you and say, “Yeah, I used to doubt that too”
People can help you. They can have faith where you don’t.
They can see where you don’t see
For instance, let me tell you about a new and brilliant app called, “Be My Eyes,”
It’s an app that connects blind people to sighted volunteers through video chat.
So for example, a blind person can open their app (most likely through siri), and can hold their phone up to their fridge in video chat.
They then could ask the sighted volunteer, “Is the milk in my fridge expired?”
It’s absolutely brilliant.
And in a similar manner, you and I have blind spots in our lives.
Places, areas, even times in our life, where we don’t see God very well.
And yet, there are some people around us who can!
It’s one of the reasons we place such a high value on community in our church…and on our House Groups.
How do you live out this message from Scripture unless you have people around you whom you can ask questions of?
We want you to rub shoulders with our House Leaders/Elders, our great small group leaders…
We even have so many of you that have taken theology classes now at Renovation!
If you’re not in one of our 6 House Groups yet, get out your app or stop by the table on your way out, and sign-up!
They’ve only just started, so it’s the perfect time to join.
Over 200 adults have already signed up!
When I have questions…I RELY on people smarter than me to help me out
When my heart is doubting how God feels about me, I NEED people more spiritually mature than me…to help me out.
Faith requires us to lean on other people…because faith is faith…not absolute knowledge.
And each of us has been given a different look at God through a different window.
Think back to the granola bar wrapper.
See, you might have been doubting that it was actually in my hand.
But maybe there was someone else in the front, a friend maybe, who was fairly certain that they heard it in my hand…
Or another friend that thought they saw my hand in my pocket before…and that would give EVIDENCE that…
And see, this is how faith is built…off of evidence and circumstances.
And sometimes, we need reassurance from other people with a different perspective.
In the Mark 9 passage about the father and his boy…the disciples are overly confident in themselves.
They’re the gilded example, right?
They’re spending all their time arguing with the teachers of the law and trying to do it in their own strength.
And yet, the father is shown to have the RIGHT heart…
“I believe…but help me overcome my UNbelief!”
He’s authentic…He takes his mask off…and He gets help.
So take your mask off.
#2: LOOK INTO YOUR HEART
Here’s the second piece of advice on dealing with doubt:
#1: Take Off Your Mask
#2: Look Into Your Heart
This is BY FAR the hardest of the 3…and we RARELY like to go here.
But…most doubts are actually more emotional than they are intellectual.
Hear me out on this…because this is going to be difficult to process through.
Let me explain through an example:
When those students died in the mass shooting in Oregon last week, how many millions of Americans do you think lost their faith in Jesus Christ?
Now, I ask that question, and you’re thinking, “Huh?! Um, probably no one did.”
And yet, if the mother of an 18-year old girl who was needlessly killed said to you, “There’s no way I can believe in God after what happened to my little girl,” many people would go, “I get what she’s saying?”
Well, what’s the difference between the two examples?
The mother doesn’t have an intellectual problem with the idea that God, in his sovereignty, allows sin to happen and even allows murder at times.
If she did have an intellectual doubt with it, she would have lost her faith after Columbine, or Virginia Tech, or Sandy Hook.
So many of our doubts…about God or even doctrine…arise out of the fact that we don’t personally like the ramifications that that particular belief has for us
So dare to ask the question…how is this question or doubt…related to me and my emotions?
Look into your heart. Examine it.
And then bring your heart to Jesus.
It’s hard to do that when you’re doubting.
But one of the best ways for Him to prove to you that He is real…that the Bible is real…that this is ALL real…is for you to be in His presence.
I know that’s what’s helped me over the years.
I experience some lingering doubt over something, and then I just FEEL God move in my life (often it’s through worship), and I go, “Okay, never mind…this thing is real…I’m living for truth!”
#3: USE YOUR MIND
And here’s the third piece of advice for dealing with doubt:
#1: Take Off Your Mask
#2: Look Into Your Heart
#3: Use Your Mind
Doubts don’t have to be bad.
At their inception…often they’re morally ambiguous.
They can lead to inquisitive questions…that if handled correctly and with the right people…can actually significantly DEEPEN your faith.
But, if handled incorrectly, it can lead to unbelief…which is dangerous.
And because of the serious nature of that…let me give you some things to, now, intellectually think about in regards to doubt.
Here is what few people understand about doubt:
All doubts are really just a set of alternative beliefs, right?
For example, let’s say a friend or even a famous writer or comedian even…gets you to start doubting that the stories about Jesus, or the Bible, is actually 100% true
What I think few people understand is…when you’re doubting God, all you’ve done is just switched what you have FAITH in.
You’re not switching from faith in the stories about Jesus…TO…absolute certainty that the stories are NOT true.
You’re switching from “faith in something” to “faith in something else”
It’s not faith vs. no faith.
We covered this extensively in our really popular “Reason to Believe” series a few years back.
Everybody has “FAITH” in something
It’s just a matter of what you want to have faith in.
The brilliant apologist William Lane Craig says:
“What we’re looking for is a worldview with the least amount of difficulties, not with no difficulties.” – William Lane Craig
It’s faith, so there are going to be some challenges (difficulties) to what you believe.
Don’t be ready to walk away because you encountered a difficulty.
It’s not unreasonable whatsoever that you would have doubts…that’s the nature of faith.
There is always going to be some level of doubt when you’re dealing with faith
So if you have some doubts and you’ve maybe even been thinking about walking away from God…
Remember, in fairness, you’ll need just as much justification for your “doubts” as you do for your old beliefs.
Don’t just jump ship because you have a doubt.
Know what you’re jumping ship TO.
Doubt your doubts as well.
Use your Mind.
Look into your heart.
Take off your mask…ask Questions!
And I believe if you steward this well…you seek God…you seek the right people…God will help you in time.
He will lead you to the truth.
Because this is true.
The evidence is overwhelming
God’s presence is real
And literally BILLIONS of people see it as true.
It’s worthy of our faith.
I pray God…and his people…help you along the journey.
This morning, we are going to take communion together as well. Communion is always a great time for us to remember what our faith is all about.
It’s a time for us to remember that Jesus invites all believers…even believers with doubts…to his table.
For even as he invited his disciple, Doubting Thomas, to come near him and put his hand in into his side…he invites you today to experience his presence.
In the NT, Paul writes this about the reason for communion:
(1 Corinthians 11:23-26) – NIV
23For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, 24and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, "This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me." 25In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me." 26For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.
And that is what we will do. But Paul also writes in this passage that we ought to examine ourselves before taking communion.
To 1) not do it in vain. To only do it if we truly believe it. And if you’re still just seeking, that’s ok. You’re on a journey. 2) Communion is an opportunity for believers to examine themselves (ask yourself some tough questions)
In the back, there are 2 tables….with pieces of bread and a bowl of juice. When you’re ready, you can get up take an individual piece of bread and dip it in the juice.
However, take some time to examine yourself before you go back.
Sometime to remember what He’s done and what He will do
And when you’re ready, at any time during the next few songs (if you need to wait, wait), you can go back and take communion.
If you would like to pray while you’re back there, we encourage you to do so. With each other, by yourself, or our prayer team will be in the back to pray for you as well (POINT THEM OUT)
We really just want you to encounter God during our service.
Copyright: David Sorn
Renovation Church in Blaine, MN
You may use this material all you like! We only ask that you do not charge a fee and that you quote the source and not say it is your own.