Dealing with Questions and Doubts

Sometimes Pastoral Ministry means going out and seeking the sheep who have gone astray, and leading them back to the green pastures.

Sometimes in Pastoral Ministry, the sheep just sort of wander into your office and ask to be fed.

The latter has happened a couple of times this past week.  New faces come into the church,  sometimes asking for help, other times just to talk; but always with questions.  If I can be patient, the questions start flowing, and relationships start forming.  It’s awesome.

Why do we discourage questions?

I can’t tell you how many times people have come to me afraid to ask questions.  Somewhere along the way someone has told them that asking questions is the same thing as questioning God, and if they can’t just accept what they are told, then they cannot be saved.

I want to encourage questions.  I think it was Anselm who said, “Theology is faith seeking understanding.”  You cannot seek understanding unless you first recognize what you do not already know.  And what you don’t already know is usually expressed in the form of questions.

People have said there are no stupid questions.  I don’t know if I’d always agree.  I had one student in confirmation class who kept asking me if goats will fly in heaven.  That was a stupid question.

Honest, heart-felt questions that try to get to a deeper richer understanding of who God is, who we are, and how we get right with him – those can never be stupid questions.  Ask away. Jesus said no one may enter the kingdom of heaven unless he comes like a child, and if you’ve ever spent any time with a child, you know they ask a lot of questions.  It is the only way we ever really learn.

But that’s the flip side of the invitation to asking, you have to be ready and willing to find the answer.  Simply asking for questions but never listening for the answer is the formula for folly.  If you are going to ask questions of faith, then you must also look to the Scriptures, which are the only rule for life and faith.  Take up and read, pursue wisdom at all costs, stay deeply rooted in the Word of God.  Only there will you find the answers you seek.

Related to questions is doubt.  Doubt is that painful, nagging gap between our experience and our faith.  We know God has promised X, but our experience has been Y, can we really trust and rest in what He has said?

Our confession reminds us:

True believers may have the assurance of their salvation divers ways shaken, diminished, and intermitted; as, by negligence in preserving of it, by falling into some special sin which wounded the conscience and grieveth the Spirit; by some sudden or vehement temptation, but God’s withdrawing the light of his countenance, and suffering even such as fear him to walk in darkness and to have no light: yet are they never utterly destitute of that seed of God, and life of faith, that love of Christ and the brethren, that sincerity of heart, and conscience of duty, out of which, by the operation of the Spirit, this assurance may, in due time, be revived; and by the which, in the meantime, they are supported from utter despair.

Ether through quiet spiritual neglect, or by willful rebellion in sin; we have our faith shaken, and we can be overcome with doubt.  Yet we are reminded in God’s Word, that even when our hearts condemn us, God is greater than our heart, he knows everything (1 John 3:20).

So come to God with your questions, come to Him with your doubts and worries.  Come as you are, not as you think you should be. Come to Him.  Let His Word speak to you, teach you, and bring life to you through faith in Jesus Christ.

Hold Fast…

“Hold Fast to What is Good…”
(Rom 12:9)

There are days when we have more questions than answers; more doubts than assurances.

  • Wondering why the wicked prosper and the righteous struggle through the day.
  • Wondering how God will provide when there’s more month than money.
  • Wondering if that prayer for healing, for peace, for assurance will ever be answered.
  • Wondering what meaning could possibly be found in the midst of this trial and suffering.

Questions and doubts like these have the potential to rob us of our comfort and peace in believing.  We struggle in that “dark night of the soul,” grasping to something, anything, that will bring us through.

This is why the Spirit teaches us to “Hold fast to what is good” (Rom 12:9).  Like a survivor of a shipwreck who clings to the life preserver, we must hold fast to that which is certain to bring us through to salvation. This term “hold fast” is the same term that Scripture uses in describing marriage, “He shall leave his father and mother, and hold fast to his wife” (Gen 2:24).  It’s not simply a desperate grasping at straws, hoping to find something to hold on to, but rather it is coming back to the assurance that comes with God’s covenant promise.  Hold fast, rest in, the goodness of the promise.

So, briefly, what is this good to which we are to hold fast in the midst of our doubts and troubles?  Let me offer three “goods” that Scripture calls us to hold on to.

Hold fast to the truth.

One of my favorite passages from the preliminary statements of the Book of Church Order in the PCA (I know, that phrase scores high on the geek scale), is this:

“That truth is in order to goodness; and a great touchstone of truth, its tendency to promote holiness; according to our Savior’s rule, “by their fruits ye shall know them.” And that no opinion can be either more pernicious or more absurd than that which brings truth and falsehood upon a level, and represents it as of no consequence what a man’s opinions are. On the contrary, we are persuaded that there is an inseparable connection between faith and practice, truth and duty. Otherwise it would be of no consequence either to discover truth or to embrace it.”

Can we not say that we live in a day when truth and falsehood are presented as equal? When we are unable to say which bathroom a person ought to use without being labeled a “hate-monger,” and a Harvard law professor tells his students that Evangelical Christians should be treated like Nazi criminals; I’d say its time for us to hold fast to the truth.

Where do we find that truth?  In the word of God.  Jesus said that those who are the good soil are those who, “hearing the word, hold it fast in an honest and good heart, and bear fruit with patience” (Luke 8:15).  Paul says we are to “hold fast to the word of life (Philippians 2:16). 1 Thessalonians 5:21 teaches us to test everything and hold fast to the truth. When someone comes along claiming to know the truth, test it against the Word of God. When troubles come and cause you to doubt, test them against the Word of God.  Hold fast to the truth of God’s Word.

Hold fast to hope.

Not only are we to hold on to the truth, but we must remain in that truth with hopefulness.  Holding fast to truth without hope can result in a rather dour and pessimistic outlook on life.  But faith is both truth and hopefulness.  I remember reading somewhere that Biblical hope is not an uncertain desire, it is a confident expectation.  When we are established in the truth of God’s Word, and rest in His promises, we have a confident expectation that His Word and His promise are true and will be fulfilled.

This is what Hebrews 10:23 teaches, “Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful.”  So hold fast to the hopeful expectation of God’s goodness and mercy, for this hope “does not put us to shame, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us” (Romans 5:5).

Hold fast to Christ.

Ultimately, the truth and the hope to which we must hold fast is found in Jesus Christ.  In Him alone is the truth, and in Him alone is the fulfillment of every promise of God. Christ is the Word of God incarnate, the living embodiment of God’s truth. He is God’s “Yes” and “Amen,” the faithful and true witness.  He is the “hope of the world” (Matt. 12:21), and in Him “will the Gentiles put their hope” (Rom 5:12).

In the midst of the doubts and questions, the troubles and the fears, hold fast to that which is good; hold fast to Christ.

SDG