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.

Beauty in Simplicity

“So faith comes by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ”
(Romans 10:17)

I had a college theater professor who had a favorite phrase, one that I’m sure you’ve heard.  It really applies to every aspect of life, and if we used it more often, maybe things would go better.  Here it is:

K.I.S.S. – Keep It Simple, Stupid

Think about it.  If someone had applied this to the more than 10,000 pages of the Affordable Healthcare Act legislation, maybe things would have rolled out better (though I doubt it).  For that matter, just about anything that comes out of Washington seems to be a labyrinthine mess that only a room full of lawyers could ever understand, written so that people outside the beltway will never know what’s coming.  We really need to simplify things.

But not just in D.C.

I recently heard a message that was a complicated meandering through a hodge-podge of collected passages of Scripture, seemingly addressing a big issue in the world today, but never really saying anything about it.  Scripture says this, but it also says this, so we really can’t turn to Scripture to give us any answers here.  That wasn’t a quote, but it was the general theme.  When the message was finished, I had no idea what was ultimately said.

That’s not the way it should be.  Any pastor or teacher who equivocates on Scripture, who puts the Word of God and the teaching of the world on the same footing is, knowingly or not, leading the people astray and planting seeds of doubt in minds of the audience regarding the power of God’s Word.  A sermon should clarify the complicated in the light of Scripture, speak directly to those caught in sin God’s Word of judgment and hope in Christ, and present in a straightforward manner the life of faithful discipleship.

There are, of course, very complicated matters that the Bible addresses, and certain teachings of the church require great discipline and study and time to make them clear.  Still, the Westminster Confession teaches us:

All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all; yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed, for salvation, are so clearly propounded and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.

To simplify: there are, indeed, complicated things in Scripture.  But everything that you need to know, believe, and do for your salvation is made perfectly clear in Scripture.

That’s why I love the passage above.  “Faith comes from by hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.”  Beautiful.  Clear.  Direct.  Simple.

If you want to grow in faith, read the Bible.  God speaks, and we trust what He says – that’s faith.  God speaks to us when we read His word.  That is where we come face to face with God’s truth, with God’s promises, with God’s commands, with God’s love.  As we hear His word, as we trust and obey that word, our faith grows.

If you want to grow in faith, to overcome those nagging doubts, attend to God’s word.  Make His word a priority in your life, for in it you will find a vast treasure for your soul.