Thursday, January 25, 2007

Chewing, Chewing All Day Long

For the past several months, I've been chewing on a question:

How much doubt can a Christian have about the fundamental issues of the faith and still call himself (or herself) a Christian?

It's a lot to think about.

I look at the writings of my contemporaries for answers, but I'm not impressed with the depth and wonder they hold in the mysterious caverns of their own navels. They've reinvented the wheel and they have made it square. Frankly, no one I know has the mental acumen or the knowledge of scripture they need to write answers that compare to those offered in the confessions and creeds Christians have been clinging to since the second century.

I feel unkind writing that. I shouldn't want to belittle the questions or the Questioners, but I suppose that's what I'm doing. I don't respect the kind of indefinite doubt that resists resolution like my Golden Retriever's fur resists water. I believe that there is a difference between the resolution of doubt and the pursuit of answers. Some questions will never be answered here on earth, yet we labor to resolve our doubts. We can be confident apart from answers, and we should be. That's faith.

That being said, I'm comforted by the notion that a Christian won't have his faith so shaken, his will so broken, or his mind so doubt-addled that his assurance won't be revived in time.

And isn't that an essential element of victory? And even more, isn't that hopeful for the doubter? Thomas doubted and was restored. It's the restoration, not the doubt, that tests the mettle of faith.

I believe a Christian can question, wrestle and resist the fundamental elements of faith for a time. It might actually be the mark of an earnest heart. But if perpetual doubt becomes a fundamental part of a person's basic nature, that person might be one of those vainly deceived with false hopes and carnal presumptions of being in the favor of God.

I find this conclusion troubling - more than that, it brings me grief as I consider all the people I love who have built a home on doubt. But despite that trouble, despite that grief, I find it to be true.

I doubt. I struggle. I question. And Christ overcomes my feeble faith. His presence - past, present, and future - brings me comfort and assurance and peace. That's how I know He's there. That's how I feel His presence. It isn't that I have all the answers, I don't even have all the questions, but I do have a peace that passes my understanding. I've found that it does guard my heart and mind from the doubts that would surely overwhelm me as I sail the ocean of this world from the bow of my very tiny boat.


JP said...

My thoughts sometimes run in circles -- if God isn't God, if the Bible was written by mere men, then I am incredibly stupid for living the life I do. Why should I sacrifice for those around me? Who are these little people taking up my time & demanding things of me? I need to "eat, drink and be merry -- for tomorrow we die."

But..... and this is a big but ...... where would I go? I lived as a shadow for more than 18 years -- and the world did not make sense without God. The miraculousness of the world around me shouts that there is a creator -- and my heart tells me that if I can know him, I *have* to.

There's that whole over-used out of context "judge not" verse -- but we *are* supposed to be discerning and hold people up to the standards God has shown us -- and offer them the same grace in repentance. Grace and license aren't the same -- nor can sinning deliberately and willfully be compared to the sins of human fallenness.

I am also concerned for those around me, and I pray that they can find comfort and rest in the gospel.

susan said...

I think we're Christians because we know that there is nothing better. Where would we go? And what would we do there? To me, even if Jesus is folly and I die only to be eaten by worms, this life is still of value.

It makes my heart heavy to hear people call a certain kind of tolerance "grace." God gives us grace, and at best, we can hope to reflect it to others like the moon reflects the sun.


G. Twilley said...

A friend of mine [over breakfast] told me that you should read two older books to every one new book. He got the idea from C S Lewis [who acknowledged himself as a contemporary writer in the particular essay my friend was referencing]. The mentality is that we are so entrenched in modern thought and contemporary speak that we can't really read what's written now with great objectivity. Yet the works from the past prove themselves as relevant and trustworthy from an objective stance as they've survived numerous readings from different generations. The WCF is good doctrine, I'm glad you referenced it.

susan said...

Gene, I think that's great advice. I just might take it. Aside from the fact that we don't know how to write anymore, I've found good evidence that we don't know how to think, either. This is part of the reason I'm so interested in Classical Education. Do you know much about that?


susan said...

Oh, and about the confession, I never realized that it was as beautiful as it is. It's just lovely to read and it expresses such lofty ideas that I've found myself reading it just for fun. And yes, that does make me a nerd. :-) I'm so glad that the whole thing can be found online.


kristen said...

I take comfort in the fact that God gives us just enough faith so we can pray "I believe, only help my unbelief."

I like the old things, too. I am really thankful I spent most of my college career with the saints of the early church and reformation, they will always be dear ones to me to come back home to. And that's probably why I love Classical Education and catechism and such, so that children can find a home with all the saints as well.