“I have no idea where I am going…”

Another does of wisdom for the coming New Year.

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe the desire to please you does in fact please you. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore I will trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone.

Thomas Merton (1915-1968), Thoughts in Solitude

Doubters

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and have mercy on those who doubt  Jude 22

Doubts are real.  Some have doubts that keep them from faith. Others have doubts that continually nag their faith. Doubt need not prevent or corrode true faith but it needs the right prescription. True doubt is predicated upon faith in that it would not be possible to doubt unless there were something out there which is worth believing. And so “doubt comes into the world through faith” as Kierkegaard once scrawled in one of his journals.

Doubt ought not to be condemned.  It is not necessarily corrosive to Christian faith to ask tough questions, wrestle with what we read in the Bible, or even swallow hard on some difficult aspects. Often doubts are stepping stones on the path to greater faith. We even have an Apostle know for his doubts (although he recovered and made a great confession). So doubt ought not to be condemned or the doubter vilified.

 

But neither should doubt be congratulated. Living in the “age of authenticity” as we do, often to doubt is to appear deep, real, or true to yourself. Wrestling with difficult questions of faith is a normal part of growing up as a Christian disciple. But to indefinitely chew upon questions is often a cover for a desire to not make commitments we ought to, or to pay the price for true maturity.  (what better way to not take steps God wants us to take – in the realm of our sexual behaviour, our wealth, or our ambitions or the surrender of our self-interested autonomy – than to perpetually wonder if he can be known or heard from?)

Doubters are neither to be condemned as faithless nor congratulated as the authentically deep.  They need mercy.  That’s Jude prescription. And why not turn our doubtfulness upon itself.  Why not doubt our doubts?  Or better yet, doubt our own desires that may form hidden motivations for doubts?  True and responsible doubting always leads to true and responsible searching. Undertaken in good faith such searching carries with it a promise that ought not to be doubted.  Seek, and you shall find… 

 

 

 

 

 

Scoffers

Screen Shot 2016-01-26 at 1.52.06 PMBut you must remember, beloved, the predictions of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. They said to you, “In the last time there will be scoffers…”  Jude 17 ESV

 

We live in a cynical age.  One of the ways I know this is because much of the news consumed these days comes via comedians.  Don’t get me wrong, there’s a place for satire and sometimes they’re funny. But it speaks of how much we swim in an environment of mockery and scorn when our news is delivered within a steady diet of sarcastic jokes.

We ought not to be surprised when Christian faith falls under similar scoffing. It’s not like we weren’t told this would be the case (the apostles predicted it).

Scoffing (mockery, sarcastic scorn) comes through the media through explicit derision or just through the way it shows us faith or religious people. Bad examples of pastors, priests, churches, and so on are paraded and so loom large in the popular imagination.  All this serves to shame Christians.  We feel it, we may even shrink back from it.

Humour is from the angels.  Laughter is a blessed thing and everyone ought not to take themselves too seriously.  Scoffing, though, is diabolical in that in order to scoff one doesn’t need to stand for anything.  Irony is easy and cheap.  Sincerity is hard and costly.  To tear down another you don’t need to stand for or upon anything yourself.  This is true whether we’re atheist, agnostic, Christian, or something else, to sincerely stand is the harder job and makes one vulnerable to scoffing.

If we’re Christian, we ought not give in to the scoffing. We shouldn’t participate in the tearing down of others.  It’s too easy and we should do the harder thing. That is, perhaps disagree but do so from a place of understanding and respect.

And we’ll have to get used to enduring some scoffing.  Faithfulness takes the form of a hard forehead sometimes. What are the chances that a cable TV news anchor comedian will represent our beliefs fairly and charitably?  We ought not to be surprised.  We’ve been told.

 

Have Doubt? Mercy!

The Incredulity of St Thomas - Caravaggio, 1601-1602

The Incredulity of St Thomas – Caravaggio, 1601-1602

Everyone has doubts.  Believers have doubts of all kinds whether they admit them or not.  I have doubts even about some of the strongest convictions I possess. As in many things, there are two ditches on either side to fall into.

Often, doubt is seen as the deadly enemy of true faith.  If we have uncertainty then our faith is not strong or it is failing.  The existence of doubt, however, is not what makes or breaks true discipleship.  Rather it is how doubt is walked through, handled, wrestled with.  After the Lord’s rising, Thomas famously doubted the truth of it.  Instead of wallowing in doubt, Thomas sought after truth and ended up making an amazing confession:  My Lord and my God!  Doubt was not the antithesis of his faith but was part of his path of discipleship.  Doubting Thomas becomes Saint Thomas after all.  So we need not avoid or deny struggles with doubt we may have.  The struggling part, though, is not to be overlooked.

Jesus does not condemn Thomas’ uncertainty, but neither does he commend it.  The second ditch to fall into is a notion that to doubt or be uncertain is somehow to be more authentic or “real”.  Sometimes an aura of depth is cast upon the one who is perpetually in doubt – that’s depth as in, “oh that’s so deep, man!”  Christian books are written lionizing doubt, and a virtue is made of never being certain of God or truth.  These books are trendy (or at least were in 2008 or so).  I fear, though, that this is a false virtue and a cheap illusion of depth.  Thomas’ virtue is in his confession after doubt – not in perpetually staying in it.  As Matthew Milliner pointed out (in probably the best blog post ever – READ IT!) wrestling with difficult questions is “…called normative Christian maturation” but “perpetuating those questions indefinitely, however, is another thing entirely: Frozen adolescence.” 

The Bible does not condemn doubt and Thomas’ path shows that.  But neither does it commend it as though it were,  in and of itself  a mystical state.

The apostle James has nothing nice to say about doubt:  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways. (James 1:6-8).

And what does the Apostle Jude prescribe for doubt and doubters?  Mercy. (v22)  As a pastor who chats with those, inside and outside my congregation, I always must remember to be merciful on doubts, uncertainty, and wrestling matches with difficult questions.  Always reminding myself that this could be someone’s path to greater maturity or to the loss of vibrant faith.  And that I could be wrestle with the same sort in my own walk with God.

Does it ever occur to us though, when we doubt, to ask for mercy?  Rather than condemn or congratulate ourselves for it?