Chapter 4: When we doubt our faith
Henry arrived early for his next session with Pastor Jenkins. “Come on in, Henry. I had a cancellation, so we can get started now.”
Henry found the familiar overstuffed chair, which had become a comforting presence in itself.
“I can’t believe that I really told you that I doubted God’s existence last week. I was afraid that you would think that I was a spiritual failure … that you would think badly of me. Then I was really surprised when you asked me what kind of God I didn’t believe in. It seems like every week when I come in to tell you about my doubts I expect that you will blame me for not being strong in my faith, but you just listen and help me think more about my spiritual life, or lack of it.”
“I am glad that you understand that I am not here to judge you, that I want to understand what you are struggling with and that I want to be helpful.”
“But why haven’t you said I was wrong for doubting myself, for doubting others, and even doubting the existence of God? I feel guilty and ashamed of having these thoughts, so why don’t you blame me?”
“I think I understand doubts differently than you do. I don’t think that having doubts means that you or I lack faith; I think that doubts are a doorway through which our faith can grow. If we didn’t doubt then we wouldn’t explore what seems unreasonable or what doesn’t make sense to us. I believe our faith needs to be examined, explored and embraced through our doubts.”
“I never thought about it that way … and as long as we are talking about faith, that is another thing I have doubted. I am not sure that I have faith in God.”
“Hmm, well I wonder…”
“Are you going to say you wonder what kind of faith I might not have in God, just like you asked me what kind of God I didn’t believe in? I did think about the God question and I did study the Scriptures and I did pray.”
“Did you find any answers for yourself?”
“Yes, some. I think I understand that you didn’t tell me who God is because I have to find out for myself – so many people in the Bible have different understandings, so I have to develop my own understanding. I don’t like that, I would rather that somebody just tell me what’s right to believe, someone with more spiritual insight.”
“Yes, it is tempting to ask someone else to do our spiritual work, then we wouldn’t have to be responsible. You can find spiritual leaders who are willing to tell you what you should believe and what you shouldn’t. But tell me, did you begin to find a God you could believe in as you did your study this week?”
“Kind of. I mean I saw that most of the writers of Scripture see God as loving and many of them think that God would like us to help other people.”
“Is that a God that you could believe exists?”
“Well, you said earlier that you were not sure that you had faith in God. Could you have faith in a God who loves us and asks you to help other people?”
“I think so, but that leaves so many unanswered questions. Like how can I have faith in a God who loves us and wants us to help others, but still lets people suffer, especially children?”
“I suppose that depends on what kind of faith you are talking about.”
“See, I knew you were going to raise that question!”
“It is an important question. I think you are saying you don’t have faith in a God who is going to protect innocent people from harm. And I think you are implying that God should be doing that. Perhaps you are feeling a bit like Job, whose children died, whose property and livestock were destroyed, who was afflicted with loathsome sores. He certainly felt what was happening to him was unjust, that he didn’t deserve it, that God should step in and do something about it.”
“You bet. There is so much injustice in the world, wars, people taking advantage of each other, crime.”
“I have just one question: who is causing all that?”
“Well, I suppose people are causing all of that.”
“Then why are you blaming God for not stopping it. Stopping it sounds like it is up to us.”
“You know, I am beginning to hear a theme from you, Pastor.”
“That we are responsible for what we believe and for each other.”
“Yes, I believe that.”
“Then if faith isn’t that God is going to put an end to our doing harm to each other, what is it?”
“I believe you have said that faith for you is believing that God loves you and that God wants you to help others.”
“But I thought there was so much more to God, so much more to have faith in.”
“I am not saying there isn’t a lot more, and I think you will discover more in the Scripture readings for this week. What I am saying is that you seem to have found out for yourself that your faith can begin by trusting that God loves you and that God wants you to help others.”
“So you are saying faith is not just believing, but also trusting?”
“Anyone can choose to believe that God exists, just like anyone can believe that the chair you are sitting in exists. You can look at the chair, you can describe its shape, you can speak of its fabric and the year in which it was made. In all these ways you can state your belief in the chair’s existence and in its characteristics. But it’s not until you have sat in that chair that you have trusted it.”
“So I can believe in the existence of God as I understand him, but it’s not until I put my life in his hands that I trust him, that I have faith in him?”
“Well said. It’s the difference between believing that the ocean is water miles deep that will let you float and daring to put yourself in the middle of that ocean and actually floating, the difference between belief and trust is life changing.”
“But what would it mean for me to trust God, to have faith in God, in the God who loves and the God who wants us to help others?”
“I’ll invite you to answer that question.”
“O.K. I know I am responsible for my own spiritual growth, I’m getting that. So if God is the one who loves me and wants me to have faith, despite all that I have seen, I suppose it would mean for me to let myself be loved by God. And if God wants us to help others, I suppose my having faith would mean for me to stop isolating myself and find a way to help others.”
“That sounds like two very concrete ways of defining what having faith would mean for you.”
“O.K., but is that right?”
“Would you be willing to explore more Scripture, address a few more questions, and stay in prayer daily as a way to explore your question?
“Yeah, yeah, I guess.”
“Good. I am also going to suggest that you think about coming to worship and visiting one of our adult Sunday School classes. I think you will find other people who are seriously addressing their spiritual growth just like you are. In worship, I think you may also find God’s Spirit very much at work to address the very important questions you are raising.”
“I don’t know if I am ready for either one of those yet.”
“Maybe, maybe not. I am just suggesting that you consider these options prayerfully, as opportunities for your spiritual growth. Would you be willing to consider doing that?”
“Good. And I will plan to see you next week at the same time.”
Readings from the Old Testament/Hebrew Scriptures
Many of the Scriptures speak of God’s faithfulness.
Remember that the LORD your God
is the only God and that he is faithful.
He will keep his covenant
and show his constant love
to a thousand generations
of those who love him
and obey his commands.
Obey the LORD and serve him faithfully with all your heart.
Remember the great things he has done for you.
1 Samuel 12.24
Because the LORD is righteous and good,
he teaches sinners the path they should follow.
He leads the humble in the right
way and teaches them his will.
With faithfulness and love he leads
all who keep his covenant and obey his commands.
LORD, your constant love reaches the heavens;
your faithfulness extends to the skies.
Your righteousness is towering like the mountains;
your justice is like the depths of the sea.
People and animals are in your care.
O LORD, I will always sing of your constant love;
I will proclaim your faithfulness forever.
I know that your love will last for all time,
that your faithfulness is as permanent as the sky.
The LORD does not let us forget his wonderful actions;
he is kind and merciful. He provides food for those who
honor him; he never forgets his covenant.
In all he does he is faithful and just;
all his commands are dependable.
They last for all time;
they were given in truth and righteousness.
He set his people free
and made an eternal covenant with them.
Holy and mighty is he!
The LORD’s unfailing love and mercy still continue,
Fresh as the morning, as sure as the sunrise.
The LORD is all I have, and so in him I put my hope.
Readings from the New Testament
Jesus prayed for the strengthening of Simon Peter’s faith and for all who would become Jesus’ followers. Know that Jesus prays for you.
“I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith will not fail.”
“I pray not only for them, but also for those who believe in me because of their message.”
The apostle Paul encouraged believers to remain strong in their faith.
I want very much to see you, in order to share a spiritual blessing with you to make you strong. What I mean is that both you and I will be helped at the same time, you by my faith and I by yours.
For the gospel reveals how God puts people right with himself: it is through faith from beginning to end. As the scripture says, “The person who is put right with God through faith shall live.”
Now that we have been put right with God through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. He has brought us by faith into this experience of God’s grace, in which we now live. And so we boast of the hope we have of sharing God’s glory!
Since you have accepted Christ Jesus as Lord, live in union with him. Keep your roots deep in him, build your lives on him, and become stronger in your faith, as you were taught. And be filled with thanksgiving.
It is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me. This life that I live now, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave his life for me.
I ask God from the wealth of his glory to give you power
through his Spirit to be strong in your inner selves,
and I pray that Christ will make his home in your hearts through faith.
I pray that you may have your roots and foundation in love,
so that you, together with all God’s people, may have the power to understand
how broad and long, how high and deep, is Christ’s love.
Yes, may you come to know his love – although it can never be fully known –
and so be completely filled with the very nature of God.
To him who by means of his power working in us is able to do
so much more than we can ever ask for, or even think of:
to God be the glory in the church and in Christ Jesus for all time,
forever and ever! Amen.
Other writers in the first century A.D. wrote about faith and putting faith into action.
To have faith is to be sure of the things we hope for,
to be certain of the things we cannot see. It was by their faith
that people of ancient times won God’s approval.
It is by faith that we understand that the universe
was created by God’s word, so that what can be seen
was made out of what cannot be seen.
My friends, what good is it for one of you to say that you have faith
if your actions do not prove it? Can that faith save you?
Suppose there are brothers or sisters who need clothes
and don’t have enough to eat. What good is there in your saying to them,
“God bless you! Keep warm and eat well!” – if you don’t give them
the necessities of life? So it is with faith: if it is alone
and includes no actions, then it is dead.
But someone will say, “One person has faith, another has actions.”
My answer is, “Show me how anyone can have faith without actions.
I will show you my faith by my actions.” Do you believe
that there is only one God? Good! The demons also believe –
and tremble with fear. You fool! Do you want to be shown
that faith without actions is useless? How was our ancestor Abraham
put right with God? It was through his actions, when he offered his son Isaac
on the altar. Can’t you see? His faith and his actions worked together;
his faith was made perfect through his actions. And the scripture came true
that said, “Abraham believed God, and because of his faith
God accepted him as righteous.” And so Abraham was called God’s friend.
You see, then, that it is by our actions that we are put right with God,
and not by our faith alone.
It was the same with the prostitute Rahab. She was put right with God
through her actions, by welcoming the Israelite spies
and helping them to escape by a different road.
So then, as the body without the spirit is dead,
also faith without actions is dead.
Each one, as a good manager of God’s different gifts, must use for the good of others the special gift he has received from God. Those who preach must preach God’s messages; those who serve must serve with the strength that God gives them, so that in all things praise may be given to God through Jesus Christ, to whom belong glory and power forever and ever. Amen.
1 Peter 4.10,11
Thoughts for Reflection
- What would be your first step in accepting God’s love in your life, in your current circumstance?
- What would be your first step in helping others in the way God would want you to help them, in your current life circumstance? Who would one of those people be? What specific action would you feel called to do to be of help to them?
- What might be the next steps for your spiritual growth? Would you consider becoming involved in a faith community if you are not currently? Would you consider visiting an adult faith study class? Would you consider volunteering in some community agency to help others? Would you consider a daily devotional or prayer practice? Would you consider contacting a spiritual leader to make an appointment to explore questions you have about your faith?
- After this study, how has your image of God and your faith changed?
Dear God, thank you for the doubts which help me grow spiritually. I am willing to trust you with my life, right now, just as I am. Give me direction for loving you and helping others. Give me the courage to take the next step in love today. Amen.
A Blessing for You
May the LORD bless you and take care of you;
May the LORD be kind and gracious to you;
May the LORD look on you with favor and give you peace.