Biblical Faith is not Avoiding Doubt, nor is it Feeling Certain

The Bible itself raises challenges to the way conservative Christians in our time tend to understand what the Bible is, as supposedly an inerrant text that can eliminate doubt from one's life. The Bible itself tells story after story about people for whom doubt was part of their spiritual life.

There is something profoundly ironic taking place, when Matthew 28:17 tells us that some who shared in the resurrection experiences referred to as “seeing Jesus” nevertheless doubted, and yet so many of today's Christians think that from their perspective 2,000 years later, they can avoid doubt and uncertainty.

I think that for many today, faith is about seeking a feeling of certainty – and such feelings do not guarantee that there is a legitimate ground for feeling certain – when in fact faith is supposed to be trust in God and God alone, in the midst of life's uncertainties.

 

  • angie vandemerwe

    I think this is very misguided, because trust either pursumes upon another’s life depending on their understanding of what “God Wills” (according to the BIBLE)…. OR it sits passively by until God rescues from whatever difficulty one finds themselves…….one cannot prove or disprove God, but one thing that can be certain that God does not control what happens in this world…..we are responsible for our own lives and what we choose to do with it…..it is not dependent on what one believes about God, but what one chooses to do, or not do…..no one else can or should determine that….Faith is living life, because life itself is uncertain…..no one controls every aspect of life, but we do try, as this is what makes for goals, and accomplishments….as well as pursuit of desires and dreams……etc..

  • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

    How do you correlate your view with a passage like 2 Peter 1:10 which reads, “Therefore, brethren, be all the more diligent to make certain about His calling and choosing you…” or Acts 2:36 which reads, “Therefore, let all the house of Israel know for certain that God has made Him both Lord and Christ – this Jesus whom you crucified,” or similar passages, of which there are many?

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      Good question! Acts 2:36 uses a word that would more accurately be translated “assured” – I am not suggesting that it is not possible to be confident about some thing, only that it is impossible to eliminate doubt, and the attempt to make Scripture into something it is not in the attempt to accomplish this is problematic from a number of perspectives, not least of which is what we find the Bible itself says and depicts related to doubt.

      2 Peter is even clearer. It refers to growing in character, as a means of making one’s Christian calling sure. It is not about providing a basis for intellectual certainty with respect to one’s beliefs about matters of doctrine, or history, or other such matters. Wouldn’t you agree that that is not what that text is about?

      • http://blogforthelordjesus.wordpress.com Mike Gantt

        In searching for a point of agreement with you, I find it easiest to latch on to the last statement of your post wherein you said, ”
        faith is supposed to be trust in God and God alone, in the midst of life’s uncertainties.”

        I think this is the right place to draw the dividing line. There are many uncertainties in life, and the idea is not to eliminate them or even necessarily to reduce them. Rather, the idea is to have a sure and certain trust in Jesus Christ that He will keep His promises to us through and in spite of those uncertainties. In other words, certainty in Him transcends uncertainty in everything else.

  • http://www.vivificat.org/ Teófilo de Jesús

    Great article. It’s true that faith doesn’t do away with questionng and doubt.

  • montymoose

    Biblical Faith IS:
    Believing in the promises of God. It is an expectant hope.
    Faith depends on whom you choose to believe.
    Jesus said I Am the way the truth the life, no one comes to the Father except thru me.

  • montymoose

    Ps.. The infilling of The Holy Spirit casts out ALL doubts.
    Its an experiential miracle I wish on all.

    • http://www.patheos.com/blogs/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

      MontyMoose, it depends what you mean. If you mean that the Holy Spirit can give a sense of peace that overpowers doubt, then indeed that is true. But if you mean that the presence of the Holy Spirit means that one has no need to question what one thinks or learn new things or be open to correction, then you are simply wrong about that. I say this because as someone filled with the Holy Spirit, I have been wrong. I have found myself disagreeing with other people who have also been filled with the Holy Spirit, and we could not both have been right. And the New Testament depicts Paul and Peter (to name just a couple) disagreeing with one another, even though both had been filled with the Holy Spirit. And so if you mean that the presence of the Holy Spirit makes you inerrant and thus in no need to doubt anything that you think, then that is unbiblical as well as demonstrably wrong – not least from the fact that, if that is what you think, then presumably you are both Spirit-filled and wrong. :-)

      • montymoose

        To the first part of your comment I agree totally, its the peace and His love which overcomes all doubt, The Lord has been soo patient with my questions, it is only by His love and grace has He put up with my thickheadedness.
        I did not mean to imply that I was anyway skilled in the Word, and
        His teachings, but He gently nurtures me thru His word and a wonderful Bible teacher I have known for years, who is God led and patient.
        There is disagreement in love and then the contentious type that leads no where and is ungodly.
        I was born Jewish and spent quite a long time in Hebrew school. The love and peace my friends exhibited in the change in their lives which I knew was real, and I did not have, their preaching the Gospel, drove me toward studying the Bible and the Lord in His mercy taught me patience, and 30 years later filled me with His Spirit and now 74, I have found a love that there are no words for.
        We who have a relationship with Him, know beyond a shadow of a doubt we are saved from a debt we can not pay, and He remains righteous in His reconciling us back to Himself.
        Thank you for your comment, I did not mean in anyway to come off like I knew most of the answers, I am old but I am young in The Lord and accept I have much to learn,

    • rmwilliamsjr

      many hundreds of thousands of both northern and southern spirit-filled Christians went into Civil War battles certain that killing and being killed was the revealed word of their God. it was at heart a theological war sustained and prolonged by the certainty on both sides that they were right with God and Biblically justified. 720,000 died proving the point that certainty given by the Holy Spirit is not all it’s cracked up to be.

      • montymoose

        My friend long ago, as a child in a history class, i saw a picture of two opposing armies on two mountain tops each praying and the picture had them saying ” God is on our side”/
        Yes.. Many things have been done in the ” name of God” that I’m sure God had no part in.
        Those “Christians” were doing what their leaders told them, or even their churches told them was ” the right thing to do”. Nothing justifies their actions, but as Christ said to the men ready to stone the harlot
        Let He who is with out sin cast the first stone.
        Many people do what they think is right with out consulting the bible or even asking God for His guidance. I am sure some of the soldiers were ” spirit filled” but like in today’s society, many people call themselves Christians because the go to church or because their parents went to church.
        Going to church doesnt make one a Christian any more than sitting in a garage makes one an automobile.
        The real question is… Who is Lord of your life…
        Lastly….( The certainty given by the Holy Spirit indwelling a person, )
        is all about salvation guidance, the ability to be thankful to God for everything, the knowledge that He is Lord of your life, and the ability to repent from the idea that their is anything good I can do to gain His acceptance of me.
        MOST IMPORTANT IS>>> HE LOVES ME

        • rmwilliamsjr

          re:
          I am sure some of the soldiers were ” spirit filled” but like in today’s society, many people call themselves Christians because the go to church or because their parents went to church.

          this is, imho, the wrong way to deal with the issue.
          i believe the right way is to grant that both sides were dedicated to , as Lincoln put it,

          “Both read the same Bible and pray to the same God, and each invokes His aid against the other. It may seem strange that any men should dare to ask a just God’s assistance in wringing their bread from the sweat of other men’s faces, but let us judge not, that we be not judged. The prayers of both could not be answered. That of neither has been answered fully. The Almighty has His own purposes.”

          the same God, with the same fervent belief that they were right and the other side wrong. the lesson for all of us is that human beings are often very sincerely wrong, justifying themselves that God has spoken to them. either God doesn’t speak very clearly, or people can’t listen very well, in any case the first thing we need to get rid of is the feeling of certainty and supreme confidence that we have heard God rightly and that someone else has not. and in it’s place keep a lot of productive doubt that forces us to a position of listening more and talking so confidently less.

          btw, i think lincoln’s 2nd is the most profound thing any American president has ever written.
          http://www.bartleby.com/124/pres32.html

    • Paul D.

      This sort of statement implies that people like me, who grew up in charismatic churches and constantly hoped in vain to have the “Holy Spirit” experiences that others had, are defective Christians and defective individuals, and that when we doubt it’s because the Holy Spirit hasn’t deigned to bestow on us the special indwelling it reserves for its favourite people.

      I would say, rather that you are getting the Holy Spirit and your own emotions confused, and I wish you superior Christians would stop pretending you have magical indwelling powers the rest of us don’t. You’re driving away everyone who isn’t just like you. (But maybe that’s your goal.)

  • Jeremy Chappell

    The Bible seems to use the word “faith” differently in many cases. In Hebrews 11:3 it seems to indicate that it is a way of knowing: “by faith we understand…”. We do not necessarily have to be certain in our knowledge, but normally one does not doubt what one “understands”. Also, the gist of the post here seems to be emphasizing the “trust” usage of “faith”, but I’m not sure one begins to understand something through trust. I actually tend to agree that faith is more trust-like, but this passage seems to conflict with that idea.

    Also, does the Matthew 28:17 passage necessarily refer to the same people that saw Jesus? I could see how it may refer to some “others” who doubted.

  • Gary

    Maybe Matt 28:17 originates from the gnostic versus anti-gnostic battle. “some doubted” in Matthew might reflect the same “doubting Thomas” comments (I think three of them) in John. No other references in the other gospels. Irenaeus supported the gospel of John and not Thomas to be included in the bible (had the gospel of Thomas burned). Obviously the gospel of John (whoever the author was) had a problem with Thomas, for some reason or another. I rather like gnosticism, which could explain the Holy Spirit directing each individual in a different path. Not so much absolute truth, but the seeking of truth (and God within each of us), for the individual. The only lesson to be learned, don’t burn books. You’ll end up not knowing what the hell these ancient people actually meant.

    • Gary

      Another maybe, now that I think of it. If this issue is gnostic versus anti-gnostic, it might indicate Matthew and John were written after Thomas. Otherwise, why would an author care about slamming a gospel’s namesake, Thomas, if not to discredit him?.


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