Lombard CRC

#4 - Doubt And Unbelief

We are talking all summer about the troubles,

hurts and pains of life,

and what the Lord God has done

and is doing about all that is broken.

So far we have talked about

physical and emotional struggles.

And we have noticed,

even through our tears,

that the providential hand of God

is big enough to hold even our worst

and hold us through our worst.


Today we talk together about the toll

our sorrow and suffering take

on faith in the Lord God

and our struggle with doubt and unbelief.

Your pain, your suffering, your fear –

has also hurt your trust in the Triune God.

You’ve asked the old question,

if God is so good, why do bad things happen?

When bad things happen our faith can take a hit.

We doubt.

It feels like God is silent and absent.

We wonder where God is, like the psalm says,

Psalm 13

1 How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever?

    How long will you hide your face from me?

2 How long must I wrestle with my thoughts

 and day after day have sorrow in my heart?


During an episode of Grey’s Anatomy

we watch Dr April Kepner.

Her faith is dying as she suffers.

In one scene she is tending to a dying man,

a Jewish rabbi,

who is dying because of unforeseen side effects

of medication given by another Dr, Dr Bailey.

His wife has been called to come

and he’s trying to hold on until she arrives.

In the meantime he challenges how

April responds to her troubles

by turning away from God and into herself.

The rabbi recognizes the brokenness of life

and reminds the Doctor

that our response should be to join with God

in not being indifferent to pain,

but helping to relieve it.


Let’s watch – [Grey’s Anatomy clip]


Need a Kleenex?

That scene gets me every time

and I’m not even a Grey’s fan!


It’s an experience that happens most every day,

but it’s about more than physical pain,

it’s about doubt, unbelief.

Is there really a God,

and does God matter?

He says yes,

God is not indifferent to our pain.
so we can choose to trust and respond

and in God’s name seek to help and bless,

or we can retreat into our own lives

and just live in fear of random and meaningless suffering and existence.

As he passes away

April helps him, through tears,

and we get the sense she senses again

God is there with her.


So what about your doubt?

Do you doubt God?

That faith in Jesus

is what the Bible and Christians say it is?

Don’t believe it to be true?

Sometimes we fear expressing our doubts,

thinking we shouldn’t doubt

and if we doubt at all

that means we don’t believe,

or that belief is false

because we are not certain.

But that’s not true.

Doubt and faith are not opposites always,

let me ask,

is there anyone in this room who never doubted?


So if you struggle with unbelief,

don’t fear that because you doubt you can’t believe.

Listen to some saints

and what they had to say about doubt:

“Surely… we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety.” – John Calvin

“Belief in God does not exempt us from feelings of abandonment by God. Praising God does not inoculate us from doubts about God.” – Eugene Peterson

“Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.” – Frederick Buechner


I hope these quotes help you to know

that doubting is part of the faith journey,

so that we can give each other grace,

permission, to voice our doubts,

and understand

that this is what the church is for too –

together, to share in our doubts and questions.

Church isn’t for the ones who have it all figured out,

and are righteous and saintly:

the Bible says there is no one who is righteous,

not one;

church is for all of us who are on the way

and that journey includes doubts,

it includes sin and forgiveness,

it includes our times of desolation,

when God seems silent,

and it includes the great consolation

of the peace of God which only Jesus can give

and which the world cannot take away.


If we are afraid of confessing our doubts

and then addressing them,

Jesus was not.

Our Bible reading from Mark 9

records Jesus coming close to a man and his boy

in their suffering and doubt.


It starts out with an argument.

You can tell everyone is tense and anxious.

It turns out a man has brought his boy for healing.

It pains the father to see his son suffering.

But, the disciples can’t do anything about it.

That’s a reminder for us:

we are limited.

We are not made to live by ourselves

and on our own.

We are made for God.


We get into trouble when we live and act

as if God isn’t real or real interested in our lives,

or when we rush ahead of the Lord

looking for a quick fix.

Which I think is what happened here.

The father comes to the disciples with his hurting boy,

and instead of saying let’s find Jesus,

they decide we can handle this ourselves.

Well, there are experiences in life

we are not meant to handle by ourselves,

on our own,

experiences like suffering are given us

to draw us close to God

and wait on the Lord’s mercy and transformation.

Sometimes we are meant

to suffer for and with Jesus,

because there we meet him in ways

we never would otherwise,

as he leads us to a future for his glory

a newness beyond anything we could ever imagine

let alone make for ourselves.

Now get the scene:

something happened

and Jesus shows up in the middle of it, right?

So the question is, where was he?

Well, if you read the story before this one,

he was with Peter, James and John

up on the mount of transfiguration.

There his divinity is revealed:

the truth that Jesus is God come in the flesh,

God who is one of us,

who took on human life

in order to bear the cost for all the sin

and the resulting suffering.

He now comes down the mountain

as the revelation of God:

full of truth and grace.

It makes you think of Moses and Mt Sinai.

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai

he found the people turning away from God

to worship an idol,

the golden calf.

They hadn’t heard from God or Moses for a while,

they felt alone,

they feared the desert wilderness,

and they turned away to false worship.

Doubt and unbelief.


In this experience of doubt and unbelief

here comes God in the flesh.

Jesus comes close in our doubt.

He responds to your unbelief.

That’s why Jesus says what he does in response:

19 “You unbelieving generation,” Jesus replied,

“how long shall I stay with you?

How long shall I put up with you?

Bring the boy to me.”

He’s saying, this is just what my Father in heaven went thru with the Israelites in the desert.

He’s revealing his character:

he is fulfilling what Moses could not.

He will accomplish what the law could not.

He promises his presence with us

even in our hurt and sorrow:

he tenderly responds saying,

bring the boy to me.


The message for us is

that Jesus will put up with an unbelieving generation for as long as it takes

for you and me and your family and friends

and the strangers among us

to respond to the saving grace of God in Jesus.

In the story the man confesses his weak faith,

his doubts, his unbelief.

He says, “But if you can do anything,

take pity on us and help us.”

23 “‘If you can’?” said Jesus.

“Everything is possible for one who believes.”

 ‘I believe but help me overcome my unbelief,’

he says.

We all do at some time in our lives.

Notice Jesus doesn’t abandon him when he says that.

So he won’t abandon you.


But also notice the man,

when his faith is tried,

when he is losing it

by doubt or difficult circumstance,

he doesn’t give in or give up

but asks for more faith.


How often do you pray

for the Lord to add to your faith –

not for your life and your happiness and your security and comfort and health, but to add to your faith?

How can the Lord give that

if you don’t even ask for it?

The Lord does not desire for us to remain

in the darkness of doubt, skepticism, or unbelief.


See the love of God in Jesus.

Remember, it’s a tense scene.

It’s frightening to see the boy like this.

And people are running to see

what the commotion is all about.

But Jesus stops for this man and asks:
21 . . . “How long has he been like this?”

What have you been going through?

How painful your suffering and how long!

That’s Jesus.

Yes, this world is full of trouble and pain,

but Jesus endured the worst

in order to endure it with you.

To bring you to faith so that

you may experience the great truth

that one day

when he returns to judge the living and the dead,

there will be no more pain, or sorrow, or tears.


Jesus reveals his divine power

commanding the evil spirit out of the boy.

26 The spirit shrieked, convulsed him violently and came out. The boy looked so much like a corpse that many said, “He’s dead.” 27 But Jesus took him by the hand and lifted him to his feet, and he stood up.


This is a picture of resurrection.

In all our sufferings we find out how mortal we are.

But in faith we find out we are made for eternal life,

for resurrection.

The boy is given new life.

Now wait . . . think a minute.

That boy is not around us today, right?

I mean, this true story happened

almost 2,000 years ago.

This boy grew up, lived,

yet even he eventually passed away, right?

So that means he didn’t live a life

free from pain or suffering from then on.

No doubt he had hard days, hurtful times, too.

Even tho Jesus had been miraculously with him.

What am I getting at?

Don’t imagine that the only way

for you to believe in God

and belong to Christ’s church

is if your life is free of suffering and sin.

In this world you will have trouble, Jesus said,

but then he promised, do not be afraid,

I have overcome this world.

Jesus gives us the power of faith

even in our suffering,

so that doubt doesn’t turn us away from God.


The story ends with a clue for us

in responding to our doubts:

28 After Jesus had gone indoors, his disciples asked him privately, “Why couldn’t we drive it out?”

29 He replied, “This kind can come out only by prayer.”

Prayer trusts our Heavenly Father with

all our needs and sorrows and

the thanksgiving for joys too.

Prayer confesses that we need the Triune God

for life and salvation . . . all things.


Prayer rests on a living relationship with Jesus.

Those who pray choose to spend time with him,

sharing one’s heart, life, joy, and gratitude with him.

Prayer is not going through religious motions,

but is vulnerable in a healthy, daily

living way of faith:

as vulnerable as a friend to a friend,

as trusting as a creature to its Creator.

So when Jesus says,

this kind can only come out by prayer,

he is calling you, inviting you, revealing to you

that the one true way to live your life

is in trusting dependence on him,

believing in him even thru our doubts and sorrows.


When you come up against your own limitations and don’t know where to turn next

or how to discern the Lord’s presence,

exercise faith, even if it’s only a flicker,

only as small as a mustard seed:

things like prayer,

like loving even when you do not like,

giving without expecting in return,

obeying even tho it costs you,

forgiving when you would rather

judge or get even –

these things bring you closer to the living God

and address your doubt.


So what can we learn

when it comes to our doubts and unbelief?

When it comes to doubt:

don’t hide it.

In a church likes ours no question is out of bounds,

no pain too difficult for us to share together.

all faith today is fraught with doubt –

faith is constantly challenged,

so do not fear if you doubt.

You can bring it to Christ and his people.


Then be clear about your doubt.

What precisely are you doubting and why?

Can you identify your doubt?

Here are some possible ways you doubt:

Do you doubt God’s reality?

Do you doubt God’s word?

Do you doubt Jesus matters?

Do you doubt you can know if there’s a God or not?


If any of these sound like your struggle, remember:

there are all sorts of facts and evidences

that are not empirical:

there is historical evidence, for instance,

for the resurrection,

factual evidence for New Testament claims,

manuscript evidence for the reliability of the Bible,

archeological evidence for events

in the Old Testament.

1 John 1 reminds us that the gospel

rests on witnesses,

on events seen, heard, experienced,

this is truth beyond empirical discovery.


The real conflict is not between science and faith,

but between naturalism and faith,

in thinking this material world is all there is.

Even Mr Spock understood that

there are some things that are not logical,

but true nonetheless.

And despite all the classroom rhetoric

most of us experience something more to life

than what we taste, touch, reason, or understand:

“The entire material universe speaks of God’s love, his boundless affection for us. Soil, water, mountains: everything is, as it were, a caress of God.”

“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.”

― John Calvin


Do you doubt the God you learned about as a kid?

― Flannery O'Connor, The Habit of Being: Letters of Flannery O'Connor

. . . a child's faith is all right for children, but eventually you have to grow spiritually

as every other way, though some never do.

What people don't realize is how much belief costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when of course it is the cross. It is much harder to believe than not to believe. If you feel you can't believe, you must at least do this: keep an open mind. Keep it open toward faith, keep wanting it, keep asking for it, and leave the rest to God. ”


Do you doubt God’s people?

O’Connor to a friend: all your dissatisfaction with the church seems to come from an incomplete understanding of sin . . .

She said to this friend, remember, the church was founded on apostles like Peter who denied Jesus three times and couldn’t walk on water by himself without quickly sinking. You are expecting his successors to walk on water.


Do you doubt God’s goodness?

One thing to ask yourself in your doubt or disbelief:

Would you agree that

people may have very good reasons

in their minds and hearts

for not wanting to believe?

That is, people are not that innocent

when it comes to responding

to God’s revelation.

C Stephen Evans observes:

The story of Jesus

and his dying on the cross

for the sin of the world

tells us that sinful human beings

have ample reasons to reject God’s word,

reasons that have nothing to do

with the evidence or lack of it.

It is painful for people

who are sinful

to recognize their own sinfulness

and confess it without excuse.

And the gospel is offensive 

to people who wish to be their own lords

and do what they want

rather than yielding their wills to the Lord God.

How would you respond to that?


There are times our doubt is self-inflicted.


So where is the line between faith and doubt? Sometimes it’s not a line, it’s a process,

it’s a journey,

it’s a companion to one or the other,

like the man in the story,

often we don’t either believe or doubt,

we believe while doubting,

or doubt because we believe.

But Jesus teaches here that we are not meant

to live in unbelief or not knowing.

We can believe and exercise faith,

faulty tho we are.

So when you doubt,

know Jesus has pledged to be near you in his grace:

Desire faith, not doubt,

by exercising faith:

wonder, gratitude,

help and serve,

worship and pray.

Don’t go it alone.

Our old confession says this:

Those who do not yet actively experience within themselves a living faith in Christ or an assured confidence of heart . . . but who nevertheless use the means by which God has promised to work these things in us . . . such people ought not to be alarmed . . . rather they ought to continue diligently . . . to desire fervently a time of more abundant grace, and to wait for it in reverence and humility . . . since our merciful God has promised not to snuff out a smoldering wick or break a bruised reed.

[Canons of Dort]

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