God’s Best … and COVID-19

 

cdc-bkc-m0iZ4Sk-unsplashAre you looking for God in this pandemic but are not seeing him? Do you think he’s washed his hands of us? Did this virus catch him by surprise?

Please find the peace offered in Isaiah 41:10:

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

While it goes against what I’ve said before about reading God’s Best During Your Worst from the first chapter through to the last, these times challenge our every day living.  Here’s a peek at Chapter Three (Doubt). I understand if you doubt. Many have doubted. But we can move beyond it

 

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I pinky-swear.

 

Chapter Three

Doubt

Journal entry: Sunday, April 3, 2011, 3:00 a.m.

It’s quiet now—hospital-room quiet. I’m glad Lew brought my Bible to me yesterday. Beginning the day with Scripture and prayer always helps.
I’m trying to stay focused and stay positive. But how can I stay positive when I’m dealing with so much unknown? I could die or, if I don’t die, I could be an invalid—even catatonic. Is that what you want, God? I am so ready to wake from this terrible nightmare.

The Morning’s Prayer of Uncertainty


Father, please help me get my head around what’s happening to me. I’m not strong enough to go through this on my own. I’m scared. I don’t think I have what it takes. Are you sure, Father? Is this really what you meant to happen? Lord, are you there?

I thought I had stopped doubting God when I finally surrendered my heart to Christ after years of resisting Him. Before, I thought I had everything figured out. But my life was a mess.

When I welcomed my Savior into my life, I was able to watch how that one choice turned my life from darkness to become a daughter of the King. I thought my shadowy days were finally behind me. I learned to reach beyond life’s circumstances. God’s love was enough. He repeatedly proved Himself faithful.

Faithful enough, anyway. That’s how I saw it.

Yet, even with that knowledge and experience, lying in my hospital bed, I doubted God. All my earlier efforts had been to please Him. And for all my hard work, I got a mass on my brain.

That didn’t make sense to me.

After confusion set in, doubt soon followed. And once doubt finds a home in your life, it’s hard to kick out.

Doubt Has Been Around Forever

While doubt may be new to you, it’s been around forever. And not just in the secular world—doubt was alive and well throughout Scripture. The serpent said to Eve in the Garden of Eden, “Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden?” (Genesis 3:1 NIV). The authors of Job, Lamentations, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah all share stories of confusion and doubt. We can’t forget David, a man after God’s own heart, who is credited for writing some of the most beautiful psalms. Yet at times he doubted God’s love: “How long, Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1 NIV).

Seems crazy, right?

If scriptural heroes are too lofty for you, how about the doubting Christians of contemporary history? Charles Spurgeon (1834–1892),[i] one of history’s celebrated preachers, shared in his sermon The Desire of the Soul in Spiritual Darkness:

“I think, when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite a time for us to doubt him, it is quite a time for us to begin to say, ‘Ah, poor soul, I am afraid you are not on the road at all, for if you were, you would see so many things in yourself, and so much glory in Christ more than you deserve, that you would be so much ashamed of yourself, as even to say, It is too good to be true.’” [ii]

 

If Spurgeon is too far removed from your world, consider one of the all-time most beloved Christian authors and thinker—and doubters—C.S. Lewis (1898-1963).[iii] “Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods … That is why faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist.”[iv]

And the world was rocked when the sainted Mother Teresa (1910-1997) shared lament in letters to her spiritual advisors:

“Darkness is such that I really do not see—neither with my mind nor with my reason—the place of God in my soul is blank—There is no God in me—when the pain of longing is so great—I just long and long for God … Sometimes—I just hear my own heart cry out—‘My God’—and nothing else. The torture and pain I can’t explain.”[v]

God doubters—all of them. Yet each one is remembered as a pillar of Christian faith. If doubt played such a dynamic part in the lives of these and other scriptural heavy-hitters, could doubt play a role—and then a purpose—in your life as well?

Is It Okay to Doubt God?

If life’s trials are often where doubt begins, does that automatically mean doubts are bad?

Not necessarily.

When you follow the progression of doubt, you’ll see it begins with a question (Did God really say? … How long, Lord? … Will you forget me forever?), then waits for a response.

It’s in the response that doubt either dies or flourishes.

 

Flourishing Doubt

I started doubting God the moment after I met Him. When I was a child and accepted Christ as my savior[1], I felt a bit disappointed. Shouldn’t I feel different inside? Maybe appear a bit more angelic? As one month rolled into another, I listened to my pastor’s sermons and paid close attention to other Christians, attempting to figure out what it took to “do Christian.” I heard their words and watched their actions, noting what I heard didn’t always match what I saw. Some points matched, yet discrepancies often glared. I witnessed a disparity between what I experienced and what the Bible said.

My questions weren’t the problem—children often spill over with questions—but they were enough to cause confusion because the explanations were enveloped in dissonance. When I saw mix-matched theology, I should have asked for clarification. A wiser person would have asked.

But I didn’t.

That’s when doubt crept in. Maybe God isn’t real. Or, if He is real, maybe He’s just not real for me. The more I pondered, the more serious the questions became.

If God is in control like the pastor said, then why are there starving children in China?[2] Granted, my belly was full, yet there was news of a world that still struggled. My unaddressed doubt began to grow and fester. It didn’t take long before I chose to rely on my own sensibility—because it made sense. And that train of thought said it was best to walk away from God.

You may have doubts of your own. You may be facing a tragedy. If left unattended, your doubts may affect your faith. Doubts may eventually open the door to pain and darkness.

In Philip Yancey’s book The Question That Never Goes Away,[vi] Yancy tells of the time in 2012 when he traveled to Yugoslavia, then on to Sarajevo, and saw where East and West met. On one side of the street were beautiful sidewalk cafes and onion-domed buildings, such as those found in Vienna. When he looked on the other side of the street, he was reminded of his travels to Istanbul and all its tea shops and spice markets. Women were walking around wearing their niqabs in Sarajevo just as they did in Istanbul. He writes:

“From every corner of Sarajevo I heard ghostly echoes of the question that haunts human history: Why doesn’t God intervene? Why not take out Hitler before he turned on the Jews? Why not rescue Sarajevo after four days, not four years? ‘Ah, it is a strange world,’ said one of the characters in Chaim Potok’s My Name is Asher Lew. ‘Sometimes I think the Master of the Universe has another world to take care of, and He neglects this world, God forbid.’”[vii].

There’s nothing wrong with doubt. Even the great minds, as noted earlier, suffer from it. But they don’t stop existing. They either keep searching for the answer or find peace in the fact that the answer isn’t for them to find.

Are There Consequences for Doubting God?

From the Old Testament through the New, you can find stories about people who doubted God. And if there were backlashes from doubting, you’d think we would have seen it. What we see, however, are consequences that didn’t manifest in doubting, but as a result of the actions taken because of their doubt. God didn’t punish Abraham and Sarah for their lack of belief regarding having children. Their problems came when they tried to control their situation by offering Sarah’s maidservant to Abraham (Genesis 21:9-11). It wasn’t the doubt that brought a backlash. It was their attempt to strip control from God that earned them consequences.

If God punished doubters in the New Testament, John the Baptist’s words could have earned him a mighty smiting (Matthew 11:2-3). To paraphrase John’s message to Jesus, Are you the Messiah? If not, get out of my way so I can wait for the one who is. Jesus didn’t punish him for his declaration. He shouted His love for John to the crowd around Him (Matthew 11:7-14).

We see in Scripture how God not only blesses when someone doubts, but He blesses them in their doubts. Read the story of Gideon in Judges 6. While his doubt drove him to thresh his wheat in a winepress (v. 11), the Lord saw his value as a mighty warrior (v. 12) and someone who could lead Israel from the Midianites (v. 14). Gideon’s response? No, not me (v. 15).

Yet God blessed him and gave him the strength he needed.

And what did Gideon do? He still needed confirmation from God.

‘“I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.’ And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water. Then Gideon said to God, ‘Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.’” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew” (Judges 6: 37-40 NIV).

Doubt doesn’t have to be a bad thing. It’s how we handle it that matters.


Overcoming Doubt

Have you thrown this book across the room yet? If so, no worries. I’ve thrown a few books myself. This book is not a fixer, and your tragic situation may still loom. But your response to what you’ve read may be the beginning of a new way of looking at life. Are you stuck in this chapter? You may want to revisit Chapter Two and dig a bit deeper into why you can’t move forward.[3]  Take whatever time you need and re-read what you wrote.[4]

The times I doubted God most was when life moved in a direction I didn’t choose. Like times when I had too much month and not enough money. Or when a perfect job I applied for went to someone else. Or when I was told I may only have ten more days to live.

My focus spotlighted loss.

 

And you. What are you doubting? Your marriage? Job choice? Whether life is worth living?

God knew we’d have a difficult time with doubt. I’m thankful for the gift found in James 1 that offers us a new view of calamity. The second verse begins the passage, “My brothers and sisters, you will have many kinds of trouble. But this gives you a reason to be happy” (James 1:2 NIV). If you’d prefer to hear from Jesus himself, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor” (Matthew 11:4-5 NIV).

To overcome doubt, we must reach beyond our circumstances to appreciate that He has a plan. Reflect over His presence in your life. See His past faithfulness. Why then wouldn’t He be faithful now? If there is nothing you can see in your past to remind you of God’s faithfulness, ponder over what you can rely on—God’s promises. Here are a few:

“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you”

(Hebrews 13:5 NIV).

 

 

“Because of the Lord’s great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness”

(Lamentations 3:22-23 NIV).

 

 

“Neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”

(Romans 8:38-39 NIV).

 

 

Feelings of doubt have power when we allow them to rule. But the knowledge of Christ and His Word is everlasting. To get answers, you must ask the questions.

Why did this happen to me?

Know that God understands your pain and welcomes your questions, even if they come in the form of yells and rants. He yearns for your attention and prefers even the screaming over a relationship full of icy silence. David reminded God of his pain: “Record my misery; list my tears on your scroll—are they not in your record?” (Psalm 56:8 NIV).

We can remind Him of our pain too.

Need more proof that God wants to hear your woes? David cuts loose on Him in another Psalm, “Have mercy on me, Lord, for I am faint; heal me, Lord, for my bones are in agony. My soul is in deep anguish. How long, Lord, how long? … I am worn out from my groaning. All night long I flood my bed with weeping and drench my couch with tears. My eyes grow weak with sorrow; they fail because of all my foes” (Psalm 6:3, 6-7).

Doubt can be a killer, but it doesn’t have to be. Choose to focus on what is true: God loves you and He’s right there with you. He’s with you now. Share your doubts. He’s big … He can handle it.

 

[1] For clarification, I accepted Christ as my savior when I was a child, but he didn’t become Lord of my life until I was an adult.

[2] Growing up in the 1950s, the go-to tear-jerking anecdote was always about the starving children in China.

[3] I warned that you may need to walk away from it for a moment to gain an honest assessment of your true feelings.

[4] If you thought this was going to be an easy beach read, you picked the wrong book. You are in the fight of your life. A fight to see beyond your pain and find what God has waiting for you. Don’t give up!

[i] Spurgeon, Charles, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charles_Sprugeon, (March 20, 2017).

[ii] The Spurgeon Archive, https://www.spurgeon.org/resource-library/sermons/the-desire-of-the-soul-in-spiritual-darkness#flipbook/,(Maech 20, 2017).

[iii] Lewis, C.S., http://www.cslewis.com/us/about-cs-lewis/, (March 20, 2017).

[iv] Lewis, C.S., Mere Christianity (C.S. Lewis Pte. Ltd., 1952) p.140-142.

[v] Mother Teresa, Come Be My Light: The Private Writings of the “Saint of Calcutta”. Ed. Brian Kolodiejchuk (New York: Doubleday, 2007): 1-2.

[vi] Yancey, Philip, The Question that Never Goes Away (Grand Rapides, MI: Zondervan, 2013), 82.

[vii] Potok: Chaim, My Name is Asher Lev (New York: Alfred Knopf, 1972), 114.

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