Sunday, July 14, 2013

Perseverance Through Doubt

ὑπομονή, ῆς, ἡ: this is usually the word we are talking about when we speak of perseverance. Taking apart the word, it looks like "under-remaining." It is often translated as endurance, patience, or perseverance.

There is a certain way of speaking of "having doubts" which makes it appear that the process of doubting is equivalent to unbelief.

I would like to recommend, then, a mode of doubt which I believe is compatible with faith. There is a mode which is incompatible with strong faith, but it is not the only mode of doubt.

The kind of doubt which is incompatible with faith is the kind which puts itself over God. This sort says "how can it be?" expecting an answer of "it can't." Most agnostics are atheist agnostics: they live like God doesn't exist. Likewise, this kind of doubt is an atheistic doubt: it asks questions as if God will not answer them. It begins doubting irreverently.

One might, however, begin doubting by basically unpacking one's beliefs. One might say--with a certain sense of "to God if you're listening"--"Here is what I'm having trouble accepting, here is what that means to me, here is what I can accept. Show me--give me--what I need!" One might go back as far as "how am I to be saved?" or even "why do I need to be saved?" and "why this way?" and then investigate: what do you believe about these things already? what do you mean by those things? what does God's word say about those things? what does he mean by those things? This mode of doubt, then, is the method of taking God himself as a conversation partner in trying to see what the truth is. Sure, God may not say anything explicitly to you (though he might), but if you go about doubt crying "Where in the world are you, God?" then this is to orient you to look for him in the world. You may begin to see things, as if God were leaving things behind for you to see. You may begin to hear God speaking in the words of others. The doubt inconsistent with faith makes a person see these kinds of things as coincidences, whereas a doubt seeking faith sees them almost as answers to prayer (though you may not have been really praying for it).

The basic difference between these is this: the doubt which is antagonistic to faith says "I can't believe that! Lord, be different, or convince me (if you're really there at all)." whereas the doubt which is compatible to faith says "I want to believe that, but I can't see how I can--Lord help me!"

This kind of doubt--the kind compatible with faith--is not necessarily good in and of itself, but it is not to be feared. It is, however, a kind of trial. Thus why I began this post with "ὑπομονή, ῆς, ἡ". 
"Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.
If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him. 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 1:2-8
The doubt here, it seems to me, is the wishy-washy, uncertain kind of doubt. What I am discussing here is the sort of doubt which says "Well, you say this, but... I just don't get it." It is not "Well... maybe so, maybe not," though it may look quite similar. The doubt I speak of is the doubt which tries to be honest before God, not the kind which is trying to hold back from God--the maybe-ish sort of doubt says "I don't want to give that much to God," the doubt I am advocating says "I will give all, even my inability to see God as who he says he is, to God."
"Behold, we consider those blessed who remained steadfast. You have heard of the steadfastness of Job, and you have seen the purpose of the Lord, how the Lord is compassionate and merciful." James 5:11
Job is not the sort of person, I don't think, who we would say had no doubts. He did not have the "maybe God doesn't exist" kind of doubts which we are used to in our day, but he certainly had the equivalent of his day--"maybe God isn't good." Yet, throughout Job, he is asking to be allowed to make his case against God. He wants things set right. He is saying "God, you say you are good... but I just can't see how this is you being good. Show me!" and why shouldn't the rest of us doubt like Job?

There is a core of faith in Job's doubting. He refuses to be finished with God--he perseveres in this. He will not curse God and die. He even has a core commitment to trusting God: "Though he slay me, I will hope in him; yet I will argue my ways to his face." Job 13:15, and this verse sums up quite nicely the attitude which I am trying to argue for as the proper attitude of Christian doubt. Do not put aside your doubt as if it were bad, but argue your ways to his face--trusting him to bring you through the doubt. Doubts do not arise from nowhere. If you doubt, then there is likely something you are missing--find it, seek it, ask for that wisdom from God! Yes he is slaying you! He is slaying your old man, so that the new man who we receive in Christ Jesus might be made all the more evident. Trust him, then, that these doubts are not in vain.

There's a sense in which this all is why I see predestination--that God is the one who saves, that it is not our own doing, that we cannot avoid it, that it is God's right and power to save souls--as core to my thoughts on salvation, as core to what I consider when I consider "How was I saved?" "How can I disciple others--be used as a tool toward the salvation of others?" See, for me, that it is up to God to save me, and not up to me, frees me to doubt and then to believe. See, if it were up to me, I would have given up one of these times when I doubted. But since it is up to God, each time, I have, at one point or another, had to pray something along the lines of "God, I want to give up, so you better be worth it, you better show up, give me some strength to keep doubting," 'cause the alternative was unbelief, 'cause doubting--especially when it's God's real, personal existence you're doubting--is like talking into a void, trying to be heard, and finally it's like... "I feel like an idiot, how long do you want me to keep this up? I don't have anything left to say!" And then you're talking yourself in circles, and... well, may as well give up, right? But then, I've never really wanted to, or, more accurately, I've always to give up into a simple, "I just believe," but that's rarely been an option for me, so the alternative to doubt is often unbelief, but I really, really, want to believe--even when I don't, 'cause it means giving up my life to God, for him to use as he wills, and I don't even get to pretend that I get to direct my life, in the end. So... if it wasn't up to God, then it would probably be up to me, and I really don't think I have the energy for it. I can't make myself see God (and, the past few times, that's been the whole issue of the doubt), so there's really no sense bothering with doubt unless God's in charge of the showing up bit.

What I mean to say is, if it's not about seeing God, then what is it about? and if we can manage the seeing of God, then we should be able to develop a sort of technique for converting people. But if it's up to God to reveal himself, then... it's up to God in his grace to save who he will. And if salvation is of God, then it isn't of me, and I can relax and doubt if need be. 'Cause if I need to find God on my own, then, well, it makes it a lot harder to be honest with myself about my doubts, and it makes me want to hide them from God and others--and myself--even more than I already, in my pride, do.

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