This is the one-hundred-twenty-third lesson in author and pastor Mel Lawrenz’ How to Live the Bible series. If you know someone or a group who would like to follow along on this journey through Scripture, they can get more info and sign up to receive these essays via email here.
What about the question of doubt? You cannot talk about believing without talking about doubt any more than you can talk about day without implying night. Some people think faith is an all-or-nothing proposition. You had better believe in God, those people maintain, and everything that God says, because if you show any hesitation, any gap, any questioning, then he’ll look at you with a scowl and snatch away from you the whole blessing.
No. God is not a troll beneath a bridge expecting all the right answers to riddles he poses before we can cross. God is not the examiner at the Department of Motor Vehicles, mindlessly administering the same test a million times, looking for a 90% to pass.
What we see in the Bible time and again are people of great faith who live on the border of where faith stops and where hesitation begins.
Why is it that we consider the rising sun on the horizon, spilling its light across the land, an event of note, but not the sun sitting brilliantly above at high noon? It’s because the horizon is a line where something new crosses over. And so doubt is not really the antithesis of faith; it is its precursor.
Even at that moment when Jesus’ own disciples had the extraordinary experience of speaking with him after his resurrection on top of a rocky Galilean mountain, while some worshiped him, “some doubted” (literally, “hesitated”). If the risen Christ passed you on the sidewalk, or even entered the room where you are at this very moment, that would not mean that all your doubts in life would disappear in an instant. You’d still have to believe.
Faith is a calling. It’s backed up by a universe of tangible facts about the goodness and greatness of God. Yet faith is still an extension of trust outward so that we’re certain of what we do not see.
Faith is a process. Believing is a flow of relationship—back and forth—a continual conversation of a person and The Person. That’s why faith builds over time. The conversation courses back and forth; you go over old topics you’ve shared with God as well as new subjects, questions you never would have thought to ask years ago. But with each declaration we make to God, whether it’s thanks or praise or pain or anguish, that link gets stronger. And when we listen to God, the certainty that he’s there in all of his greatness and goodness becomes firm ground beneath our feet.
For most people, the process of belief-building doesn’t happen along a completely smooth, upward path. Building a relationship is not like building an automobile, where each part must be put in place in order by the laws of physical objects. More like a child/parent affinity, believing may surge ahead with new insights and convictions, but may also get bogged down, slowed so that it looks motionless, or even on the slide. We can have fits of temper when we stomp our feet and declare that we will not believe, like a teenager asserting independence. Or we may race down a faith road that’s off course, only to find ourselves confused and retracing our steps—if we’re wise about it. On our best days, believing is like a walk—steady, progressive, full of considered sensation. It may be the walk of friends or the march of the soldier into some battleground of life. Our steps toward God are sometimes lunging, at other times running, or creeping, or stumbling. Style is not the issue, and it’s better to fall toward God than away from him. One foot in front of the other and you’ll be moving toward the destination.
Faith is an invitation. For all the teaching that Jesus did from one village to the next in Galilee, and among the imposing pillars of Solomon’s portico at the temple in Jerusalem, it all boils down to this: Believe. Which is not to say believe in anything you choose. It’s an invitation to believe the realities that Jesus explained as meticulously as a carpenter carving and piecing together wood into the furniture of life. It’s to believe him, and in him—and in the believing, to gain the “right to become children of God.”
[To be continued – Whom Should We Believe?]
[See previous – To Be Human Is to Believe]
Sign up to receive the free once-a-week email series, How to Live the Bible, by author and pastor Dr. Mel Lawrenz
[If you believe this series will be helpful, this is the perfect time to forward this to a friend, a group, or a congregation, and tell them they too may sign up for the weekly emails here]
Mel Lawrenz (@MelLawrenz) trains an international network of Christian leaders, ministry pioneers, and thought-leaders. He served as senior pastor of Elmbrook Church in Brookfield, Wisconsin, for ten years and now serves as Elmbrook’s teaching pastor. He has a PhD in the history of Christian thought and is on the adjunct faculty of Trinity International University. Mel’s many books include Spiritual Leadership Today: Having Deep Influence in Every Walk of Life (Zondervan, 2016). See more of Mel’s writing at WordWay.