Summary: Doubt can be a beneficial step in our spiritual journey.
Have you seen the campaign ads that have been running on TV lately? Here’s a question: how many of you believe everything you hear in those commercials? Do you think they tell the whole truth? How many of you watched all or part of the presidential debates? How many of you believed everything that Al Gore and George Bush said? [How many didn’t believe ANYTHING they said?]
Now, I’m going to pick on Al Gore a little, because his truthfulness has become an issue in the campaign. As you know, he’s gotten into trouble for his alleged tendency to “exaggerate,” to stretch the truth at times. Of course, there’s his famous line about inventing the Internet. My personal favorite is when he was speaking to an audience of union members, and he claimed that when he was a baby, his mother sang him to sleep with the song, “Look for the Union Label.” The only problem is that the song was written in 1975, when Gore was 27 years old. [I don’t know about you, but my mommy wasn’t singing me to sleep when I was 27]. The result is that every word Gore speaks is now being examined and scrutinized and gone over with a fine-tooth comb by the media; every fact checked, every story researched. He has no room for error.
In response, the Gore campaign is attacking George Bush’s credibility, accusing him of distortions and false statements. If you go to the algore2000 web site, you’ll see press releases with headlines like: “Bush Falsely Attacks Gore On The Environment” / “Bush Distorted and Exaggerated Gore-Lieberman Proposals” / “Bush Campaign Continues Salvo Of False Attacks On Gore Prescription Drug Plan” / “Bush Kicks Off Barnstorming Tour With Distortions, False Attacks”.
So what’s my point? That Gore is a liar? That Bush is a liar? That Gore and Bush are both liars? No. My point is that most people these days receive any claims made by a politician with a large helping of skepticism. And in general, that’s a good thing. Yes, it’s possible to become too cynical, too suspicious, to the point that you think everyone in government is corrupt, and that’s not good. But on the whole, under a democratic form of government, in which the people in office supposedly work for us, it’s a healthy thing to question their statements, verify their claims, examine their promises. After all, they’re only human. Even the best of them sometimes yield to the temptation to shade the truth. But here’s the question for us this morning: Is doubt always good? We can probably agree that skepticism toward politicians is a good idea, but what about doubt in the Christian life? What about doubt toward God? Is that ever healthy? Does that ever have a useful purpose?
Your first response is probably “No”. How could doubting God ever be a positive thing? God is perfect. He doesn’t lie. He doesn’t exaggerate. He doesn’t break His promises. He doesn’t need to cover up any sin or wrongdoing. Everything God does is right; everything he says is true. God is holy and perfect, there is no unrighteousness in Him. Nevertheless, I’m suggesting to you this morning that not only is doubt inevitable in your spiritual life, not only is it a virtual certainty that you will have periods when you question God, times when your faith falters; but I’m suggesting that these seasons of doubt can be a precious opportunity for spiritual growth, if you handle them wisely. And that’s what I want to prepare you for this morning.
Periods of doubt are normal in the Christian life. None of us has perfect faith. As long as we’re on this earth, we’re constantly being tempted to walk by sight rather than faith, to live according to this world’s values. The world we live in is constantly applying pressure, trying to conform us to its way of thinking and acting, and sometimes it succeeds, at least for a while. Paul warns us about this in his letter to the Romans.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind . . .” – Romans 12:2 (NASB)
But we struggle at this faith thing, don’t we? Walking by faith, living by faith. It’s not easy. It’s hard. It’s one thing to have faith when you’re healthy, when your marriage is happy, when the career is going well, when you have plenty of money and no worries about the future. It’s another thing entirely when the doctor finds a suspicious lump, or you get an unexpected letter from your wife’s newly hired divorce attorney, or the car dies and needs $2,000 in repairs, or your teenage son calls you from the police station. It’s easy to have faith in the good times. But in times of uncertainty, disappointment, fear, sorrow, pain – that’s when the doubts start to creep in. Is God really in control? Is God really good? Does He really love me? Is God really going to take care of me? Does God really know what He’s doing? Can I trust Him? With my health? With my marriage? With my kids? With my career? With my future? Can I trust Him even with my life? That’s when the world starts to whisper in your ear, “You’re on your own. God isn’t there. Even if He is, he doesn’t love you. He couldn’t care less about you. You have to take care of yourself in this world. Look out for number one.” And then the doubts start to creep in. Sound familiar?