Faith in God.
It means trusting the promises that God makes without needing proof.
It means to be uncertain about something. It can also mean to distrust.
So are faith and doubt compatible? Can one live while the other survives? Does the presence of doubt at all mean a total absence of faith?
Sunday I'm preaching about doubt and faith. In Mark 9, the father of a boy who is in need of healing utters what can only be a paradoxical expression of faith. Jesus tells him that all things can be done for one who believes, to which the father replies, "I believe; help my unbelief." (pisteuo, apistia - for you Greek scholars.)
So does he believe or doesn't he? John Wesley thought that this verse indicated the man's faith was there, but in so small an amount that it seemed to not be there at all. I think Mr. Wesley had to do a few too many interprative leaps to get to that conclusion. But far be it from me to come right out and disagree with Wesley, of course!
I think the statement is best left right where it is. The answer is yes, he believes; and no, he doesn't. And there it is. And there we are, most of the time, if we are completely honest about it. Living in the paradox.
Have you ever known a person with a sick loved one, and the person prayed for that loved one who then made a complete recovery, and the person subsequently thanked God for answering prayers? And on the other hand, have you ever known a person with a sick loved one, and the person prayed for that loved one who then did not get better but actually died, and then ... well, then what? Would you ever dream of saying to that person, "If you had only had more faith..." "If you had only prayed harder..." "If you had only..." Of course not!
The truth is that stuff happens to us that shakes our faith - i.e. causes doubt. The most faithful thing we can do at such times is to acknowledge the doubt, bring it to the surface, and deal with it. If we do, God will give us the grace we need to move through it and get on with life. The most dangerous thing we can do at such times is to ignore the doubt, or worse still to deny it. It is an unhealthy person who claims absolute certainty in absolutely every situation.
Salvation is a journey and there are times we are a lot closer to the destination than other times. But wherever we are, God's grace is there, ready to draw us closer. Doubt, then, is not a bad thing inherently. It's what we do with it that counts.
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