Have you ever had to give someone a ride in your car, but were not really ‘prepared’ to do so. You know what I mean – you spontaneously say, ‘I’ll give you a ride’ only to realize your car is a mess and now there’s no time to clean it. As they step into the front seat you are quick to apologize for the mess. Of course they graciously say, ‘don’t worry you should see my car’, unless your my neighbour of course, who said to me a while back, ‘Jon, maybe you should clean your car’, and I thought, ‘it is clean!’ We do the same when friends come to the front door. We so want to invite them in for a coffee or a drink, but know that as they walk in they may not see the most ‘spotless’ of kitchens or living rooms.
That’s how we feel about our deepest questions & doubts about God. We’re often afraid of what God would think if he saw the clutter in our minds about who he is, what the church is about and how we’re trying to keep our faith in order. This makes a little sense, but not really, when it comes to our dark past or shady baggage. We’re unsure if God is willing to walk into that mess. But if we never show him the real us, he can never show us the real him.
Some “religious” people make us feel like it’s shameful to have questions; that our thoughts about God need to be neat and tidy, that we’ve taken too long to figure out all the mysteries of God and faith and Jesus. But God isn’t like that. At least not the God I see in Scripture. Not only is God not afraid to walk into our clutter, he invites himself in. God wants to be in the middle of whatever dark season, thoughts or questions we may be having.
Laura Winner, a Jewish girl who became a follower of Jesus, recently wrote a book about the walls she has been facing when it comes to her faith. Her first book was Girl Meets God. She also wrote a commentary on Matthew’s gospel. But her recent book is called, Still, and in it she tells us about how her faith didn’t seem to be fitting together as neatly as she would’ve liked. This comes from a deeply spiritual theologian who follows Jesus with all her heart. She writes…
Some days I am not sure if my faith is riddled with doubt or
whether, graciously, my doubt is riddled with faith.”
who and where I am, better than any other story I know.”
Jude 22 says, “be merciful with those who doubt”
Many things can allow doubt to creep into our faith journey: sickness, trouble, let downs, hypocrisy, leadership issues, church issues, etc.
(check out this short video that reveals the fine line between certainty & doubt)
If and when this happens to us, we may feel like we’re about to get into a wrestling match with God. If so, we’re in good company.
In Genesis 32 we read about Jacob, a historical figure in Judaism and an important Biblical character, who is found getting on the ‘mat’ with God. The story is somewhat mysterious, but what comes from it is profound. As Jacob struggles with a man through out the night, he persists to the point where the man wants this match to end. Jacob says that he will not let go until the man (God) blesses him. Jacob is hurt in this match, his hip is injured (by a simple touch from this man). By the time it’s all said and done, Jacob receives his blessing and his name is changed from Jacob to Israel. The blessing came from the struggle. The man says, ‘because you struggled with God & man and have overcome.‘
…if we never show him the real us, he can never show us the real him…
There’s so much we can say about this story, but for this topic, we can rest assured of one thing, God is ok with our audacity to wrestle with him. In fact, if anything, it brings us closer to him. Jacob says that this struggle brought him ‘face to face’ with God. We can wrestle our selves towards a closer relationship with God. This means we can invite God right in the middle of our doubts and questions. Other Biblical characters did exactly that. Other than Jacob, great examples are: Job, Moses, Abraham, Habakuk, etc.
Two authors who encourage this are Greg Boyd and Philip Yancey.
to sweep questions, doubts & complaints under the pious rug…it’s a faith that is
not afraid of going to the mat with God.”
complaints – in sum, my ignorance – and subject them to the binding light of a
reality I cannot comprehend but can haltingly learn to trust. Prayer is
personal, and my doubts take on a different cast as I get to know the person to
whom I bring them.”
In the New Testament, Paul writes these words to a young church that resonate with what we are saying…
trembling, for it is God who works in
you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
So let’s not feel like we can’t ask questions, like our doubt riddled mind or heart is something God doesn’t want to help clear up. Just like we’ve been talking about all series long, it’s in the middle our our dark seasons, of our struggles, of our most confusing times that our relationship with God grows. It’s in the middle of the tough times that we are stretched to become all that God calls us to be.
Our biggest doubts about
faith may lead to our deepest understanding about God.
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smal(er) group questions:
What resonated with you the most during this recent series, The Middle?
(Family, Suffering, Anxiety, Doubt)
What side are you on – Do doubts push you far from God or do they eventually draw you closer? How do you feel about this statement, ‘There is life in the questions’?
(How do faith & doubt intersect?)
Laura Winner says that even in her deepest doubts, she chose to attach herself to the Christian Story, to Jesus. What is it about Jesus that even in our dark moments, he is a constant?
Take some time to talk about Jacob’s Wrestling Match in Genesis 32:22-32. You can read the whole text or simply touch on the parts you’d like to discuss.
– Jacob’s persistence to receive God’s blessing?
– What’s significant about Jacob’s name change?
– Israel’s identity as a nation who struggles to discover and live for God?
What do you make of Paul’s thoughts in Philippians “…continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling”
Take some time to pray for one another…
(if you have time) What’s the difference between doubt and unbelief?