Today’s post is the second in a series of guest posts centered around my church’s annual theme of “Healthy Hearts”. This month’s contributor is James T Wood. His full bio is at the bottom of the post, but here’s a brief intro…
James and I crossed paths in graduate school a few years ago. Since then James has gone on to do a lot of writing. In addition to his numerous blogs and articles he regularly publishes online, his small group discussion guide on the book of Ephesians was recently published by The Gospel Advocate. I appreciate James volunteering to contribute to this series. I’m sure you’ll find his perspective encouraging.
QUESTIONS OF THE HEART
Growing up in church, I was taught that certainty, not cleanliness, is what’s next to godliness. From the pulpit to the Sunday school classroom, we were told that we could be sure of our faith. It came as a surprise to me, then, when I discovered the many of the heroes of faith in the Bible have struggled with questions.
For me it started with a distraught father. He was completely at his wits’ end. He’d tried everything up to this point and nothing had worked. He wanted what was best for his son, but it seemed like he couldn’t ever get there. Failure after failure left him crushed. One more offer of hope seemed like a cruel joke that he just couldn’t resist. Faith was worn, frayed, and close to breaking. In a desperate, lonely moment he let the words slip out of his heart before his brain could stop them: “I do believe, help my unbelief.”
You might recognize the words from Mark 9, but, if you’re like me, you also recognize them from your own frayed, broken moment when the hope that you’ve been clinging to seems to slip away. You find yourself speaking nonsense. You and I mix belief and unbelief, faith and doubt, certainty and questions.
But, if you’re like me, you feel guilty about it. You question your questioning and doubt your doubting. We grew up being taught that there’s no higher goal than spiritual certainty so our doubts, fears, and questions must be wrong. Right?
But that’s not how Jesus treats this poor, beleaguered father in his moment of confession. He’s not condemned as a sinner for expressing doubt, his son is healed and his life is transformed. Jesus, the man who flipped tables in the temple, defiantly healed on the Sabbath, and called out the religious leaders as hypocrites, was not afraid of confronting sin. He never flinched from a righteous conflict and didn’t excuse people from doing wrong, even in the midst of forgiving them. But he doesn’t forgive the unbelieving father – no, instead he just heals the son.
Scripture is filled with faithful people who question God.
Once I started to see it, I couldn’t avoid it. Scripture is filled with faithful people who question God. Elijah, immediately after miraculously defeating the prophets of Ba’al, runs away into the wilderness. There he meets God in a still, small whisper and confesses that he’s done. He’s afraid for his life and he’s ready to give up.
Or look at David who cried out to God in heartbreaking songs that were penned when he was pretending to be insane, or hiding in a cave, or cradling his dead son, or hiding from his usurping son. David threw his questions into the teeth of God with poetic power and those songs became the hymnal of Israel.
One of David’s songs came up again – a heartbreaking question thrown at the Almighty for generations – “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Jesus, on the cross, echoes David and questions God.
Jesus questioned God.
Let that sink in for a bit. If you’ve felt guilty for your doubts, if you’ve questioned your questioning and feared your lack of faith, you’re following Jesus in this.
Jesus prayed for God to do something, anything different. Have you prayed that prayer? When the test came back positive? When the marriage didn’t survive? When you pulled on your black dress clothes for the funeral? When the collectors kept calling? When you lost your job?
God, why can’t you do something else? If it’s possible, let this cup pass from me. Take it away. Choose any other path. Please.
Jesus shows us that questioning God isn’t bad, it’s healthy. David did it, Elijah did it, Job did it, Habakkuk did it, Gideon did it, Abraham did it, Moses did it, and those are just a few of the stories. The Bible is filled with tale after tale of people who blurt out in pain, confusion, and passion: “I believe, help my unbelief.”
Is that you? I know it’s been me.
When God responds to these questions, he’s not mad. He doesn’t rebuke or condemn the faithful-doubting of his people. Job’s answer was that God is in control. Gideon’s answer was that he should fight for God’s people. Elijah’s answer was that he wasn’t alone. David’s answer was to praise God anyway.
The questions don’t yield an explanation of God’s plan, but they draw our heart closer to the heart of God. When we lay everything, even our doubts, at the feet of God we get those Romans 8 moments:
“In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness. We do not know what we ought to pray for, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans.”
Bio: James T Wood is a writer, minister, and teacher in Portland, Oregon. He and his wife Andrea have worked with established churches and church plants all over the US. You can find out more about James and what he’s up to at www.jamestwood.com.
Please take a moment to encourage James by leaving a comment.
You might also like to continue the conversation by addressing these questions:
- Have would you describe the phrase “I do believe, help my unbelief” in your life?
- In your experience, do questions draw you closer to God, or create a barrier between Him?