Here’s one unhealthy response to doubt: Be very afraid that your faith won’t endure to the end. I understand the impulse. If you think your eternal destiny hangs on the content of your beliefs, then any wavering in those beliefs is bound to produce anxiety. I was starkly reminded of this dynamic when I recently discovered my 8 year old crying in her room. When I asked her what was the matter she responded, “I’m worried that one day I’ll stop believing in God.” Heartbreaking. Understandable. But not necessary. Somewhere along the way she had internalized a misunderstanding about the nature of faith and the character of God.
I’ve been a pastor 10 years now that play poker in http://multipoker88.com which is long enough to know that it’s not just 8 year olds who worry about this. “What if I stop believing?” is a theoretical question that begins to take on flesh when little cracks of doubt begin creeping into your faith. Little nagging questions like, “What possible good could prayer do if God is sovereign?”; “Would a good God really allow what’s going on in Syria right now?”; “Does the doctrine of the Trinity actually make any sense at all?”; “What possible connection could there be between a crucified carpenter and my own ongoing sin issues?”; “Is the indwelling Holy Spirit really real or are we all doing that emperor’s new clothes thing?”
On and on the questions go. Sometimes they’re easily dismissed. Other times they claw at you. And they aren’t interesting theological puzzles. They’re issues upon which eternity hangs. It can be hard to silence the little voice that says, “If you stop believing the Christian answers to these questions, then you’ll find yourself outside of the household of faith.” And we all know people who have left the faith and not returned. Casualties in the war against unbelief. How could you not be anxious about these doubts? It’s my conviction that the whole preceding discussion puts the focus in the wrong place entirely. When I consider my reconciled relationship to God Almighty through the blood of His Son Jesus Christ, the primary gaze of my eyes should be on the character of God not the character of my faith. What I mean is, the proper object of faith is God and the unbreakable covenant promises that He has issued which are rooted in His perfect and unchangeable character. If I make my own faith the object of my faith then I’ve created an internal faith-loop that will never be able to transcend itself. I call that Möbius Strip Faith (MSF).
Are you familiar with a möbius-strip? Take a rectangular strip of paper. Now trace your finger along the entirety of the paper, front and back, without ever crossing an edge. You can’t do it. Whichever side you start on, you have to cross the edge in order to get to the backside of the paper. But now take the same strip of paper, give one end a half-turn and then tape the ends together. Now if you trace your finger on one side, you’ll cover the entire length of the paper, both front and back, without ever coming to the edge of the paper. You’ll keep returning to his starting point without ever transcending it. Some people have faith like that.
If I make my faith the object of my faith, well then I’m going to have some problems crossing the edge of my faith and transcending myself. (I know I’m goin’ all metaphysical on you here, but hang in there). The fear that my faith will one day give out is driven by the underlying and unspoken assumption that the object of my faith is my faith itself.
This is the whole point of that wonderfully satirical song from The Sound of Music that says, “I have confidence in confidence.” (I promise you that I never watched musicals until I had daughters). To have confidence in confidence is to have confidence in nothing since confidence needs to be rooted in something other than itself in order to have substance. Faith is like that too. To have faith in your faith is to have faith in nothing. Faith needs to transcend itself and be rooted in something other than itself.
So let me wrap up this overly philosophical post by telling you what I told my daughter. (This is a paraphrase of a longer conversation.) “Honey, you know how even though we try to be good, we’re never good enough to meet God’s perfect standard? And so we have to count on God’s grace for the forgiveness of our sins instead of our own good works? Well, faith is like that too. We’re not counting on our own ability to get ourselves to keep believing in God. We’re trusting God to keep holding on to us because of the covenant promises that He’s made to us. You know how you’re always my daughter no matter what you do or say or think? And how I love you all the time no matter what? And how I always will? Well God’s like that but even more. So you don’t have to worry about one day not believing. Because if God’s holding you now then He always will and He’ll never let go. The Bible says that perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). And God loves us perfectly even if we don’t love Him perfectly. So you and I don’t need to be afraid. The important thing isn’t that we’re holding God but that He’s holding us.”
This obviously doesn’t answer all questions about doubt, faith and apostasy. In fact, it raises some important questions. Turns out I can’t solve the problem of faith and doubt in 1000 words or less. But I think this post gives us a rather important starting point. When you begin addressing questions of faith and doubt, make sure that your faith is properly aimed at the appropriate object of faith which is God, His character and His promises. It’s never a healthy thing when faith turns in on itself as its own object.