Faith . . . in doubt

Moraca River

Moraca River

I’ve been here for a fortnight now – fourteen days in a beautiful city surrounded by mountains. There are fun cafes on every corner. The food is delicious. My team is encouraging, and I love them. There’s little walking parks everywhere. There’s a beautiful river that runs right through the center of the city. Everything I need in daily life is only a short walk away. The people here have been incredibly friendly. I really have no complaints about life in Podgorica.

And yet, it’s been hard. I’ve battled anxiety – physical anxiety constant for days. I’ve been quick-tempered. Most of the people in this city don’t understand my language nor I theirs. I’ve had much less contact with friends and family back home than I desire. I’m tired – no exhausted. I’ve done very little real work and yet I’m exhausted.

Here’s a non-exhaustive list of questions I’ve pondered during my time here: How am I ever going to live here for the better part of a year? Why did God call me here? How can I possibly live on mission and talk about hope when I’m not experiencing much of it? Will anything I do here have any significance? Is God even real? Does He even care about me?

No, I haven’t bought a plane ticket home. No, I haven’t thrown out my faith. If anything, my faith has deepened.

Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. I’m tempted to think they are, but it’s a false dichotomy. Faith is not the absence of doubt. It’s the volitional rejection of doubt’s paralysis in order to take one step further into trust. Faith is trusting that there’s a bigger story than what I can see.

I love the book of Isaiah. In chapter 10, we see a picture of the coming Exile of the people of Israel. The people who belonged to the once glorious kingdom of David are about to be taken away from their home. Families will be separated. Israel’s wealth will be plundered. My soul sinks with each verse in this chapter, but it is never without hope. In Isaiah 11, we see a promise of Messiah who will restore the Kingdom, the strong branch of Jesse. The imagery of suffering and hope is incredibly vivid throughout the book.

Toward the close of the book, we see an image of that coming Kingdom, the Messianic age, the vindication of God and of His people. The suffering does not last forever; joy approaches.

The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me,
because the Lord has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted,
to proclaim freedom for the captives
and release from darkness for the prisoners,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor
and the day of vengeance of our God,
to comfort all who mourn,
and provide for those who grieve in Zion—
to bestow on them a crown of beauty
instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
instead of a spirit of despair.

Isaiah 61:1-3 (NIV)

What a picture! This Scripture instills joy, inspires hope, promises a fulfillment of the longings of the Lord’s people. There’s a problem though. The Exile never truly ended. Israel never returned (some of the people did but most didn’t). Even those who did return were never truly independent. After Babylon, there was Persia, Greece, and Rome. The Davidic Kingdom was never restored. At the time of Jesus, the people were still waiting – centuries later.

In Luke 4, Jesus quotes this passage in the synagogue and claims that it has been fulfilled in Him. The Messianic Kingdom has arrived. What joy, right? Again there’s a problem. Less than half a century after Jesus proclaimed this, the Temple itself was destroyed. The full wrath of Rome was yet to come. Now, it’s 2000 years later. Break-ups still hurt. Change is still hard. Losing loved ones still cuts the soul deep. Evil is still present. Injustice still reigns. Innocents still get slaughtered by the Powers. Where is the joy in place of mourning? Where is the laughter instead of tears?

I haven’t lost perspective. I know my suffering isn’t comparatively so bad. It is present though. I’m still waiting. We are all still waiting, waiting for hope, waiting for joy, waiting for justice. How do we grow in faith as our hope is continually deferred?

There’s a part missing to this story. Before Isaiah 61, we have Isaiah 53. The Lord whose Kingdom we await understands our longing, our deferred hope, our disappointment, our suffering.

Surely he took up our pain
and bore our suffering,
yet we considered him punished by God,
stricken by him, and afflicted.
But he was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

Isaiah 53:3-4 (NIV)

This is how my faith has been deepened in the midst of doubt. In the moment that I am overwhelmed, I find my Savior right there with me. There is no disappointment, no suffering which we now experience that He does not know. I don’t need to understand. I only need to know His great love and compassion for me. The suffering God brings me peace.

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3 comments

  1. “Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. I’m tempted to think they are, but it’s a false dichotomy. Faith is not the absence of doubt. It’s the volitional rejection of doubt’s paralysis in order to take one step further into trust. Faith is trusting that there’s a bigger story than what I can see.” So true Jon! So often when I have to tell my children “no”, to them it seems like suffering, to me…I can see the end game–more sleep will make their tomorrow much better than another 30 minutes of staying up late playing games. A “no” to a sleep over request might make my kids think I am a tyrant, but I know what is best for them…they do not, at least not a 11 years old. It may take some time for them to see the fruit of their suffering. I believe it will be the same for you, but I am certain relief will come, and when it does you will be glad for all that you have experienced…the good and the bad. I miss you bro, God’s peace to you.

  2. Much feeling, much good thought. Well put, Jon, and so true. It does not make going through it easy, but surely easier than despair would be, with no hope, no faith. Doubt is real–and so is faith. Thanks for putting it this way. It’s healthier, far healthier, than denial.

  3. Rachel Gut · · Reply

    Thank you for this – I hope some of the suffering is dissipating, and that God is filling you with the peace that comes with knowing He’s in control. I am sending “Faith and doubt are not mutually exclusive. I’m tempted to think they are, but it’s a false dichotomy. Faith is not the absence of doubt. It’s the volitional rejection of doubt’s paralysis in order to take one step further into trust. Faith is trusting that there’s a bigger story than what I can see.” on to my sister, who is also really suffering right now, and needs to hear it. God is using you in so many amazing ways!

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