Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Progressive Christianity: Doubt?

As I mentioned last time, I want to take a look at Rachel's comment about doubting. She wrote,
So convinced we had God right, it never occurred to us that we might be wrong. In short, we never learned to doubt.
I think I know what she is getting at here, but calling for doubt isn't the best way to get there.

For one thing, we are never commanded to doubt. This gets us to an important aspect of the relationship between a master and his disciples. The master instructs his disciples how to live. He will tell them to believe that, think in this way and to behave in a way that shows what they believe and think. To clarify what he expects, he will also identify what his disciples are not to believe, think or do. But the stress is on his positive teaching. That's what a disciple focuses on.

One alternative that some apply is to assume that anything not prohibited is allowed. But that’s backwards. For us, in whatever situation we find ourselves, the key question is always, 'What does Jesus call me to believe, think, do here?' He sets the agenda, and He decides how we are to live. We are to look for His positive teaching.

So, does Jesus ever call us to doubt? No, He doesn’t. There is nothing about that in His words, and nothing of what He did implies that we are to doubt. (Jesus did many things, and there are lots of implications to those actions that we need to understand and wisely apply to the situations that we encounter. But none of them lead us to doubt. If anything, they lead us to greater certainty.)

It is enough that Jesus didn't command doubt, but to make it clear I think that it's helpful to consider those times when He actually spoke against it.

First, there is the time Peter walked on the water (for a little while). When he faltered, Jesus chided him, 'O you of little faith, why did you doubt?'

And then there were Jesus' words about powerful prayer.'Truly, I say to you, whoever says to this mountain, Be taken up and thrown into the sea, and does not doubt in his heart, but believes that what he says will come to pass, it will be done for him.'

And then, I find noteworthy something that Jude wrote. 'And have mercy on those who doubt.'

The Scriptures seem clear. Disciples of Jesus are not commanded to doubt but are rather exhorted to avoid it completely. And that makes sense when you think about the definition of doubt. (This is from Dictionary.com.)
1. to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
2. to distrust.
Now, Rachel, to her credit, does make a distinction. It's something that I want to comment on here. She wrote,
Doubt is a difficult animal to master because it requires that we learn the difference between doubting God and doubting what we believe about God. The former has the potential to destroy faith; the latter has the power to enrich and refine it. The former is a vice; the latter a virtue.
I'm glad that she included this thought. She wants to be clear that she doesn't have a problem with God. Doubting Him will destroy faith. It's what we believe about Him where she thinks that doubt needs to show up. I appreciate the attempt, but I don't think it actually accomplishes what she would like. Not doubting God means not doubting what He has told us.

To pick one debated topic, what shall we believe about the fate of some after death? Jesus said,
I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
According to Jesus, something really bad is going to happen to this group of people. They will be excluded from the kingdom (outer darkness) where they will experience sorrow (weeping) and some sort of terrible pain (gnashing of teeth). Jesus is describing hell. But there are many who 'doubt' this belief. They aren’t sure that there is such a place. (I don’t know if Rachel is among them.) Can we doubt hell without doubting Jesus? I don't see how. Based on that bit of Scripture I just quoted, it seems clear that Jesus believed certain things about some people. He believed in hell. We can't doubt His beliefs (about hell or anything else) and still claim to be His disciples. Remember, He tells us what to believe, think and do.

Now, while 'doubt' is out, there is a way to get at what I think (and hope) Rachel wants to assert. That's for next time.

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