Faith As An Emotion
Sometimes I think we put way too much weight on faith. When I say “faith” I am defining it by the way the majority of Christians use the term – as a feeling. When we think of faith, feeling and emotion are immediately attached to it. Your faith is measured by how much you believe in God. But I would argue that the common definition of faith is completely flawed.
Faith does usually have some feeling or emotion, but it is much more than that. As we all know, feelings don’t ever stay the same; they are constantly changing. Faith is no different. If we base our faith solely on how we feel, we’re going to be questioning God all the time. It is impossible to feel the presence of God every second of the day. Some feel it more than others, but it doesn’t stay constant and that’s what keeps us yearning for more.
It’s OK To Doubt
Just as our culture has done with love, faith has morphed from an action into a feeling. Many divorces are caused by one or both spouses separating because they are not “in love” with one another anymore. This perception stems from the belief that love is a feeling and should last forever – if I don’t feel love, than I must not love someone. My fear is that we are doing the same thing with faith – if I don’t feel faith, I must not believe in God. Countless saints and a good percentage of strong believers have gone through the dark night of the soul, where doubt is real and the presence of God is faint or even doesn’t exist. So are you trying to tell me that some of the holiest people the world has ever known weren’t trying hard enough or didn’t have enough faith?
The thing that worries me the most is the way someone is treated when they raise objections or have doubts. I’ve seen many examples where the person is ostracized, told they’re not a Christian if they don’t believe, told to stop doubting and just “have more faith”, and a whole range of other examples that assume the person doubting is responsible for not believing. This type of attitude is exactly what pushes people away from Christianity and belief in God. Now there are definitely sometimes where the person’s actions or lifestyle is hindering their faith, but many times it is not their fault.
Faith Breeds Action
In fact, I would go as far to say that if you’ve never had doubts, it may be a good idea to examine your reasoning for following Christ. Granted some people are blessed with the gift of faith and that’s wonderful, but I think it can be easy to confuse belief with indoctrination. If you’ve never questioned something that determines everything about your life, do you really believe it because it’s true or because you’ve heard it so many times you assume it’s fact? I have had this experience in my personal life. I grew up in a strong, Christian household and went to church regularly. I guess I had some doubts, but nothing that I would consider dark nights. I knew all the theology and doctrine, but it didn’t change me. I believed, but my life didn’t revolve around God. It wasn’t until I really dived into the heart of Christianity and started wrestling with surrendering my life to Jesus and following him that the doubts really arose. Because you can have “faith” in God, but if you never take action that faith is rarely tested. It is only when we risk losing our life and pour our heart and soul into Christ that there’s meaning in faith. If faith doesn’t cost us anything, is it really faith or just insurance in case God does exist?
I am a person that struggles a lot with doubt. I have a very scientific mind and a very emotional heart. When those two clash, the feelings are a raging storm that’s not pleasant to be in. But through all my doubts, I always come out the other side stronger in my faith. There is a perception that if you’re doubting, you’re a bad person or sinning. Not only is this not true, but it is destroying the faith. Christians many times are kicking people out or putting them down when they need God the most. They’re crying out for help and support and all they get is judgement and feelings of guilt. And why would they ever want to believe in a God whose “followers” treat them that way?
If You’re Doubting, You’re In Good Company
By this definition of faith, Peter, who is one the greatest leaders the church has ever known, would have been mocked and not considered a Christian . He followed, walked, and talked with Jesus for three years and was able to deny him three times. If his faith was able to crack under pressure, what chance do we have? And the thing I love most about Jesus is that he understands. He may tell us to have more faith and not to fear, but he doesn’t kick us to the curb because of it. He raises himself up and dies for those still doubting.
Come and See
In the beginning of the Gospel of John, we meet Nathanael, who Phillip has come to to tell him that he’s found the Messiah. “Phillip found Nathanael and said to him, ‘We have found him of whom Moses in the Law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus of Nazareth, the son of Joseph.’ Nathaniel said to him, ‘Can anything good come out of Narareth?’ Philip said to him, ‘Come and see.'” (John 1:45-46)
I don’t know about you, but this is really good news to me. You can almost feel the negativity and mockery when Nathaneal says “Can anything good come from Nazareth?”. He knows that the Messiah is supposed to come from Bethlehem and not Nazareth. He is almost saying “why are you wasting my time”. These words in our time could be replaced with, “how can you still believe in a God who allows suffering, how can you believe in a fairy tale or miracles in an age of science, or how can Christianity really be true”. Notice Philip does not scold Nathanael, mock him, or call him a sinner. He simply says, “Come and see” as if he doesn’t really know all the answers either. He invites Nathanael to meet the person who has all the answers – Jesus.
The most encouraging thing about Philip’s words is that they echo the same answer Jesus gave to the first two disciples the previous day. “The two disciples heard him (John the Baptist) say this and they followed Jesus. Jesus turned and saw them following and said to them, ‘What are you seeking?’ And they said to them, ‘Rabbi’ (which means Teacher), ‘where are you staying?’ He said to them, ‘Come and you will see.” (John 1:37-39)
Jesus does not give them detailed information to their questions. He is not about providing quick answers to problems. Jesus knows our hearts and knows that a simple answer does not change them. He invites us in for the life changing experience of dwelling intimately with him. He is almost saying, “Be patient and follow me. I won’t just tell you, but I’ll show you.”
The Only One Who Can Silence Doubt
And when Nathanael finally meets Jesus, we see the fulfillment and silence of doubt. “Jesus saw Nathanael coming towards him and said of him, ‘Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit!’ Nathanael said to him, ‘How do you know me?’ Jesus answered him, ‘Before Philip called you, when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.’ Nathanael answered him, ‘Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!’ Jesus answered him, ‘Because I said to you, I saw you under the fig tree, do you believe? You will see greater things than these.’ And he said to him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.'” (John 1:47-51)
So aside from his doubts, Nathanael decides to go meet Jesus. The first thing Jesus calls him is “an Israelite indeed, in whom there is no deceit”. In other words, Jesus is saying that his doubts are valid. He was not doubting Philip to be negative or with self seeking in mind; he had a point and needed to investigate the evidence. But Jesus doesn’t mention anything about being the Messiah. He simply says, “when you were under the fig tree, I saw you.” We don’t know exactly what that means, but it is obviously a very personal experience for Nathanael that no one else would know. His response shows that all his doubts are gone. But I believe it is important to note that Jesus never does give him the answer that he was wrestling with. Jesus gives him an experience and that’s all he needed. Some answers are not for us to know, so Jesus gives us experiences of himself instead.
Examining the Evidence Before Making A Verdict
The most crucial part of the entire story is Nathanael’s decision to “come and see”. Even though he was doubting, he still actively sought God out. Doubts are not evil of themselves. In fact, many times God uses doubts to draw us closer to him and to discover his glory. The trouble is when we let doubts harden our hearts and make us arrogant. If Nathanael shuts the door and doesn’t investigate, he never meets Jesus and is never redeemed. In order to find, you must first seek. Jesus doesn’t tell us to shut up and stop thinking. He opens his arms to us and gently says, “come and you will see”.
Our job as Christians is not to rebuke those doubting, but to lead them to an experience with Jesus. We have to be humble and not put others down and accept that we don’t have all the answers. We need to lead not through arrogance or condescension, but by love. We can’t end the other person’s doubt or even our own doubts by ourselves. We have to “come and see” the experience Jesus has waiting for us.
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