In previous posts on the subject of doubt we have concentrated on the reality of the condition, and hesitantly suggested some of the causes for it, including our own sin. All of this has given us a kind of Ordinance Survey map of the whole area of Doubt, noting some its features and the access roads we may have taken to reach this place. It is high time, then, that we began working through some exit roads from Doubt, and some of the landmarks that might be seen as the slow move from uncertainty to assured Belief is made. It is a painful journey, but no-one need live in Doubt for all of their days.
One of the most painful paradoxes of experiencing doubt is taking part in public worship. This can be a bittersweet experience for the believer plagued by doubt. There can, on the one hand, be a certain sentimental rush that comes from being with God's people and joining voices in song, and minds in prayer and meditation on God's Word. Like a stimulant, however, the effect can soon fade and the roads back to Doubt after a church service can seem all the more cold and dark and lonely. On the other hand there can be an overwhelming sense of hypocrisy and resentment behind what had previously been the joyful expressions of worship. Mouthing words to well known hymns can feel empty, and the message delivered from the pulpit can be subjected to the most scathing and scorching internal criticism in the mind of the doubter - every truth contorted into further proof for the issues being faced. None of this feels particularly edifying.
But worse than the presence of any of these feelings in public worship is their absence, and one of Satan's most effective strategies against any doubting soul is to isolate them and cut off natural connections in the Church. In a sense it is better to sing 'hymns to the silence' than to silence our hymn singing, better to struggle under the Word of God than to struggle on without it, better to feel the pinch and pain of hypocrisy in worship than suffer the consequences of absence from it.
Perhaps this point is best illustrated from some of the standards and confessions of faith which back home the heritage of Reformed evangelicalism. Take the following two quotes as an example, the first from the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith and the second from the 1646 Westminster Confession of Faith. Get past the slightly outmoded language, and a major map for getting out of Doubt can be found here:
"Many storms and floods may arise and beat against them, yet these things will never be able to sweep them off the foundation and rock upon which they are fastened by faith. Even though unbelief and the temptations of Satan cause the sight and feeling of the light and love of God to be clouded and obscured from them for a time, yet God is still the same and they are sure to be kept by his power until their salvation is complete"
Baptist Confession of Faith, 17.1
'Unto the catholic visible church Christ hath given the ministry, oracles, and ordinances of God, for the gathering and perfecting of the saints, in this life, to the end of the world: and doth, by His own presence and Spirit, according to His promise, make them effectual thereunto'
Westminster Confession of Faith, 25.3
There is no highway out of Doubt, but taken together these paragraphs at least point us towards some of the arterial routes which will bring us back to the joy of living in Belief again. Firstly, in placing faith in Christ there is a rock solid certainty for the Christian that they will persevere, that despite the 'storms and floods' which may seem to prevail at times, that God's saving grace is a sustaining grace. Secondly, the effective means of stirring and strengthening the life of grace and belief is the ministry of the Word of God and ordinances given by God. To abandon this second point in hope of seeing the first fulfilled, is like a starving man in a disaster zone shooting down relief planes in the hope of catching a grain of rice! God has given the Church as an outlet for His blessing, and as an effective means of energising and nerving struggling Christians in the walk of faith.
Of course these kinds of confessional statements are helpful only insofar as they are rooted in Scripture. A light examination of the New Testament reveals their absolute authenticity. Hebrews 10:24-25 is the most obvious example of this kind of counsel:
'23Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.' (NIV)
For residents of Doubt, then, the first step to recovery is refusing to join the Residents' Committee, and deciding to keep in touch with your old neighbourhood of Belief. Spending time with them might be a bittersweet experience, but it is only through authentic fellowship with authentic fellow Christians (and the challenge that their spiritual solidity can ultimately bring) that permanent freedom from the tenancy of Doubt can be enjoyed.