I happened upon a summary of John Ortberg’s Faith and Doubt, but rather than give a simple review, or regurgitate a another summary, I present my slightly predigested take on it (hope you won’t mind a hint of intellectual bile).
Faith and doubt are like two sides of the same coin; without one, you can’t have the other. Ortberg dealt with their interaction quite realistically and effectively.
Faith and conviction are related, but not identical. Faith allows us to thoughtlessly flip on the light switch. Conviction tells us that the light will most certainly come on as the necessary result of flipping it. When the light fails to respond to our action, we know something must be wrong. If something, or Someone, is worthy of our convictions, the “light” will always turn on. If not, our convictions are misplaced.
With God, the “light” always turns on, though perhaps not within our timetable. Nevertheless, conviction tells us God will always, in some way or time, respond.
One salient point is conviction’s variability; our certainty ebbs and flows to the tides of our circumstances and moods. Another thought is God’s highest desire for us. Ortman said God desires our goodness, rather than our happiness. I believe God desires only our ultimate happiness, with goodness (obedience) as the path we must tread to reach it.
An illustration of that principle would be the man who lived in an old house with inadequate wiring. When the fuse blew he simply replaced it with another … until he ran out of fuses. So, the resourceful guy wrapped the last fuse in foil, with a couple of extra layers for good measure. Sure enough, the lights blinked on, the fridge kicked in, and the window air conditioner renewed its gusts of cool air. The man was once again happy. What he didn’t realize, however, is the climbing temperature of the wiring in his attic crawl space. When his sawdust insulation ignited he wasn’t so happy. If he had investigated the fuse issue when it began, rather than taking the shortcut to power—and happiness—he would still have a roof over his head.
I don’t quite agree with Ortberg’s idea of hope for something, versus hope in someone. We can place our hope in something when it is an idol such as money, status, power, property, or even a person whom we believe will give us happiness. Hope in someone or something is rather like placing all our eggs in one, weak-bottomed, basket … unless, of course, that Someone is worthy of our hope. That qualification quite effectively limits our choices.
Doubt requires something as its target. Doubting God requires the doubter to at least acknowledge his existence.
Ortberg deals with three reasons for doubt: First, God’s apparent absence when we need him, or when we doubt his love and concern for us. This isn’t what he wrote, but what I got out of it; God wants our faith and trust to be based on his character, not on evidence. Matthew 16:4 reports Jesus saying, “A destructive and adulterous breed of men is always seeking after a sign.” Admitting he exists is quite different from believing in who he is. One acknowledges him as a sterile, objective fact, while the other invests in him, personally.
That sort of doubt leads directly into the second category: God’s church isn’t doing its job. In fact, it seems to do everything it can to negate Jesus’ message.
Churches try to be all-inclusive; they hope they can love and serve non-believers into Christ’s kingdom, so they allow most anyone to join up and maintain membership, including those who take only themselves seriously and behave as if it’s their church. But it eventually becomes their church, and no longer belongs to God. That same principle is the common thread that shapes a pattern of religious destruction throughout history, in all religions.
Rebellion is the third category of doubt. Often it says, “If this is God (or God’s people), I refuse to believe in him!” It’s the voice of outrage, and the motivation for active opposition to God and everyone who expresses faith in him. As with any other category of doubt, it requires a target, even as it denies his existence. Since this activistic doubt can’t get at God directly, it does its best to wipe out his influence.
Rebellion can also exist simply as the expression of a rebellious attitude. The rebel throws rocks at a church’s windows simply because a Ten Commandments sign occupies the front lawn. “Nobody is going to tell me what I can or can’t do,” is his refrain.
Like all clouds with light behind them, doubt has a silver lining; faith must always overcome doubt of some sort. Whether it’s doubt about God, or self, resolving it produces faith. Another shade of silver is the believer’s humility when he feels doubt about what he knows from experience to be true. Doubt also motivates a believer to study it out. The author quotes Frederick Buechner, “Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith; they keep it awake and moving.” Doubting our preconceptions is a very good thing. Finally, faith in the face of doubts strengthens our faithfulness, leading us to maturity.
Ortman also presents several reasons for faith: we’re built to believe, our sense of right-and-wrong, creation’s perfection, our sense of beauty and wholeness, our sense of joy, as well as a few others.
Don’t feel like you’re the only dedicated Christ-follower who experiences doubts. If we’re honest, we’ll all admit to having them. One serious problem in the church is believers concealing anything in their lives, or relationships, that isn’t hunky-dory. While nobody likes a whiner, confessing serious problems with a close brother or sister is often the direct route to resolving them. That, after all, is what love is all about.