COVID, the Christian, and Doubt

Let’s be honest, we’re not enjoying the way the world is at the moment, are we? Not gathering as the church, kids not going to school and not seeing their friends, not getting together with our own adult friends, the inability to travel and see family, friends, or far-off lands. Honestly, not many people can say they are 100% happy with the world right now. This also makes us doubt, doesn’t it? Why is this happening, is this consistent with a good and loving God? How do I feel about all of this?

So is it ok to doubt? As a Christian, is it ok to doubt? Honestly, it depends.

There are different kinds of doubt, and whether it’s ok to entertain them depends on the particular type of doubt. Let’s break them down.

There are doubts of the will. Example – do I want to follow Jesus? Do I want to do this or that?

To this, the Bible has a strong response – James 1.5-8 says 

If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.  But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;  he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

There are doubts of the mind. Example – can this be proven? Do I understand this?

To this, the Bible has a softer response – Isaiah 1.18 says

“Come now, let us reason together, says the Lord:
though your sins are like scarlet,
    they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red like crimson,
    they shall become like wool.

Then, there are doubts of the emotion. Example – how do I feel about this?

In the latter stages of his short letter, Jude is writing specifically about those caught under false teaching, to those who are being taught things to make them feel differently about their faith. He writes,

have mercy on those who doubt; save others by snatching them out of the fire; to others show mercy with fear, hating even the garment stained by the flesh. 

Jude 1.22-23

Jude is talking, it seems, about doubts of the emotion – how do I feel about all of this? 

Doubts of the will, doubts of the mind, and doubts of the emotions.

Doubt is human and doubt is universal, says Os Guinness. We live in a broken world and to doubt how we feel about it all is sadly just a part of life. We are going to question how we feel about things on an almost daily basis. Maybe how you feel about COVID-19 and its impact on the world changes daily. That’s ok.

Doubt, inherently, isn’t a bad thing. 

Psalm 73 also speaks of the response to doubts of the heart.

Nevertheless, I am continually with you;
you hold my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel,
and afterward you will receive me to glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,
but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

So, is it ok to have moments of doubt? Yes, absolutely.

Your feelings will change on all manner of things, maybe daily. When we come across people who hold a different opinion to us, when we come across people who are feeling differently about things to us, when we come across people who doubt things we don’t, Jude tells us to have mercy on those who doubt

Author Charles Hummel said that a stronger faith can emerge through doubt. It’s ok to doubt how you feel about things, change how you feel about things. It doesn’t make you a bad Christian if your feelings and emotions change on a topic back-and-forth. You learn some more, you feel differently about something. You feel differently about something, so you learn some more, and so on and so forth. The key for you as a believer will be to always and forever filter everything through the lens of Jesus, Jesus who never changes (Hebrews 13.8, John 8.58). Our desire to follow an unchanging and eternal God in an ever-changing world must never be doubted.

COVID may have you doubting how you feel about certain things, it may have you doubting how much you know about certain things, but, Christian, COVID should never have you doubting if you want to follow Jesus through all things.

Living a Life of The Heart

We’ve said this before with James and no doubt we will say it again, but so often he demands from us that which we cannot deliver and this makes us go with all the more urgency to the refuge of the Gospel, where Jesus said “It is finished”.

Because, honestly, after reading James 4.1-10 how many of you can say yes, I can resist the devil, yes, I can cleanse my hands from all unrighteousness, yes, I can purify my heart, I can love the Lord with all my heart, mind, soul, and strength in my own power and of my own accord?

How many of you can say yes, I grieve over my sin and I do so because all on my own I realised that it is sin?

In Ezekiel 36 we read of a prophecy for the nation of Israel. We are not the nation of Israel, but we can look at the principle of what is promised and see that, you know what, there is now no Jew or Greek, we are all one in Christ Jesus, so whilst there are specific promises regarding the nation of Israel, in principle, the spiritual promises we can look at as being for us too.

So in Ezekiel 36 we read, 

Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean; I will cleanse you from all your filthiness and from all your idols.

I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh.

This is the spiritual transformation that we all need, a new heart. James 4.1-10 talks about your heart; what do we need to do with it?

It’s broken, isn’t it, it’s deceitful, it will tell you what you want to hear in order to get what it wants, which is fleshly and all too human. We need restoration, we need fixing, we need a new heart.

To his original readers, James is instructing them to take seriously the truth that this new way of life is deeper than surface level religious acts and you need to change from within. For you and me, going from there to here, we need to take a serious look at ourselves and be honest about our condition, about the condition of our hearts.

The moralistic teaching of this passage would say something like this – You need to work hard to fix the problem of your heart.

A Christ-centred view, however, would say this – You never will, give it to Jesus.

Refreshing – Philemon 1.20

Yes, brother, I want some benefit from you in the Lord. Refresh my heart in Christ.

At first glance, there is nothing different or unusual about what Paul says here, is there. He has been writing to Philemon about being motivated by grace and grace in action, and begins his closure with this confident request, refresh my heart in Christ.

The funny thing is though, where we read heart, Paul actually used the word σπλάγχνον, which, most commonly, is translated as bowels or intestines. So, is Paul writing to Philemon to schedule a colonoscopy?

Literally, σπλάγχνον does mean bowels or intestines, but figuratively it carries the meaning of the place of deepest emotion in your body.

So, for us in 2020, we would say something like ‘He has a broken heart’, or, ‘My heart is just so full of love for her’, or something to that effect. Simply, when we describe the deepest emotion we could feel, we would connect it to the heart. Back in Paul’s day, the deepest emotions were thought to come from the deepest place inside you, in the same way you may hear something like ‘I feel it in the pit of my stomach’.

All this to say, Paul is talking about serious, deep rooted, from-the- inside-out refreshment, and this certainly doesn’t come from temporal or temporary sources.

In context, Paul is talking about receiving a runaway slave back as a brother, and he knows that just as Philemon came to a saving faith in Christ through Paul (v.19b), it appears that Onesimus did too (v.8-16). Paul knows we all share in one Lord, we all have one Saviour, and in Him there is no distinction.

So, the deep refreshment in Christ that Paul is looking for?

Seeing others live out the business of the Gospel.

Someone Paul has pointed to Christ is now doing the work of Christ; forgiving, restoring, fellowshipping, and encouraging. What deep refreshment this would bring to Paul.

Think on this today – Who can I refresh in the Lord by doing the work of the Gospel?

2 Timothy 4.14-22 – Last Words

Written whilst in prison awaiting death, the letter we know as Timothy is generally held to be the last that Paul wrote. Here, he signs off in typical fashion.

14 Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. 15 Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. 16 At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! 17 But the Lord stood by me and strengthened me, so that through me the message might be fully proclaimed and all the Gentiles might hear it. So I was rescued from the lion’s mouth. 18 The Lord will rescue me from every evil deed and bring me safely into his heavenly kingdom. To him be the glory forever and ever. Amen.19 Greet Prisca and Aquila, and the household of Onesiphorus. 20 Erastus remained at Corinth, and I left Trophimus, who was ill, at Miletus. 21 Do your best to come before winter. Eubulus sends greetings to you, as do Pudens and Linus and Claudia and all the brothers.

22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

Paul warns his younger protege about particularly dangerous people who may cross his path (v.14), displays staggering spiritual maturity (v.16), and shows that as he neared the end of his life he knew from where his help came (vv.17-18, cf. Psalm 121). Even with death so close, even with his surroundings so dire, Paul still has a heart for people and desperately wants to see his friend one more time (vv.20-21). 

On the last words that Paul wrote, David Guzik comments,

The last words of Paul reflect a man who simply loved Jesus and had received His grace.

This simplicity, and all the power that went with it, marked the entire ministry of Paul.

Is that something that could be said of us?

Are we people who simply love Jesus and have received His grace?

Does this mark our lives? 

Paul was held here, in the Mamertine Prison, amid bleak and dreary surroundings.

Mamertine+Prison+ancient+cell+of+Paul’s+imprisonment

Despite this, he still had a heart for others and a steadfast and sure anchor to hold on to, the eternal hope found in Jesus. The last words he wrote to Timothy, possibly ever, show us the heart of the man, and the heart to which we must strive today.

22 The Lord be with your spirit. Grace be with you.

Spiritual Depression – Men As Trees, Walking – Mark 8

22 And they came to Bethsaida. And some people brought to him a blind man and begged him to touch him. 23 And he took the blind man by the hand and led him out of the village, and when he had spit on his eyes and laid his hands on him, he asked him, “Do you see anything?” 24 And he looked up and said, “I see people, but they look like trees, walking.” 25 Then Jesus laid his hands on his eyes again; and he opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.26 And he sent him to his home, saying, “Do not even enter the village.”

D.Martin Lloyd-Jones has said multiple times so far in our mini-series that ‘it is sad and tragic that a Christian should ever be miserable‘, and he stated that some are miserable because they do not know they are justified before God purely by faith, requiring nothing but belief on their part. Today he offers up problems and remedies for two groups of people.

The first is the person who unhappy with who they are. They are unhappy with the world, themselves, themselves in the world, and often despair over the ‘hand life dealt them‘, as they may say. They have seen the problem with the world, but not the hope of believing in Jesus. They have asked no-one for help, and are not likely to.

Others see the ‘excellencies of the Christian life‘, and wholeheartedly exhort others to live the kind of life that Jesus taught on the Sermon on the Mount. They know they cannot save themselves from the consequences of sin, but have not yet fully understood justification by faith, and this tension is difficult for them. They have asked to be healed of their blindness (vv.22-23), but have not yet said that things are not all that clear right now (v.24).

Lloyd-Jones offers the remedy in simple form;

  1. Learn and understand the principles and doctrines of the matter at hand.
  2. Fully engage the heart and mind to the matter at hand.
  3. Commit your will to the matter at hand.

The teaching of the full counsel of God’s Word, properly understood, taken to heart, and allowed to influence our will, over time, will remedy both the hopeless and the tense.

Seeing ourselves for who we truly are and seeing Jesus for who He truly is, seeing what we can and can’t do and seeing what Jesus has done, and understanding the teaching of Scripture on how we are saved will take away the hopelessness from the hopeless, and will take away the tension from the tense.

If we don’t understand the teachings and the doctrines instantly, that’s ok, but find someone in your life that you trust to walk you through it all, reach out to them, and ask.

We don’t want to see a world full of trees walking around, we want to live our lives with the clarity that comes from being honest with ourselves, with the Lord, with those around us, and asking for more.

Lloyd-Jones writes this,

Do you believe that the Son of God came from heaven and lived and did all He did on earth, that He died on a cross and was buried and rose again, that He ascended into heaven and sent the Holy Spirit, in order to leave us in a state of confusion? It is impossible. He came that we might see clearly, that we might know God…

…If you are unhappy about yourself as a result [of being honest with yourself], come to Him, come to His Word, wait upon Him, plead with Him, hold on to Him, ask Him…and He will do it, and you will no longer be an uncertain Christian seeing and not seeing.