Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Do You Believe that Jesus Will Save You? Doubt as the Means through which We Must Be Saved

I don't know if you've ever seen a submarine movie. There are quite a few of them. My wife won't watch a single one. She gets claustrophobic just watching. But I always thought the scenes where a torpedo is shot and the sailor continually marks its distance until it finally hits the sub to be interesting. Imagine sitting there, nowhere to go, no way to maneuver out of the way, just waiting to die as you hear someone counting down your impending doom. What would you think about in those moments? Would you say a prayer? Why? Why does a sense of doom call us back to God? We'll get back to that question.

Doubt comes to us in different ways. For some, they are unsure of whether their interpretations are correct. For others, they wonder if Christianity is true, or the only way of salvation (which is essentially doubting whether it's true, since it is exclusive by virtue of its claims). For others, they often wonder if God really does exist. Although I often briefly entertain these questions, these are not major areas of doubt for me. I have come to a place where interpretation is more sure, Christianity can be the only possible way of salvation, and that it is absurd to deny the existence of God. I would, in fact, have to commit intellectual suicide and be dishonest to go about seriously doubting these things. So I believe they are true, and see the world, I believe, correctly through them.

In fact, I often have little respect for those who doubt the existence of God or Christianity as the truth, because I often see in them a cowardly attempt to displace the problem with the truth itself rather than with their own sense of damnation. If an interpretation is off, it's God's lack of clarity in communication. If I'm unsure of Christian claims, it's a flaw in Christianity. If I do not believe God exists, it's because He hasn't provided enough evidence for Himself. These are all a coward's way out, precisely, because none of these are the real reason why most people doubt. They doubt because the feel like they're not saved, and that snowballs into further unbelief, but they don't want to admit that they are damned, for who wants to do that, so they point the finger at the truth and attack its validity instead. This gives them reprieve from the war within. They can feel better about themselves by pushing the truth into obscurity.

This brings me to the area of doubt that plagues me more than any other: That my interpretations are correct, that Christianity is true, that God exists, that He has saved His people, but that I am not one of them. In other words, I have absolutely no doubt that Jesus saves. Where doubt comes to visit me, however, is in the area of whether He will save me. But this is the very issue at hand. If I believe all the truth, but do not believe that I am saved by it, then what good is the truth to me other than existing as a doomsday cry, marking the distance of the torpedo as it approaches? I become a dead man walking. Faith becomes a chain around my neck, making me aware of my end with every step. The truth just becomes a great source of sorrow rather than joy, and this is why most people, who cannot stomach it any longer, point their finger at the truth. It gives them relief from the doubt. But it does so as a quick fix that will inevitably lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy that secures their damnation. For those who don't look for the easy out, however, there is more than just a little hope.

You see, these times of doubt, these "dark nights of the soul," exist as trials to show us whether we truly believe, and whether we are truly in submission to Christ and His truth, or whether we only believe for insurance purposes. One not truly committed to the truth of Christ will soon reject it if he feels he gains nothing from it, especially, if he feels condemned himself by it. It's easy to condemn the wicked, but seeing oneself as the wicked condemned is something only the true believer of the truth can maintain.

I mention this, because I see a lot of cowardly doubt being passed on as some noble enterprise, where real Christians doubt the truth. No, real Christians doubt themselves. They doubt that the truth is for them, yet they continue to trust in that truth. In fact, this is the type of doubt one sees throughout the Bible. Biblical authors don't ever doubt the existence of God. That's something fools do. They don't doubt that the Word of God is true. They have come to know that it is. Their doubt surrounds one recurring issue alone: "Why is God not saving me?" Does He not care for me? Has He abandoned me because of my sin? Why does He prosper others but leaves me in destitution and depression? Why are others filled with joy, even those that do not trust in His Word, but those who do are filled with pain and sorrow? Why have you turned away your face from me?

The area of doubt in the Bible is not whether God can save and whether His Word is true, but whether God will save me by applying those truths, those promises of salvation to me. It's like standing at the edge of another body of water as your enemies pursue you to the edge and watching God from a distance open up the Reed Sea for Israel to safely pass while your enemies plunge the dagger into your back. That's the feeling of personal doubt as opposed to our tendency to seek out holes in the truth because subconsciously we just don't want to feel this way. But, as with all things, cowards lose out. It reminds me of the passage in Revelation that says that all sorts of sinners will be in the lake of fire, including the cowardly. They take the easy road.

But the difficult road is staying in the truth and trusting that since God can save you, you will seek His face all the more. I am struck by this passage in the Gospel of Matthew:

As Jesus went on from there, two blind men followed Him, crying out, "Have mercy on us, Son of David!"  When He entered the house, the blind men came up to Him, and Jesus said to them, "Do you  believe  that I am able to do this?" They said to Him, "Yes, Lord." Then He touched their eyes, saying, "It shall be done to you according to your faith." And their eyes were opened. (9:27-30a)

Notice this. The blind men believe that He is the Messiah, the Son of David. They are hailing Him as the King. They believe that He has the ability to deliver them from their oppressive ailment, so they come. But Jesus asks them if they believe He can do this anyway? Why? Because He's not asking whether they believe He can heal people in general. He's asking whether they believe He is able to heal them. Hence, when they say, yes, He responds by saying, "It shall be done to you according to your faith." In other words, true faith does not simply believe that God can save, but that God will save you if you only trust in Him.

This reminds me of another instance when a demon-possessed boy is brought to Christ by his father, and the father says to the Lord, "if you can do anything, take pity on us." Christ responds by saying, "If you can? All things are possible to him who believes" (Mark 9:22-23). Notice again, all things are possible "to/for him who believes." Faith is about what God can do for the one who has it. Faith is about you, not about a million other people. Faith believes for oneself. Faith trusts that God can and will save you according to what He has promised.

Likewise, all of those biblical authors who express their doubt that God is saving them turn and acknowledge that they will continue to trust and hope in Him, knowing that although it seems as though God is not saving them, such is an illusion if they have truly put their lives in His hands. Hence, they know that God will not just save others, but He will save them as well.

Those who are cowardly, those who give up the fight against the temptation of the dark night of the soul to relieve oneself by poking holes in the truth (and God has provided numerous opportunities for those who disbelieve to poke holes in it), never make it to the other side of that darkness. They stay there. Morning never dawns. Joy never replaces pain. Such comes to those who believe. Those who remain in doubt of the truth receive nothing. Those who humble themselves and trust that God, who never lies, can and will save them personally, as He has promised to those who believe, will be exalted in the joy of their salvation.

This is where faith must bring us: on a sure ground of our own salvation. Doubt comes to us because it seeks to test our claims of belief, but when the night comes, we know and trust in God that we will see morning, having now come to understand that God is not merely the Savior of mankind, but the Savior of us as well.

So I don't "feel" saved all of the time, but I don't have a lot doubts about the truth in general, and frankly, this is why I probably don't hold a lot of patience with those who continually express doubt about the truth over faith. To me, the truth in general is too evident to doubt. But to doubt my own salvation is easy, as God has not promised to save everyone, and I often feel I am the least of these. But that's the true moment of faith in crisis. That's the moment that calls us to seek God all the more. And, in fact, it may be that God is saving us through that very doubt, for those who are damned do not often feel damned, but saved. So those who are saved do not often feel saved, but damned. Those who feel they are saved walk further from God, and those who feel damned seek Him out in every place to reconcile with Him and restore the relationship they sense has been lost or never gained.

This is why I always tell people that two things exist in you if you doubt in this manner: sin and salvation. You have both, as only those who are saved will let their sin and sense of separation from God weigh heavily upon them, and yet, remain exalting God in their affirmation of His Word and His salvific works displayed therein. God is true though every man is a liar, and it is this humility that leads us to the cross again and again. It is the feeling that we do not deserve it that brings us to tears when the dawn breaks and we begin to realize that He has not just saved others, but has in fact saved us personally as well.

Ironically, when we look to ourselves, we see only condemnation and despair, but if we believe, we begin to look up, away from ourselves, to Him, and we then see only salvation and joy. And we then realize that we are in fact saved and that this doubt was a part of that very salvation, without which we would have strayed out too far. Hence, Paul tells us to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and encourages us to test ourselves to see if we are truly in the faith.

Ironically, the only submarine movie I remember a sailor counting out the distance was in the "Hunt for Red October," and it was in that counting that they were all saved from the torpedo. So feel free to doubt, but doubt yourself, and after you have lamented and feared the absence of God in your life, lift your eyes up to the hills from whence your salvation comes and bind yourself forever in gratitude to the one who brings it to you.

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 
 "Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. (Matt 5:3-4)

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