know your place

We’re halfway through our Thursday Evening Bible Class on faith and doubt. If you’re free on Thursdays from 7:30 to 8:30, come on out to the seminary for a stimulating and practical discussion about what it means to believe in God. The first four weeks have examined objective doubts—how can I know that God exists, that Jesus is his Son, and the Bible is his Word. This week we turn the page and discuss subjective doubts—what does it mean to live by faith? How can I know that I’m saved? How can I find God’s will? (or as Gary Meadors would say, I didn’t know it was lost).

Yesterday as I was driving to church I had this thought which, I’m pretty sure I covered in my faith and doubt book, Despite Doubt: Embracing a Confident Faith, but I’m not sure if I expressed it quite like this. I’d be interested in your feedback.

Here’s the thought: Is it possible that all doubt arises from, or is at least accompanied by, our forgetfulness of our place in the world? All Christian thought begins with the ontological chasm between the infinite God and his finite creation. Because we know we are God’s limited creatures, we should expect to find many things that we cannot figure out. I suspect that people who feel swamped by doubt have forgotten their finitude and, not content with their limited ability, won’t rest until they have figured-it-all-out. But this is impossible, given their creaturely place, and so they despair and say they don’t know what to believe.

Much better to remember that we are only creatures, which means there is Someone who is far above our pay grade. This should comfort us in at least two ways. First, we should rejoice that there is Someone who is stronger and more knowledgeable than us. Aren’t you relieved to know the world doesn’t depend on you? Second, we are free not to know or solve everything. We are liberated to live with unresolved questions, for they are exactly what we should expect, given our finite, creaturely status.

Bottom line: doubts can drive us to despair if we think we must prove whatever we believe. Doubts can also confirm our faith, when we use them as reminders of our place in God’s world.


6 responses to “know your place”

  1. Skeeter

    I’m an engineer, both by nature and by original career choice, and my need to figure things out is fairly intense. I had my bottom beaten over it frequently, and still my mother was driven to bring stuff home from the junkyard for me to figure out, thereby sparing the household appliances and gadgets from destruction.
    Now as a believer you might think this need would drive me to this needing an answer to everything, like the correct response to the concept of Trinity, or where the pendulum reaches a standstill between the Arminianist and the Calvinist.
    I must admit the temptation is there to figure it all out, but then my logical mind gives me an out. If the Bible is true, and God is indeed greater than us, if His ways truly are higher than our ways, then logically there should be things I can’t figure out. If I could figure everything out, then it would be a pretty small God we’d be left with. When it comes to God, go big or go home, either we have an enormous God or no God at all.
    Despite accepting this reality, that I can’t figure it all out, doubts still come. It is more that I doubt my salvation and my place in the world as an emissary of the King, more than it is a doubt that says there may be no King. I’m pretty sure, though I could be wrong, that by ‘forgetting our place’ you probably mean to elevate ourselves above God, which I believe to be the root desire in all sin.
    I can see where forgetting our place, in the opposite sense, as people unworthy to serve God, which I more frequently commit than the other, has the same effect. In essence there is a small nagging voice I frequently struggle with that asks, ‘who am I to serve God,’ that says His purposes might be best served if I hid in the corner and stayed out of the way of the true saints called by God to service. That voice is contrary to the scriptures and is not of God, and yet it causes doubt.
    Even assuming you only meant thinking more highly of ourselves than we ought, it is still a very though provoking piece that I tend to agree with. I wonder how not believing that God truly has cleansed and elevated us in Christ, as He says, would factor into your thinking. Perhaps you intended both senses of forgetting our place, if so my apologies, and if not, perhaps the negative sense could be addressed in this piece as well. I’d love to see what you come up with.

  2. How does godly curiosity or doubt that comes from lack of knowledge figure into this? There seems to be a place for asking questions, seeking answers, admitting a lack of knowledge, etc. that comes from a place of submitting to God, not elevating ourselves above God. I think of James 1:5, for example, where we are encouraged to pray for wisdom if we lack it (which I think includes seeking understanding, working through doubt, etc.) to a God who gives and who doesn’t find fault with that prayer. Yet, we also must ask “without doubt” (1:6) which I take to mean that we need to trust God will answer our prayers – that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him (Heb 11:6).
    When I was a teenager (and many times since then) I had to go through this process. My mind was filled with questions, theoretical and personal, about God, faith, Scripture, etc. I’m not sure all of these questions arose from a sinful heart, though I’m sure many of them did. As I prayed for wisdom God did, indeed, help me find answers to many of the questions that I had but, just as importantly, I learned to trust that he was good, in charge, and loving. Bottom line: I learned to TRUST him and, having learned to trust him, I was able to become content not having it all figured out.

  3. I really appreciated this post…helpful reminder of the call on all of us to be humble and patient with the things we want to know, while first seeking to be obedient to what God has clearly made known to us.

    Also, I like the new blog picture…I mean the pic of your smiling face was great too…but this one is so good I keep clicking on your blog just to look at it (although I guess some people probably did that with the last one too…)


  4. mikewittmer

    Steve: Good point. I was thinking of radical, disruptive doubt that destroys faith. It seems to me that when we come up against a daunting question that appears to be unanswerable, it will help if we remember our place in the universe, and expect many more questions where that came from. Large, intimidating doubts may then actually support faith–it’s what the Christian faith has taught us to expect–rather than give reason to dismiss faith.

    Stu, you are not alone. If I was willing to pay for premium, I’d have a picture of a Michigan victory. That costs more because it’s so rare.

  5. Elden Stielstra

    I guess doubt is normal, but that, too, is covered by the work and power of the Holy Spirit. Most of the time, we worry way too much about things that are God’s. Gordon Fee, writing in his excellent work on Paul and the Holy Spirit, says “…Paul anticipates some of the issues that he will later address, by reminding the Thessalonian believers that he is constantly praying for them, and that in his prayer he thanks God for them and their faithfulness to Christ. In the process he offers divine love and election as the foundation of their faith that prompts his thanksgiving.” (1 Thess. 1: 4-6, pg. 42) Rejoice! We are his and nothing can separate us from his loving grace. Or as Peter once said, “But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God.” Sounds sure enough for me.

  6. Marlene Frey

    Please correct “us to we” in your sentence…….. “First, we should rejoice that there is Someone who is stronger and more knowledgeable than us.” You need the subjective/nominative case because “we” is the subject of the understood clause “we (are knowledgeable). Sorry, those errors just hit and distract me.

    I am reading Despite Doubt — I don’t know how it came into my possession — maybe a free book from RBC. I am 76 and many years ago was an honest doubter, but now very solid in the Christian faith. Next month my granddaughter is marrying a man who is agnostic. I think your book might be just what would reach him. I also think that he is using agnosticism as Huxley used atheism — to co-habit w/ my granddaughter for almost 3 years. At one time he considered going into the ministry.

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