“Doubt is to unbelief what temptation is to sin. A test, but not yet a surrender.”Indeed in the book of James the issues of temptation, trials, doubt and sin are all interlinked, and, in his eyes trials, temptations and doubts can be used to hone faith.
In Psalm 73 the situation that has produced the seeds of doubt is the prosperity of the wicked and unscrupulous (vv2-12), a phenomenon that continues to the present day.
Again the Psalmist is honest about his motivations in this, he doesn’t dress it up as concern for social justice – it is self-interest pure and simple. Evildoers seem to be doing well, while he, who is perhaps an ordained servant of God, Asaph the temple choirmaster, is facing problem after problem (vv13-14). And that is often the way, we can witness all sorts of injustices and cruelties in this world on the news with only a fleeting sense of the unfairness of it all, but when they come to our own doorsteps, then we cry “Why me?” It would have been very easy for me and my family to fall into that same self-pitying mode in the wake of recent events... Even if his motivations are selfish, the dilemma is a real one. Why do the (comparatively) innocent suffer while the (relatively) wicked seem to get away with murder… sometimes literally.
The answer to this question will not be found by looking around us but by looking up. Again, Roy Clements points to an experience that John Wesley writes about in his journal, where he was once walking with a friend who was afflicted by doubts about God’s goodness and didn’t know what to do with them. Wesley pointed to a cow looking over a stone wall beside the road they were walking on and asked “Why do you think that cow is looking over the wall?” “Well I suppose because she can’t see through it,” his friend said. “Precisely,” said Wesley “you can’t see through your doubts, you must try looking over them.”
From this psalm it seems as if the psalmist took himself into the Temple and while reflecting there he gained some insight into his doubts and the issues that lay behind them:
1) He Gained a Renewed Perspective on Human Destiny: Not only the judgement awaiting the wicked, but the eternal rewards for the righteous.
2) He Gained a Renewed Perspective on Himself: He saw the selfishness of his motivations and his arrogance in his attitude to God and his purposes.
3) He Gained a Renewed Perspective on What is Really Important: Jim Elliot the missionary martyr to the Auca Indians famously said:
"He is no fool who gives what he cannot keep to gain that which he cannot lose."(although he was probably paraphrasing the 17th century non-conformist preacher Philip Henry who said "He is no fool who parts with that which he cannot keep, when he is sure to be recompensed with that which he cannot lose")
We must be honest about our doubts… In the end the answer to doubt is not to suppress them or deny them (as many Christians do – as with many of these other human emotions that we have been looking at in this series…) but to be honest about them – with ourselves and with God…
On the practical side, following the example of the Psalmist in spending time in a sanctuary, a place of retreat or a "thin space", may help us gain the perspective that we need.
We may not get the answers to our questions this side of the grave – but then that is why we talk about faith…
No doubt about it – God is good to his people;
Good things come to good hearted people.
But in my case, I nearly slipped and tripped;
I nearly stepped off the edge of God’s good path.
For I envied the proud and powerful
when I saw how the wicked prosper in this world.
They seems to have no cares or concerns;
Beautiful people with beautiful things.
Healthy and wealthy
And free of worldly worries.
Not a burden they bear, not a sorrow they share,
Yet they don’t trust God or obey him.
They wear their self-sufficiency like jewellery.
They are clothed with the products of oppression and violence.
Their hard hearts pump ice-cold blood around their bodies;
they use their minds to conceive splendid selfish schemes.
They sneer and scoff and slander,
They boast and bully with their words.
They claim to be heaven’s mouthpieces,
whilst doing great deals to bring them earthly advantage.
And the people love it –
they lap up their poison like it’s cool, clear water.
That’s what the wicked are like – a big black hole;
Sucking others in and accumulating wealth.
They think, "What does God know?
How can he see what I am doing from high up in heaven?"
Have I been a fool to play by God’s rules?
I’ve kept my hands clean but what has it got me?
Each and every day something goes wrong;
New every morning are the frustrations I face.
Should I have given in and started to think and speak like this?
No, because then I would have let down you and your people.
When I tried to figure this out it left me frustrated and confused
till I entered your space, O God and gained a sense of perspective.
Then I understood the end game
And saw that they were on the road to ruin.
One minute speeding along in chauffeur driven luxury
The next, disaster – death in a ditch.
This world and its wealth is only a fleeting dream
We await the real deal.
When I felt beaten down and embittered, I was eaten up by envy;
I was arrogant and ignorant before you.
A mere creature telling the creator how it is:
An amoeba under your microscopic gaze.
Yet you are always there for me;
you take me by the hand and lead me on.
Your word and wisdom guides me on my walk,
and one day you will lead me to my glorious destination.
What more could I hope for in heaven but you?
What can earth offer to compare.
My heart will stop beating and my muscles will melt away,
But God is the real rhythm of my life, my never failing strength.
Those who distance themselves from you are heading for destruction;
Those who desert you will not endure.
But as for me - it is good to know God’s presence with me
The eternal I AM, the ruler of the Universe is my home.
I will tell the world what you have done
I will make known that you alone are God