Monday, we looked at doubt. Can we ever hope to experience a deepening joy in God during recurring seasons of doubt? And your answer, Pastor John, was yes. We can experience deepening joy in God during recurring seasons of doubt. And you explained how. And in the Monday episode, one of the battles you briefly mentioned was the battle when thoughts enter our minds that make us wonder whether something the Bible teaches is really true. That’s one form of doubt that we face as believers. And today we drill down into Bible-doubt.
So, how do we fight off this inner skeptic in our Bible reading? The frank and honest question comes from a listener named Kristen. “Pastor John, I am ashamed to say that my Bible reading is often hijacked by a sense of doubt. It sometimes even feels more like a spiritual battle than an intellectual battle, and it scares me because it attacks my faith at the foundations — the truth of the Bible. Do you have any advice for attacking a spirit of doubt and cynicism when reading the Scriptures?”
Tony, I stop and I pray over every one of these questions as I try to answer them so that in the hundreds of things you could say, the Lord will help me choose the things that might be most helpful. And this one felt like I needed to pray more, because when she conceded that it’s a spiritual battle and not just an intellectual one, I felt that’s really true — and not just for her, but for all of us. The intellectual things that rise up that make the Bible seem problematic are often covering a satanic attack. The devil really hates the Bible. He hates truth. He’s a deceiver from the beginning, and he can make things look merely intellectual when in fact some pretty heavy, heavy spiritual stuff is going on.
I’ll just tell Kristen now that the answer is yes, I do have some advice, and I based every one of these six counsels on Scripture, and I’ll mention the Scripture. So, I’m praying for Kristen and lots of people who, when they read the Bible, find stumbling blocks that get in the way of their enjoyment and their belief. And one of these maybe, if not all of them, might prove from the Lord for her.
1. Pray for help.
Pray that God would help you — that he would fight your doubts and cynicism with you and for you. In other words, cry out to God, “Fight for me. Help me. Defeat these obstacles.” And we all know where that’s coming from — Mark 9:24. To the father of the child who had this epileptic fit that nobody could heal, Jesus said, “Do you want me to do anything here?” And the man said, “If you can” (Mark 9:22). And he said, “What’s this ‘if’ stuff?” And then the man cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). That’s a strange way to say it. Help your unbelief do what? Die, that’s what.
So, this means that Kristen and I need to preface our Bible reading every day with prayer. God, help me with my unbelief — that is, kill it, destroy it, get out whatever is causing it.
2. Long for a glimpse.
Seek in all your reading and praying in the Bible not just to know truth, but to see the glory of Christ. There is a spiritual light shining from Christ that is self-authenticating if you saw it. And I’m thinking here now of the doubting Thomas. I’m glad he exists and is in the Bible for Kristen and me. Remember, Thomas said, “Unless I . . . place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). And so, here, Jesus shows up and he says, “‘Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.’ Thomas answered him, ‘My Lord and my God!’” (John 20:27–28). In other words, he did not touch him. He saw him.
“Seek in all your reading and praying in the Bible not just to know truth, but to see the glory of Christ.”
Something happened when he saw him. He thought that he would need to do more. He would need more evidence for a ghost — “He’s going to be a ghost. I’m going to be tricked.” And when Jesus showed up, he didn’t need any more. He didn’t have to push it to the limit of his evidential demands. And Jesus said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). And I think that means, “Blessed are those who have not seen the way you’ve seen, but who have believed by the seeing that comes through the word.”
So, I’m saying to Kristen that when she reads, ask the Lord for this kind of not physical but spiritual discernment — a spiritual sight of Christ that is different than an argument from evidences drawn with inferences.
3. Meditate on Jesus’s kindness.
Think much about the patience and mercy of God to doubters. Peter said, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). He’s going to walk on water. And Jesus said, “Come” (Matthew 14:29). So, Peter got out of the boat, walked on the water, and came to Jesus. And then it says, “But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, ‘Lord, save me’” (Matthew 14:30). And Jesus did not say, “Tough, man. I don’t want to. What a jerk. I just told you that you could do this, and you were doing it.” No, that is not what Jesus said or did. “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, ‘O you of little faith, why did you doubt?’” (Matthew 14:31).
So, meditate on the kindness and the patience of Jesus to doubters. Peter is doubting, and Jesus reaches out his hand. Maybe that’s what Kristen would feel as she reads this — he is reaching out his hand to me in my doubt.
4. Seek out the strong.
Seek out people of strong faith to read outside the Bible and to be around in person, and make them your heroes. “Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith. Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:7–8). So, he explicitly wants us to look to people who are ahead of us in this battle of faith, and take heart from looking at the outcome of their faith. And here’s another one in Hebrews. Hebrews seems to be really big on this communal nature of fighting the fight of faith.
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving [you could say doubting] heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. (Hebrews 3:12–13)
In other words, we need to be in groups where people fight with us and help us and direct us to things that will give strength to our faith rather than weaken it.
5. Know your need of others.
Remember that the body has many members, and some are scholars who have thought long and hard about things that puzzle you, and have solved many of them. “The eye cannot say to the hand, ‘I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, ‘I have no need of you’” (1 Corinthians 12:21). And vice versa. And it may be that, sometimes, those of us who are doing footwork at any given time might need to remember, “Hey, there are some heads.” (And don’t let this conflict with Jesus as the head.)
That’s what he says here in 1 Corinthians 12:21 — some are heads, and some are feet. And the feet should never say, “I don’t need you, head,” when the head has spent ten years solving the problem that you’re just stumbling over. No, no, no. The point of the body of Christ is that there’s an answer to our problems. God is a God of coherence; he’s not a God of contradiction. There are answers to the issues in the Bible and the issues of culture. And people have gone before us. And there’s a wealth of wisdom in books, and we should befriend those people.
Finally, don’t stop reading your Bible because of these doubts and because of a spirit of cynicism. One of Satan’s main aims in your doubt and your cynicism is to get you to stop reading, when, in fact, the Bible says, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). And one last text:
Blessed is the man
who walks not in the counsel of the wicked,
nor stands in the way of sinners,
nor sits in the seat of scoffers;
but his delight is in the law of the Lord,
and on his law he meditates day and night.
He is like a tree
planted by streams of water
that yields its fruit in its season,
and its leaf does not wither.
In all that he does, he prospers. (Psalm 1:1–3)
So, the seasons come, the dry desert winds blow, and those whose roots are not planted by the streams wither by cynicism and doubt. But the person whose roots have gone down, meditating day and night on the word of God, is like a tree that has roots way down by the water, so that they’re not killed by the droughts of doubt.