Today, I want to tackle something that at times is a bit controversial…doubt.
Because, here is the truth – all Christians, at times, face doubt. Doubt is often the crucible through which faith grows. Doubt doesn’t mean you don’t have faith; doubt means you are working out your faith. But, we need to be honest with this so that when we are in those places, we can actually have honest conversations with one another; that we can actually support and love one another; that doubt doesn’t have to have the last word, rather doubt can be the catalyst for conversations that lead to deeper and truer trust.
C.S. Lewis is a name many of you might be familiar with. Someone you might not be as familiar with is George MacDonald whom Lewis said was a tremendous influence and the catalyst for some of his writings. MacDonald writes this,
“Do you love your faith so little that you have never battled a single fear lest your faith should not be true? Where there are no doubts, no questions, no perplexities, there can be no growth.”
And I think that MacDonald is onto something – that when faith stops struggling, it often stops growing.
So, I write all this to remind us of one simple truth – it’s okay to have doubts and struggles; that’s part of the journey of faith. But, what isn’t really okay, healthy or helpful is to just try to deal with those doubts on your own. The Christian faith isn’t individual and isolated; it’s about community and journeying together. So today, if you have struggles, why not share them with a trusted friend? Why not have coffee and work through some of your doubts or difficulties? Because, when we bring them forward, sometimes that’s when we actually find the way forward.
We actually see this frequently in the Bible – people wrestling with their faith. We see this all the time in the Psalms as people cry out to God and wrestle with difficulty. We see this all the time in the lives of the saints who have gone before us.
So, don’t be surprised if you find it in your life too. Just don’t try to go it alone. Because others have been there along the way, others can help you find your way, and it’s in wrestling through things together that we all come to deeper faith, which is the point.
On Sunday we discussed one of the last sayings of Jesus, where he cries out in a loud voice:
“My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?”
And this is a verse with a lot of tensions and complexities. Many scholars don’t like the idea of the Father abandoning the Son. This also raises consternation and concern about the Father’s character for me too. So scholars offer two solutions. One, that Jesus isn’t actually being abandoned by God, he is just feeling like he is. But that just seems like semantics to me, and goes against what seems obvious: that Jesus is experiencing being abandoned by God, because he is being abandoned by God.
Other scholars point out that Jesus is quoting Psalm 22 (which he is). And taking the Psalm as a whole, it ends with vindication. That the suffering victim is eventually vindicated, justified, and that God overcomes the wrongful suffering. So they say Jesus is actually saying that he will trust in God to overcome this wrong. They (rightly) point out that speaking on a cross is incredibly painful and difficult. So Jesus couldn’t have quoted the whole Psalm (I agree), so he quotes one verse to bring the whole Psalm into view.
Again though I just think this goes against the plain reading. If Jesus could only quote one verse because of pain, and wanted to talk about God vindicating him, he could have quoted the last verses of Psalm 22. But he doesn’t, he quotes a verse about being abandoned.
So even though I might not like the idea of the Father abandoning or forsaking his Son, I think we are left with the plain reading of Scripture.
But there is one obvious fact that needs to be stated, that actually changes the whole perspective of this verse. It is stated from Jesus’ perspective. We don’t hear the Father’s perspective. So Jesus is being forsaken by the Father, and then we assume, that the Father is above pouring out wrath on Jesus in an emotionless dispassionate state.
People struggle with this verse because it makes it seem like Jesus is nice, whereas, the Father is stern, uncaring, judge, who abandons his son when he needs it most. But this is all based on an assumption, that the Father is unmoved by what his Son is going through. And this assumption is wrong, and what I not only challenged but worked through in more detail (download the sermon for more).
Jurgen Moltmann writes,
“In forsaking the Son, the Father also surrenders himself, though not in the same way. For Jesus suffers dying in forsakenness, but not death itself; for men can no longer suffer death, because suffering presupposes life. But the Father who abandons him and delivers him up suffers the death of the Son in the infinite grief of love…The son suffers dying, the Father suffers the death of the Son”.
And here is his key thought: “The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son.”
And this is what we need to get, that the Father and Son are both affected and separated because of our sin. It isn’t a singular choice on the Father’s side to abandon his son. It is a choice within the Trinity to experience the separation of sin so that we could be welcomed into fellowship with God. The Father doesn’t kill his Son, to forgive us. The Father experiences an abyss of separation from his beloved Son, so that we could become incorporated into the family of God. Sin ruptures, that’s what it does. And it does this at the heart of the Trinity. So yes, Jesus experienced being forsaken by the Father, and the Father experienced the death of the Son.
This led us to some simple but personal conclusions.
First, that we need to be in reverent thanks of what the Father, Son, and Spirit went through to include us in their life. The Son died, so we could live. And this affected all the Trinity, and for that we need to be grateful. We need to be reverently worshipful of the depth of what God went through for each and everyone of us.
Second, we talked about that sin is serious. That sin brought separation to the heart of God, and we need to own that. We did that. We killed the Son (read the Book of Acts). We need to recognize the seriousness of sin, and confess, repent, and rid ourselves of sin. If sin did this to God, we need to work at ridding ourselves of it.
So we ended with a challenge, to sit in thanks to God, and repent for sin. When we see the depth of what God went through, I think that is the right response: reverence and repentance.
Martin Luther said, “God forsaking God, who can understand it?” I know for sure we don’t all understand it because of one sermon (I certainly don’t), but I hope we got a little closer and most of all, a little more reverent and repentant.
Big Idea: Jesus was abandoned by the Father for us; and the Father experienced the abandonment of the Son for us.
Challenge for Lent: 1) Pray Weekly Prayers of Repentance, 2) Pray Daily Corporate Prayers 2 Chronicles 7:14, 3) Fast Something for Lent
“God forsaking God. Who can understand it?” – Martin Luther
Jesus’ death is a moment of cosmic significance, and the cosmos recognize it by darkening
This passage is not about us, but what Jesus is experiencing.
We need to be honest with text – Jesus is being forsaken
Jesus is stating what is true from his perspective
Just as Jesus was forsaken, so too was the Father forsaken from the Son
If our sin separates Jesus from the Father; it separates the Father from the Son.
The grief of the Father here is just as important as the death of the Son. Moltmann
We cannot understand the depth of our sin, unless we understand that both Jesus and the Father are suffering in this moment on the cross.
The Son is losing the Father, but the Father is losing the Son.
Our sin doesn’t just affect Jesus, but affects God as a whole.
We should have holy and reverent awe for God.
We should repent and cast off sin.
Adult Discussion Questions:
What stuck out to you from the sermon? What was challenging to you? How did God speak to you through it? What was new? Have you practiced Lent before? What can you fast or give up this year? Had you ever struggled with the idea of the Father forsaking the Son before? Had you ever thought of what the Father went through when Jesus died? What do you think it was like for him? How does it make you appreciate God? How does it change or deepen how you see sin?
Discussion Questions for Young Families
Read the story today with your kids. Talk to them about the verse we read, about how Jesus was separated from his Dad because of our sin. About how hard it was, but that he did that for us. So that we can be loved, and welcomed in. Give them a chance to confess anything to Jesus in thankfulness for what he did.
Challenge for the Week: To sit and contemplate what Jesus went through, confess any sin, and reverently worship him this week
On Sunday we are tackling one of the most difficult texts in the Bible actually. It’s a familiar one so sometimes we don’t push back against it very much. But when you start to think about it – it raises tons of questions.
The text is this, where Jesus cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
And that’s the question we want to really pursue. Why? Why? Why would the Father abandon his only Son? Why would the Father who is demonstrated and revealed by Jesus to be full of grace and forgiveness – abandon his Son when he needed him the most?
And don’t just give the easy answer of – “well he did this for our sin. “
Years ago when I was a youth pastor, one of my Jr. High’s pointed out, “sometimes the problems’ with the easy answers.” I had just told him that exact answer, and in clarity he raised a new tension for me with this verse.
He said this:
“Well Andrew, when I forgive my sister I don’t have to kill my cat, or abandon my dog. Why does God kill his son, and abandon him. Why doesn’t he just forgive?”
And that gets to the heart of the tension with this text – why God? Why are you doing this? What is going on? WHY?
And we’re in good company raising our voices, shouting, and screaming “why would you do this God”? Because Jesus does the same thing.
So we are going to try to walk through some of this, examine it, and hope to find some answers. It will be tough, as Martin Luther the great reformer said, “God forsaking God, who can understand it?”
This Sunday we are looking at the topic of faith. And we want to peel back some of the misconceptions about faith. Because the most common answer to “What is faith” is: belief.
But I don’t think that answer is helpful, healthy, or even all that biblical.
Because if faith is belief – what happens to it when you doubt?
Because if faith is belief – what happens if you believe the wrong things, or have been taught the wrong things?
Because if faith is belief – does it matter how you act as long as you believe?
These are some of the difficulties with “faith as belief”
So that’s what we want to explore and clear up on Sunday, by looking at Hebrews 11. Hebrews 11 is the classic chapter on faith, but it presents a different view of faith that differs from “faith as belief”
So that’s where we are going, but before we get there why not read Hebrews 11 yourself. It’s a great chapter, and it’s one that not only is about faith, but asks us to put our faith into practice. Which as it will turn out, is what faith is all about.
I’m tired. And when I’m tired I get tempted, by probably the biggest temptation I face on a daily basis.
I get tempted to forget that God is good.
When I get tired, when I get busy, when I’m in the nitty gritty of life and ministry there is a temptation to forget that God is good. To forget that God is faithful. To forget that God will come through.
When we get busy, tired, or in a dark or difficult place the temptation is to start to believe our doubts, or even to just let the doubts linger too long. That things won’t get better, that things won’t work out, that this time we fail beyond recovery, that this time we won’t find a way out. We start to forget that God is faithful, good, and full of grace. We forget that God is with us. We forget that God will never leave us. We forget that even when we feel tired, worn out, and unsure – God is steady, strong, and there for us.
But we need to remember and rest in the truth of the gospel: that God is good. That God is true. That God is here for us. We must fight the temptation to disbelieve and doubt in the goodness of God. No matter how our lives seem to conspire sometimes to cloud the fact that God is good, we need to continually come back to this fact.
And this isn’t about just positive thinking, it’s about resting in reality. And reality, as the Bible shapes it is this: God is good, God is faithful, and God is there.
So no matter where you are today know this God is good. And he never ever lets go. And that hopefully should give us enough to keep going today.
God there is much before me, and much unknown. But you are also before me, help me to find you, and find your way.
Today is my first day without my friend and co-pastor Dave here at the church. He’s been called up north to continue his really wonderful relational ministry there. That leaves a large hole, or many different holes here to fill.
So as I was praying this morning and looking forward I realized that there is a lot of unknowns before not only me but also the church right now. What if we don’t find the right person? What if I make mistakes as I lead? What if in the transition I unintentionally hurt someone or miss something? There are a lot of “what if’s” whenever things change.
But as I prayed I realized something – even though a lot is unknown, there are a lot of potential pitfalls, and mistakes will surely be made (we are all human after all). One thing is sure. God is also before us. God is also leading us. God is also with us.
So even amidst change, transition, and uncertainty – I don’t believe we need to be fearful. Instead I think our call is simply to remain faithful. Faithful to God, and faithful to one another.
Because I really believe one thing is certain ~ God is before us. And if we look for him we will find him, and find his way for us.
So whatever today you might be facing, whatever uncertainty wonderings, or difficult futures I think the point is the same for you. God is before you, search and find him, follow him and he will get you through. The way may not be clear now, but the calling is: finding God and following God.
So may you do that this morning, and maybe even pray my morning prayer with me:
God there is much before me, and much unknown. But you are also before me, help me to find you, and find your way.
Today is Good Friday. A day that is only good in hindsight, and even then it’s obscured through darkness, pain and difficulty.
Today is the day that Jesus entered fully into our darkness to provide a way out. It’s today that when we look upon Jesus and his sacrifice we realize how unable we are to make our lives work as we would want. We see our struggle for coherence, meaning, and power. We see in Jesus’ naked body nailed to the cross our own betrayals of friends and family. We see how our desire to create empires of meaning and worth are empty, and filled with dust and dirt. We ask ourselves “what have we become”? We look at our lives in light of the sacrifice of Jesus, and we are moved to silence. We see God die and ask ourselves why, and when does the darkness break? But the darkness won’t break for another three days.
For three days doubt, darkness and death reign.
So today is not an easy day. Today is not a good day. Today is though a necessary day.
Today, like on a day many years ago Jesus’ body was broken, like bread, so that we might be made whole. Jesus poured his life out, like wine, as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus gave up his life so that we might find it.
This is the message of today: life, breath, blood and brokenness all mix together so that in the end death might be beaten. But on this day we remember that before death was beaten, it seemed as if it had won. Before darkness lost its final battle, the light of the world was lost. So today we remember that before light and love burst forth…they went through death and darkness…
On Sunday we talked about doubt and how it’s a part of our lives, and a part of faith. We talked about how you get through it by acknowledging it, naming it, and bringing God into it. We first must acknowledge we are having doubt. We then need to radically and in a raw fashion, name the doubt and struggle. And lastly, we need to bring God into it, and bring to God our doubt. This is how the Psalmist in Psalm 23, Jesus, and Mother Teresa all deal with their difficulties. And I believe that’s the path for us as well.
I also wanted to just list some of the quotes that I mentioned here for some further reflection for you. At the bottom I’ve also included some of the books that have helped me to understand this important topic. I hope it’s helpful!
“We do not trust God because he guides us; we trust and then are guided, which means that we can trust God even when we do not seem guided by him. Faith may be in the dark about guidance, but it is never in the dark about God”
“If faith does not resolve doubt, doubt will dissolve faith”
Father Neuner (Mother Teresa’s Confessor)
“The sure sign of God’s hidden presence in this darkness is the thirst for God, the craving for a least a ray of his light. No one can long for God unless God is present in his/her heart”
“I think there is no suffering greater than what is caused by the doubts of those who want to believe. I know what torment this is, but I can only see it, in myself anyway, as the process by which faith is deepened. What people don’t realize is how much religion costs. They think faith is a big electric blanket, when, of course, it is the cross”
Books that Were Helpful to Me:
Come Be My Light – Mother Theresa
Dark Night of the Soul – St. John of the Cross
God in the Dark – Os Guinness
Lastly, what has been helpful for you in getting through doubt? Was it a friend, book, song, movie, or something else? Leave a comment and let us know what’s impacted and helped you to deal with doubt…
I have. I have doubted in God, his faithfulness, and his plan for my life. I’ve doubted whether it will come to pass and whether it’s good.
The truth is that doubt is a part of our lives more than we’d like to admit. We go through dark times, struggle, question, and wonder where God is. On Sunday that’s what we’re looking at: how to deal with the darkness of doubt. Because if you notice doubt is part of the Bible. Half of the Psalms are Laments expressing doubt and longing towards God. Job is a book that centres on doubt and questioning. Peter doubts. Thomas doubts. David struggles and wonders where God is. And even Jesus himself struggles in anguish asking God “Why have you forsaken me?” and “Is there another way?”
So doubt is a part of life and it is also a part of faith. On Sunday I want to look at how doubt can actually be a process through which your trust in God can be deepened. But before we get there I want to ask two questions. What do you do when you experience doubt in your life? How do you actually deal with it? And secondly, what has caused the deepest doubt in your life? My guess is that you’ve gone through doubt and dealt with it one way or another. So what causes you to doubt, and when that happens, how do you deal with it?
These are important questions to think about because whether or not you are currently in a crisis of faith, doubt can sneak up on us. So it is worth discovering how to deal with something that, while it can threaten our faith, it can equally deepen it as well…