by Al Maxey

Issue #375 ------- November 21, 2008
Doubt is the vestibule through
which all must pass before they can
enter into the temple of wisdom.

C. C. Colton {1780-1832}

When Disciples Doubt
Weathering the Winds and Waves
of Storms of Spiritual Uncertainty

Alfred, Lord Tennyson (1809-1892) made the following very astute observation: "There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds." Creeds that have been fabricated by men quite often result in little more than repetitious recitation and rigid application devoid of reflection. Although they may have been intended to clarify theological thought, too frequently they simply result in the termination of it. Once a theological position has been "officially" pronounced, many of those who embrace it perceive no need to ever again revisit that creed spiritually and intellectually. It has been carefully carved in stone and stands inviolate, inflexible and immovable. Indeed, to challenge, question or doubt such creeds in any way may well be perceived by the party powers as heresy. And yet, were it not for such "heretics," one has to wonder where we would be today with respect to the advance of God's kingdom on earth and our understanding of His divine design for our lives. Were it not for those few who dared to doubt, and who sought to scrutinize their church confessions in light of Scripture, how paltry our professions of faith would be today. As C. C. Colton (1780-1832) so insightfully observed, one rarely enters the temple of wisdom save through the vestibule of the personal doubts of honest, seeking minds.

Doubt can indeed have a positive effect when properly channeled, but it frequently has a negative affect upon those experiencing it who fail to perceive its ultimate potential for good. Doubt is rarely viewed by mankind as being productive, but rather counter-productive. This is unfortunate, as such a perception tends to stymie and stifle that quest for Truth that follows in the wake of legitimate concern over long-cherished creeds and convictions. Even uncertainties of one's faith with respect to eternal Truth may, if properly worked through, result in a firmer faith and strengthened convictions, and may indeed result in a distinguishing between divine Truth and human Tradition. Too frequently in Christendom (and especially in the more ultra-conservative factions therein) we have confused the latter with the former, and The Faith that has been delivered unto the saints [Jude 3] has suffered for it.

It's part of the human condition that during times of great emotional, physical and spiritual stress, when we may feel overwhelmed by our circumstances, doubts may easily surface in our hearts and minds. Such was the case in a psalm of Asaph, who pondered, "Will the Lord reject forever? Will God never show His favor again? Has His unfailing love vanished forever? Has His promise failed for all time? Has God forgotten to be merciful? Has He in anger withheld His compassion?" [Psalm 77:7-9]. Such dark thoughts have most likely swept over many of us at troubling times during our lives, and these can indeed be quite challenging to our faith. If we succumb to such doubts, the result can be catastrophic on almost every level of our lives. However, if we work through these challenges, the outcome is most often a spiritually stronger disciple of Christ, one whose convictions, having withstood the storms of doubt, are now much more certain.

As Job contemplated his fate, he began to wonder if this present life is the fullness of our existence, or if perhaps there just might be more. "If a man dies, will he live again?" [Job 14:14]. That's the question many ask. Job wasn't sure. He had doubts. "Man dies and lies prostrate. Man expires, and where is he?" [vs. 10]. He was uncertain, and the afflictions he was experiencing were not helping to clarify or confirm a hope of far greater blessings to come. This poor man wanted answers, and, at that point in his spiritual journey, those answers weren't coming. I would remind the reader also of John the Baptist, who, at the beginning of the ministry of Jesus, said of our Lord, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world" [John 1:29]. But, some time later this good man is languishing in a prison cell, and doubts begin to creep in. He sent word to Jesus, through some of his disciples, "Are You the Coming One, or shall we look for someone else?!" [Matt. 11:3]. "Not only may the Baptist have become demoralized, like his namesake Elijah, but the Baptist ... was having second thoughts" [The Expositor's Bible Commentary, vol. 8, p. 262]. Even some of our Lord's apostles, just before the ascension, "when they saw Him, they worshipped Him; but some were doubtful" [Matt. 28:17]. And yet, in spite of their doubts, Jesus gave them the Great Commission [vs. 18-20], and they fulfilled their ministries with great bravery and devotion ... even Thomas, who had earlier declared his doubts as to the truth of our Lord's resurrection, but who was convinced when he beheld the physical evidence [John 20:24-28].

How can we not think of Simon Peter at this point in our study?! Beloved, bold, impetuous Peter. And yet, even this great disciple of our Lord at times struggled with doubt. On one occasion the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water toward them. Peter wanted to come out of the boat and walk on the water too. And he actually did for a while. "But when he saw the strength of the wind, he was afraid. And beginning to sink he cried, 'Lord, save me!' Immediately Jesus reached out His hand, caught hold of him, and said to him, 'You of little faith, why did you doubt?'" [Matt. 14:30-31]. Jesus declares unto us all that "if you have faith, and do not doubt" [Matt. 21:21], then we can accomplish great things in our service to Him. However, doubts can be extremely debilitating, and the "Word become flesh" is more than aware that such seasons of uncertainty can and will plague us from time to time. Therefore, we must resist the devolution from doubt to despair (and ultimately defeat), and instead embrace that blessed evolution from the depths of doubt to an even greater faith! I discuss this spiritual process of evolving in some depth in Reflections #250 -- Help Thou Mine Unbelief: Evolution from Doubt to Faith. For a fuller treatment of this aspect of the study, I would refer the reader to this article.

St. Francis of Assisi (1181-1226), in his well-beloved prayer, said, in part, "Lord, make me an instrument of Your peace!! Where there is hatred, let me sow love; where there is injury, pardon; where there is doubt, faith; where there is despair, hope; where there is darkness, light; where there is sadness, joy." This devoted servant of the Lord knew that in the world about him there was tremendous despair, darkness and doubt. He merely hoped and prayed for the opportunity to sow hope, light and faith in their place ... as should each of us. Brethren, if we are each honest with ourselves, we will be forced to admit that there have been moments of uncertainty and seasons of doubt in our own lives. This is not unusual; indeed, it would be unusual if we did not on occasion experience such times of concerned challenging of our cherished convictions. Blind, unquestioning acceptance, quite frankly, is not a good thing, and Jesus warns that when the blind follow the blind the outcome is not generally favorable. In point of fact, great faith is the result of great struggle with great Truths! Or, we might say -- Disciples who will not think, have a faith that is doomed to shrink. When we think, we question ... and questions are most often generated by doubt. This need not be a negative cognitive exercise, however; indeed, just the opposite. And yet, as these doubts are processed and resolved, this can indeed be most discomfiting and disquieting for some. It is during such times of spiritual discovery that we are most vulnerable to the devolution of doubt into despair and ultimately defeat. This is especially true when compounded with physical and emotional struggles.

Let me give you an actual example. I recently received a fairly lengthy, and touching, email from a dear brother in the Midwest who is experiencing some doubts. He wrote, in part, "Dear Brother, At the age of 75, and with some health problems, and having lost a dear wife of 53 years, I sometimes wonder if there really is eternal life in some place called Heaven. I want it to be so, and I think I believe in it most of the time, but are these doubts of mine viewed with displeasure by the Lord?!" Notice carefully the circumstances of this gentleman's life: he is growing older, he is experiencing health problems, and he has lost his beloved wife of 53 years! He is vulnerable to the subtle whisperings of the Great Detractor. "Is God really there for you? Does He really care about you? Are His promises certain? Can you trust Him?" I can assure you that during seasons of distress and discomfort, you will be visited by doubts. One follows the other like night follows day. Just as temptation generally precedes sin, so also, in like manner, does doubt generally precede despair. Temptations work upon our weaknesses, as do doubts, yet neither, in and of themselves, constitute personal failure, although both can quickly lead to such if not properly dealt with and overcome.

Again, consider the example of Peter as he began to sink into the waters of the sea. Jesus confronted his doubt, but He did not condemn Peter for it. Instead, He issued a challenge to increase his faith. Peter became distracted by his circumstances, and he lost focus. When he lost focus he lost trust in the very One who could bring him successfully through those circumstances. Could Peter have explained exactly HOW he was able to walk on the water (in terms of the actual physics of the event)? Of course not. But, he knew the One whom he beheld walking upon the water toward him. It was when he took his eyes off Jesus, and fixed them upon his circumstances, that his doubts grew stronger than his faith for that moment. It is the same with us during the course of our lives. When we become more fixed on our hurts, losses, discomforts and the like, than we do on the hope set before us, as promised by the One who never leaves us, then doubt takes hold of our hearts and the "prince of this world" will do all within his power to fan that little spark into a raging fire which can all too quickly consume us. The solution? -- Fix your eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of faith ... that you may not grow weary and lose heart [Heb. 12:2-3].

It is no mere accident that the above passage follows immediately on the heels of the discussion of the gallery of the faithful in Hebrews 11. Look at the challenging circumstances these saints faced in their lives! Mockings, scourgings, chains, imprisonment, stoned, sawn in two, tempted, put to death, lived in caves and holes in the ground, and on and on. If you examine the lives of these great people, as recorded in the OT writings -- Jacob, Abraham, Sarah, Rahab, just to name a few -- you will find that each of them experienced moments of great uncertainty, of doubt, even of great concern and fear. Yet, they kept on keeping on, always trusting Him who had promised!! "And all of these obtained a testimony of approval through their faith" [Heb. 11:39], even though they didn't always understand, and, yes, even though the affliction against them often persisted. Were there doubts, uncertainties and questions? Absolutely! But, they persevered in spite of them, keeping their eyes fixed upon the One who had given them the promise, and they won the victory! Just before Jesus ascended to the right hand of the Father, some of His apostles were doubting, but our Lord did not issue a condemnation that day. Instead, Jesus gave them a commission, and these men, who had their eyes of faith fixed upon Him, pressed forward, doubts and all, and won the victory!

One of the doubts that undoubtedly filled the minds of many of the above giants of faith, and this certainly plagues many of us today, is -- just how loving and active and devoted must I be in order to gain His approval? What if I stumble and falter now and then? What if my zeal wanes on occasion? What if I'm not good enough, not loving enough, not working hard enough? We can very quickly fall into the raging pit of doubt where we measure His acceptance of us on the basis of our own effort. What level of knowledge must I attain? How many good works must I perform? As we examine ourselves we realize very quickly that we are NOT good enough, loving enough, knowledgeable enough. It is at this point that doubt can quickly become despair. The elderly brother from the Midwest wrote in his email to me -- "How much faith and how much love is required, and since faith has to be evidenced by good works, how many good works does it take?" It can become a vicious spiral downward as we perceive our inadequacies before our God, with acceptance seemingly always just out of our reach. Thank God our acceptance into His embrace is based upon His love and grace, rather than our performance. If it were the latter, we'd all be lost. However, when we trust His grace ... when we live by faith ... salvation is assured, even though we daily stumble and falter and doubt. Salvation is not conditioned upon us humans somehow rising to the level of deity, but rather upon the fact that deity emptied Himself and lived on the level of humanity. Jesus Christ won the victory for us, when we were incapable of doing so; a victory that is now ours by faith. Thus, it is not a matter of how much must I do ... for HE has done it ALL. When we finally come to perceive this glorious truth, and when we finally accept it, doubts will dissipate like an early morning fog when the sun shines upon it. May the SON shine upon each of you, and chase away your doubts, bringing in their place a bright new day of strengthened conviction and confident assurance!

Down, But Not Out
A Study of Divorce and Remarriage
in Light of God's Healing Grace

A 200 page book by Al Maxey
Publisher: (301) 695-1707
Readers' Reflections

From Morris Bowers in Alabama:

Al, you need to be arrested for impersonating a preacher of the gospel, since you do not use the gospel of our Lord!

From Daniel Denham in Virginia:

Al, you are lower than a snake's belly in a wagon rut and just as venomous. Hypocrite!! Judgment is coming, and the Hell you deny is awfully hot! It is pretty clear that you belong to the postmodernistic Emerging Church Movement, or the "Church of Make-Believe." You all write about "grace," "the cross," and "love," but you actually root none of these concepts or items in New Testament teaching. You've merely co-opted the imagery to fool folks into accepting your leadership on your journey into theological oblivion and subsequently into the abyss. Blind leader of the blind!! Folks like you are Socialists and Marxists in their social views as well, which is where you will eventually wind up - in the political camp with the far left of the Democratic Party. You're all a bunch of half-baked, ultra-ultra-liberal New Age hippie freak-types who have more in common with the philosophies of Friedrich Nietzsche, Albert Camus and the Nazi Martin Heidegger. By the way, Al, the Nazi Heidegger, your philosophical godfather, says "Sieg Heil" to you in your bunker! We were close to the truth about you when we were ragging on you about the military.

From a Reader in Texas:

Dear Bro. Al, I applaud you and Shelly both in restraining your retaliation against such spiritual thugs as Denham, Broking and Hatcher. They bring to mind the cowardly members of a street gang aligning themselves together. I almost picture them in sagging pants with their caps turned sideways and pistols at their sides as they type their little emails about you. What they represent is no less despicable than the videos we have seen recently of monks fist-fighting in Jerusalem. They not only believe that they have it all down just right, they think that they must inflict suffering on all who disagree with their theologies. I grew up listening to Michael Hatcher spewing forth his venom from the pulpit many years ago. Allow me to say this: He doesn't just try to inflict suffering upon those who are outside his church walls. He, and several others like him, almost succeeded in driving me away, not only from "organized church," but also from our Lord as well. He was an arrogant bully back then, and he has seemingly only honed his skills even further since. I have wondered to what extent our Lord was rolling His eyes as those monks were knocking out one another's teeth. Probably no less than He has been throughout the many years of listening to all the Hatchers, Denhams and Brokings making fools of themselves "in His name." God bless you for your patience! And, oh yes, THANK YOU for every minute of your service to our country!!

From a Reader in Oklahoma:

Dear Bro. Al, When I read the exchange between yourself and the reader from Barbados (which appeared in the readers' section of your last Reflections), I went back and read the comments from the veteran from the state of Washington. I read that he had mentioned the insults from Broking, Denham and Hatcher, but I guess I had just lumped them in with all the others that you receive from these people. Obviously, that was a mistake on my part. There is no comparison with the stresses and danger one faces in combat. We have a brother in Christ locally who was a gunner in a B-17 in WWII. He won't even talk about his experiences, and I can understand why, and I greatly respect his service. Also, brother, you brought out some thoughts that were new to me on the widow's two mites. Thank You for a great issue of Reflections.

From a Reader in Arkansas:

Dear Brother Al, Well Done on your article on "The Widow's Two Mites." Many years ago a brother summarized the poor widow's excellence when he said, "She was great in God's sight not because of how much she gave, but because of how much she kept for herself."

From an Elder in Florida:

Dear Bro. Al, As I continue reading your weekly Reflections, I am amazed at the consistency with which you present the claims for Grace-based, Christ-oriented, Love-motivated service to our Lord!! Thank You, brother!

Special Notice to Readers --- FIRST: I received a nice email from Olan Hicks a few days ago. He is a dear brother in Christ, who, some years back, did me the honor of writing the Foreword to my book Down, But Not Out. He has just developed a web site where he will be providing readers throughout the world with his insights and perspectives on the Word of God. The address for that site is --- -- and I would encourage everyone to check it out. You will be edified. SECOND: I have a MS Word document (8 pages, 40.5 kb) penned by an Elder in the Churches of Christ, and who is also an official with a large, well-known international mission organization, that I would be willing to send out to any reader who requests it. It is titled: Jesus and the Samaritans: The "Pattern" for "Our" Attitude Toward the "Denominations"? This will definitely make you THINK. I am withholding the name and location (as well as the organization) of this brother, as I think we all know exactly what these vicious legalists are capable of when they perceive someone to be a threat to their dogma. They will do all within their power to destroy everything and everyone in their path with which/whom they take exception. Therefore, to protect the faithful from the faithless, I shall withhold that information. The text of his document is powerful enough to speak for itself.

If you would like to be removed from or added to this
mailing list, contact me and I will immediately comply.
If you are challenged by these Reflections, then feel
free to send them on to others and encourage them
to write for a free subscription. These articles may all
be purchased on CD. Check the ARCHIVES for
details and past issues of these weekly Reflections: