14 December 2007

Unfathomable unbelief

by Dan Phillips
And he said to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your hearts?" (Luke 24:38)
Is this really a rhetorical question?

Our unbelief has to be unfathomable to God, as was the disciples' to Christ. It is as if He were saying,
"What basis have I ever given you for doubting Me? I told you that I would be rejected, handed over to the chief priests and scribes, beaten, condemned, crucified, killed (Luke 9:22, 44; 18:31-33). You didn't believe that would happen, but it did. I also said I'd rise again from the dead (Luke 18:33). Did you disbelieve? Again? Why?"
To say that God knows and understands all things is not to say that God finds everything understandable, if you take my meaning.

It is clear that the Lord does not see doubt as a virtue. But beyond even that, He seems to find unbelief unbelievable.

Dan Phillips's signature

45 comments:

rpavich said...

Dan,
I'm not following you...if God is Omniscient; then He not only know's all things, He understands all things...not to say He is pleased by all things...but since nothing is a surprise to Him...then He cannot "not understand" something...

Am I on the wrong track?

DJP said...

Yep, you are. I appreciate your asking. That is what I addressed when I said "To say that God knows and understands all things is not to say that God finds everything understandable...."

We generally use "understandable" in the sense of taking something as reasonable, to be expected, and thus worth acceptance. God knows and knows the meaning of everything. That is not to say (to say the least!) that God shares our view of everything, or finds our view reasonable, rational, and acceptable.

Here, the post-resurrection Jesus clearly finds their unbelief astonishing. It isn't that He doesn't know literally everything there is to know about it. Actually, it's that He does, and He knows it to be nuts.

Writing and Living said...

I'm curious how you feel this ties in with Hebrews 4:14-15. If He can sympathize with our weakness, wouldn't He then find doubt understandable?

I guess in essence I feel you can find something understandable without condoning it.

Johnny Dialectic said...

I do find it comforting that Jesus did not rebuke them here, but had a some fish and opened up their minds to further understanding. Apparently there is nothing better for the brain than Christ, the Holy Spirit, the Word and some Omega 3.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

Dear DJP,

I track what you're saying. And I like the argument you're using as a corrective and neutralizer to the Emergent POMO acid that's being used to corrode the firm faith of the sheep.

Preach it loud and preach it boldly brother!

Benjamin Nitu said...

DJP,

You said: "It is clear that the Lord does not see doubt as a virtue."

Is doubt a sin then?
I remember a pastor that said that he never had doubts about God and his character.
In my opinion the root of every sin is unbelief. So, to go a little further than you did: God finds sin unfathomable.

Pedro said...

Of course Jesus is not surprised by the fact and reality of our unbelief. He makes the point in order for us not to believe and boast about our faith.

God rules and is totally sovereign through Jesus Christ and He assigns and gives by grace the faith and means to believe.

Romans 12:3
For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the measure of faith God has given you.


Great post DJP as always.

pastorbrianculver said...

People are expecting in today's contemporary church, to see evidence as opposed to relying on faith and trust that Jesus is who He says he is. I wrote on pretty much the same topic of prophetic revelation on my blog. There is an interesting video from 1967 on it. Pretty good to see how far we have come and yet how far we have fallen. Thanks for the post. Great job!

SolaMeanie said...

What is our own experience like when we have been trustworthy and faithful to the jot and tittle, and then we are doubted by someone who ought to know better? It hurts. It's frustrating. It's perplexing. It's maddening. And amazing. I understood what you meant, Dan, and I didn't even have to deconstruct or parse you in Clintonesque fashion!

Strong Tower said...

"Actually, it's that He does, and He knows it to be nuts."

In a court of law we must find quilt beyond a reasonable doubt. A reasoned doubt is based upon some finding of fact. Doubt that is based upon no precedent is unreasonable, and therefore without understanding.

There was no reason for those to whom Christ was speaking to doubt, "If you do not believe my word, believe for the sake of these works..." This then goes to the heart. Unreasoned doubt is bound in the darkness of understanding. Where there is no light there is no reason. They stumble but they do not know over what. Why do you doubt? Seeing as there is no reason to give light to your doubt, it is not understandable that you do.

Puritan said...

Benjamin Nitu:"Is doubt a sin then?"

Genesis 3:1b "And he said to the woman, “Has God indeed said, ‘You shall not eat of every tree of the garden’?”

Writing and Living said...

I see your point, Sola, but I guess I'm looking at it from the perspective of how I parent toddlers. For instance, when my kids were little, I would sometimes have to make them take medicine. They didn't like it, and they fought me. I had never let them down before, but yet they didn't believe me when I convinced them this was for the best.

And I got that. I understood that from their perspective, the idea that they had to swallow that nasty stuff was unfathomable. But even though I understood it, I still had to make them take their medicine.

That might be simplistic, but that's kind of where I am in this season of life. *grin*

I also think of what Jesus said to Thomas: "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." Since Jesus pronounced a special blessing on those who believed without seeing, wouldn't it follow that He understood that it would sometimes be hard?

And here's where I get all Clintonesque and ask what thd definition of "is" is: (c:

Romans 1 says we're without excuse, so when people claim that they don't believe, are they truly not believing, or being prideful? If someone has something horrible happen in his or her life and therefore says they are struggling to believe, are they truly experiencing disbelief, or do they merely think that if they were running the world they could do it better? In the same way, in the case of the person who claims that they don't believe in God at all, do they truly not believe, or are they simply unwilling to humble themselves to a sovereign God?

So is the root of all sin unbelief, or is it pride?

Mike Riccardi said...

Romans 1 says we're without excuse, so when people claim that they don't believe, are they truly not believing, or being prideful? If someone has something horrible happen in his or her life and therefore says they are struggling to believe, are they truly experiencing disbelief, or do they merely think that if they were running the world they could do it better? In the same way, in the case of the person who claims that they don't believe in God at all, do they truly not believe, or are they simply unwilling to humble themselves to a sovereign God?

It's both.

So is the root of all sin unbelief, or is it pride?

I think the root of sin is unbelief, and the root of unbelief is pride.

centuri0n said...

FWIW, Dan is having technical difficulties today and is unable to respond until later.

Don't take his silence as apathy or gob-smackedness: it's actually raw enmity toward you and you alone.

That's what he told me on the phone, anyway. Carry on.

Benjamin Nitu said...

puritan, I guess we have to define what is doubt.

"to lack confidence in"
"to consider unlikely"

Doubt seems to live somewhere in between trusting and not trusting, between believing and not believing.

Now, I have some doubts about this way of defining, but nonetheless I accept it. :)

P.S. Doubt is definetly not a virtue like Dan said. "I doubt more than you, therefore I'm more spiritual" - statements like these are absurd :)

I think in the same way, a Christian can have serious doubts and still continue to say that he'll choose to trust God regardless.

It seems to me that doubt is a feeling closely related to ignorance. That's why we fear the unknown; we considered "uncertain" (another definition for doubt).

In the same way, I think that the more we get to know God, the more our doubts decrease.

John the Baptist had his doubts about Jesus, does it mean he sinned by it? I don't think so.

SolaMeanie said...

Frank,

At least it's raw emnity and not codswallop.

stratagem said...

Unrecorded in Scripture, there was another voice crying in the wilderness: The voice of the ill-considered John the Charismatic. He kept saying "Prosperity and Your Best Life Now!"

...or was that John the KJVO guy?

Alright, couldn't help myself. I'm putting myself in the off-topic penalty box for the rest of the day.

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

I should like to ask for confirmation about something. I see a difference between doubt and uncertainty. I.e., the two are not equivalent concepts and can and should be nuanced. Agree or disagree?

For example, I'm kinda exploring eschatology. It's taking me a long time because I don't have a keen interest in the subject matter. (Which I would accept blame for if anyone wants to blame me.)

Pre-Mill Dispensational or Amill Covenant? Distinguish between Israel and the Church or not? History of Hermeneutics?

All I can commit to is Jesus coming again. I'm uncertain about the particulars of eschatological doctrine. But I'm certain that Jesus is coming again. Of that, there's no doubt.

Am I okay?

stratagem said...

TUAD: Doesn't that depend on what you might be uncertain about? You couldn't pick a more confused example than eschatology. We all (except preterists) know Jesus is coming again. Most interpretations of exactly "how" that's going to happen are speculations, because the Bible seems anything but clear on the "how".

I think you're OK.

Steve Lamm said...

Os Guinness wrote a book titled: GOD IN THE DARK which dealt with this very subject. I found his treatment of the subject of the Christian and doubt to be both biblical and very helpful in counseling those who have doubts.

He deals with the various causes of doubt and demonstrates that sometimes doubt is sinful, and sometimes it isn't. But he never suggests that doubt is a virtue!

For anyone who is really dealing with doubts about the Christian faith, or suffering or a host of other reasons, I recommend the book.

Steve Lamm

donsands said...

"He seems to find unbelief unbelievable."

Yes, I agree. God has given us such evidence of Himself in Christ, and in the Gospel, and yet we don't want to believe the truth right under our noses.

It is "Unfathomable unbelief".

Thanks for good reminder.

We go out of our houses every day and trust in all kinds of things, and yet when it comes to God's Word we doubt.
Amazing!

Yogi Taylor said...

Hey Dan, I am new to the Blogging crowd but I am enjoying the good reads. I preached on this very topic (doubting) about two weeks ago, as it came up in our text. I would like to hear your thoughts on if you think John the Bap. doubted? And if so, can you tell me your thoughts on Jesus' response to him?

Thank you very much, and I am enjoying your posts!

Truth Unites... and Divides said...

"You couldn't pick a more confused example than eschatology."

Heh. That's why I chose it.

"I think you're OK."

Thanks Stratagem. I'm glad it's okay to be non-dogmatic on eschatology.

Strong Tower said...

I love Os, specially the family label and flagship bubbly.

I question however that doubt cannot be a virtue.

We like the traditional name Doubting Thomas, I kinda like it too since he was named after me...but TD didn't do a thing that all of the didn't do. None of them believed Jesus' claim to his resurrection. Pete and the boys doubted the girls, and the girls doubted the angels. They wanted to know where the body was.... Jesus had given them no reason to doubt, but they did. It was not an understandable doubt, it was unreasoned, that they should doubt the resurrection. Thomas' case, and the Peter and the boys, is slightly different than the girls. Upon the report that he had risen the girls head back to proclaim the miraculous appearing of angels and their message and are met with the Risen Lord and he dispels any remaining doubt. Thank God for a savior that can be handled and seen even by the eyes of faith. He does not leave us orphans but provides the evidence. With TD and Pete, they have a reasoned doubt about the actual occurance based on the women's testimony, though they do not have a reasoned doubt about his word. The report comes from "women", ya know, given to seeing fruit as good when it isn't. Even the women had speculated that someone had moved the body because; the evidence was that it wasn't there. Peter does not leave it at their word, nor does he blindly continue in his previous opinions which had driven him into hidding. Rather, like a good doubting Berean he went and checked it out for himself. What he found was an empty tomp. He didn't find the answer. But, now he had reasonable cause to doubt his doubt. To that inquiry Jesus provided the "see here, thrust thusly here".

Thomas is no different, being a good disciple, he asks the right question, though it is in the form of a statement, and I will paraphrase, "Yeah, well then where is he? Show me?" These are reasonable doubts based on known facts. It is proper presumption. It was not that way in the post's examples. In them there was no reasonable doubt. The doubt being question is that which is from vain imaginations darkened by sin. Which is what we do. We make up reasons not to believe, because we do not like where the truth leads us. Mergent, mergent, mergent emergency....(sorry flash back)

A statement was made about eschatological interpretations, and it is right to doubt some conclusion because we do not have all the data as understood. There is some, such as the resurrection of the dead at Christ's appearing that do not lend themselves to doubt. When there is no contravening evidence, it is not understandable that someone should. The only (un)reason remaining is sin if we doubt in the face of the clear evidence in favor of the obscure.

There is a scene where the disciples were afraid of the Lord's control of the wind and waves and Scripture records that their hearts were hardened. Not good. But, in other places, their doubt drives them to follow, "Where shall we go, you alone have the words of life," but in saying this, they did not know enough yet to be in the Faith.

polycarp said...

Great post Dan!

While I am glad to see that your post today has not yet been entirely swarmed with the tainted and distorted ramblings of "virtuous doubters," who seek to defend their indulgance in uncoraborrated bits of minutia found within the scriptures (as opposed to the full counsel of God's Word in its inerrant and infallible entirety), I was thinking to myself as I read it that many people are indeed going to miss the big picture in what you are saying. I appreciate the big picturre you are getting at, which is that our own sin of unbelief at times should NEVER be accommodated, justified, or especially not indulged, as it is just that: a SIN. Not only "a" SIN, but--as Spurgeon so directly stated--perhaps the worst SIN, and one which lies at the root of so many more SINS. Indeed, it was the first SIN in the garden (NOTE: capital letters added intentionally for our EC friends). The only thing we should do with our own unbelief is repent of it, and pray that the Lord will rescue us from it. Of course, when certain influential writers tell us "everything must change," this of course includes our perception of SIN...especially the SIN of unbelief because, after all, it's so much more fun to be "open minded" isn't it?

Hadassah said...

I've been thinking about this topic a lot lately, since I started reading this blog. I understand doubting, or having a lack of faith, for a period of time, as you wrestle with God over certain issues. I've had that happen, and it has always resulted in an increased faith, eventually. And even in the specifics that I don't have a full understanding of, I trust God through faith, that He is who He says He is, and that I am who He says I am.

But I just cannot understand this idea that we can't know God (or truth) because we are full of sin, and therefore every idea we have about God or truth is tainted and fallible.

I mean, that is kind of like saying that God failed in what He set out to do--which is reveal Himself to mankind. I'm not real big on calling God a failure.

Stefan said...

This seems to be yet another thing—lack of doubt—that comes with the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. Although the disciple's doubts started to disappear when the resurrected Lord was right there with them, we get the sense in Acts that everything changed on Pentecost, and suddenly Peter (of all people) was preaching with certainty and conviction.

But there's got to be room for certain kinds of uncertainty after justification: like in TUAD's example of eschatology (by trying to made heads or tails of Daniel, Revelation, Matthew's "Little Apocalypse" and the like).

And forgive me for muddling through this, but don't we need to have compassion towards those who are truly struggling with issues of doubt, if it's motivated from a pure heart in a right relationship with God, and not rooted in pride, arrogance, or hubris?

In fact, I would go so far as to say that many of us may know someone who doubts God and rejects His call...who knows, but that God in His providential timing will redeem that person tomorrow, next month, or ten years from now?

(I'm thinking more of those who have never claimed to be born again or Christian, than those who have and walk away from it. I wouldn't for a minute defend those who use doubt to deceive themselves or others, or sow discord among God's flock—that's a whole different kettle of fish!)

Am I missing something here?

Stefan said...

And Dan:

I understand what you meant by saying that God finds unbelief unbelievable or doubt unfathomable, but it's rife for misinterpretation by open theists! (Of which there are far too many these days—now, open theism is the kind of "doubt" that I would heartily agree is wrong, wrong, wrong.)

polycarp said...

Stefan: Thank you my brother for bringing that distinction to bear on this, as it is important to consider the spirit in which doubt or unbelief occurs. It is important to note, however, that while the spirit and demeanor in which we declare truth varies from person to person, the contents of our answer should always be consistent with all that scripture says and demonstrates with regard to doubt--hence, the same answer we need to give ourselves when doubt/unbelief occurs: "this sin is wrong...Lord help us of our unbelief". It is only among EC proponents that we hear a one-sided perspective to this that ultimately boils-down to their own subjective emotionalism (like so many other valuable issues of the faith they like to express fallaciously). Compassion towards the doubts of those who sincerely struggle or the pain of unbelief conveyed in humble terms should ABSOLUTELY be met with a loving, encouraging tone of empathy and genuine understanding (consistent message though). However, for those who would like to "rewrite the book," as it were, and who insist on calling something what it's not or vice-versa should hear the same message (i.e. "God has made it clear that doubt and unbelief are harmful to us spiritually, and thus are called sins--like other sins--because He seeks only the best for us") in different terms and in a different tone...like those expressed so excellently here by team pyro!

Dan Reichenberg said...

"Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him as rigtheousness." Faith is believing God, and faith is a gift, so the natural state of fallen man is unbelief. Therefore, does God find the natural state of fallen man unfathomable?

Mike Riccardi said...

I mean, that is kind of like saying that God failed in what He set out to do--which is reveal Himself to mankind. I'm not real big on calling God a failure.

Totally agreed. Amen.

But why does this all of a sudden cease to be true for eschatology? I know this post isn't about eschatology, but it really grieves me to hear the way the subject is treated, especially to hear people suggest that it's "anything but clear."

Did God just muddle up the end of the story? Or is it just a ringing testimony to our laziness? We (reformers) who have been ruthless in our study of the doctrine of justification, and even the doctrine of sanctification... why do we throw in the towel when it comes to the last things?

I'm not saying that I have Daniel, Ezekiel, Zechariah, and Revelation all figured out either. I have ideas that seem to be more reasonable than others, but every now and then there's a passage I read that makes me wonder how everything fits together. So my eyebrow raises. But the reason I don't resolve that tension is attributed to none other than my own laziness and immaturity -- and certainly not to God failing to make the end of the story clear.

So when it comes to the question of, "I doubt my positions on eschatology. Am I OK?" I think the answer is: If you're studying the Scriptures and coming to God in prayer, confessing sin which would dull your ear to the testimony of the Spirit and asking for His illumination of God's clear Word, the unfolding of which gives light and makes the simple understand (cf. Ps. 119, 19) and coming to a conclusion by grace, then yes. But if you're simply wimping out on the work and the study and meditation to see Christ and His glory with all its contours, and are content to have it be a perennial "journey," then no, you're not okay. You're just like the EC guys who "just aren't sure yet" on sola fide, the virgin birth, penal substitutionary atonement, and other doctrines that we all hold dear... and who have no intention of ever answering any questions they ask.

donsands said...

"does God find the natural state of fallen man unfathomable?"

"He [Jesus] marveled because of their unbelief." Mark 6:6

"O faithless generation, how long shall I be with you? How long shall I bear with you?"

"Unless you see signs and wonders, you will by no means believe."

"O you of little faith, ... how is it you do not understand ..?"

Also the Lord marveled when the Centurion believed, and the Jews didn't.

Stefan said...

Mike:

Having now gone through Ezekiel, Daniel, Zechariah, Matthew, 1/2 Thessalonians, and Revelation (have I left any out?) in sequence (together with the other books), I agree that there's a fair bit in there for one to come up with something of some substance.

The challenge for me seems to be figuring out which eschatological "label" matches what I've come out of it with. And how pterodactyls fit into the picture.

ALL FOR ONCE/ ONCE FOR ALL said...

From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day.

Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, "God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You."

But He turned and said to Peter, "Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God's interests, but man's."

Sacchiel said...

I tend to agree, He knows EVERYTHING and is still interacting with His Creation. He is the anchor.

Puritan said...

Benjamin wrote: "I guess we have to define what is doubt.
"to lack confidence in"
"to consider unlikely"
Doubt seems to live somewhere in between trusting and not trusting, between believing and not believing."


-----Of those definitions: "to lack confidence in" and "to consider unlikely" God and His Word, is certainly a sin, as it saying 'well I'm not sure if I can trust God'.

Now of course, as you say, a true believer can doubt, just like the true believer can sin in other ways. But like of other sins, he needs to quickly repent.

As John Owen said, holding onto to doubt is like leaving something in your pocket that is on fire. You should throw it out straight away.

DJP said...

Now I've looked through all the comments, I see y'all did just fine. I should stay out of the comment-threads more often. (As Frank said, technical difficulties; the rest was all lies.)

Doubt and uncertainty are different. Having said that, I think many today strike the pose of uncertainty simply because they disbelieve, or outright rebel, but won't be up-front about it. So rather than saying, "It's pretty clear what God thinks about the exclusivity of Christ / justification / the Gospel / homosexuality ... I just think He's wrong," they hide behind the oxymoronic pose of noble doubting.

Also, please note my definition above: "We generally use 'understandable' in the sense of taking something as reasonable, to be expected, and thus worth acceptance. God knows and knows the meaning of everything. That is not to say (to say the least!) that God shares our view of everything, or finds our view reasonable, rational, and acceptable."

Yogi — Welcome. Yes, I think John doubted. It's long stood out that jesus actually speaks rather brusquely to John, calling him back to basics; then as soon as the messengers leave, speaks glowingly of John.

I rather think many of today's loud noises would do the opposite: speak glowingly of John's doubt and encourage him in (rather than out of) it, but disparagingly of his bold, confrontational style.

SolaMeanie said...

Dan,

Just asking here. I have to have my fun for the day.

Do you think that Thomas is the patron saint of the Emer***t Church? And yes, I think they MUST have patron saints. They have labyrinths, incense, spiced olive oil, Gregorian chants in backward masking and other assorted trappings, so they certainly must have a patron saint, Since Thomas was known for his doubts, I would think they identify more with him than anyone else in Scripture outside of Jezebel.

Mike Riccardi said...

I dunno Sola.

Thomas eventually believed when he put his fingers on Jesus' wounds. That might have been too modernistic of Thomas. To be the true patron saint of the EC, he'd have had to question whether it was proper for him to interpret his experiences of Jesus' wounds that way, in light of the fact that he was so sinful.

DJP said...

Sola: maybe more likely St. Ahaz, who preferred living with the Mysterium Tremendens (at a safe distance) to taking God at His Word.

polycarp said...

For Thomas to be a true patron saint of the Emergent Church, he would have first needed to question the social value and/or relevancy of our Lord's actual wounds...then question our Lord himself for receiving them in the first place.

SolaMeanie said...

Let me try that again. I didn't say exactly what I wanted to the first time and there is no way to edit comments on Blogger. Sorry for the deletion. GRR.

Mysterium Tremendens? Are you sure it's not Delirium Tremens? I don't know about Ahaz having Delirium Tremens, but with the EC It's always a possibility, especially if they're trying to be hip by using Everclear instead of wine for communion. Welch's Grape Juice is too passe, too modern, too legalistic and too commercial.

I know I am probably picking on the EC too much lately, but after some of the exchanges I have seen here, at Ron Gleason's blog and at my own, the sand of patience in my hourglass is beginning to run out, and no Auntie Em to replace it. I think I am going to take a break from the EC for a while and find a new heresy to shoot at.

But then again, are there any new heresies? "There is nothing new under the sun."

ezekiel said...

hadassah,

"But I just cannot understand this idea that we can't know God (or truth) because we are full of sin, and therefore every idea we have about God or truth is tainted and fallible."

I can't either. It goes a good bit further than that....it more or less says that the individual that tells us we can't know truth...is not a disciple of Christ. Just more heresy from those that tell us we can't be sure. That we can't know the truth.

John 8:31 So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, 32 and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 14:16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you forever, 17 even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.


1 John 2:20 But you have been anointed by the Holy One, and you all have knowledge. 21 I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.

1 John 4: 4 Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. 5 They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. 6 We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.


Yogi Taylor said...

Dan, thank you very much for your responding to my question! I came to understand the same point, but I will say that you worded it much better than I did.

I am enjoying the entries and have added this site to my favorites!

Thanks again,
Yogi

Luke Milam said...

DJP,

First time reading your blog. I really enjoyed. I was wondering if I could use the picture at the beginning of this article.

Luke Milam
http://wordadventures.blogspot.com