ARCHBISHOP DOUBTS GOD

HERALDSUN.COM.AU, Friday, September 19 2014

“The Archbishop of Canterbury has admitted he struggles with doubt about the existence of God.

“The Most Reverend Justin Welby said he wrestles with disbelief — most recently while out on his morning jog.

“He also acknowledged that Christians have trouble explaining why God allows suffering.

“The admission, during which the Archbishop said he was straying into territory an Anglican leader should not go, came as he spoke at Bristol Cathedral this week.”

Dark moments will come

The problem is not whether a Christian has ever struggled with disbelief, but how he or she has handled that experience. It’s true that Christians don’t always have answers for the difficult experiences in life. But there is light in the Bible to help us to know how to handle the kind of experience the Archbishop is going through. We find it in Psalm 73.

As an Israelite, the psalmist begins he psalm by reflecting on his people’s past and admits that God had been very good to them. He remembers the stories of how God rescued them from the nightmare of their Egyptian bondage. They were stories that thrilled the heart of every Israelite. What’s more, God did it in ways that made the surrounding nations sit up and take notice of a God who cared for His people and acted on their behalf. He was no dumb idol. Nor was He the God of the deist, who, having created the world, stepped back and let it run by itself.

Since those distant days, God had intervened on behalf of the nation and rescued them from their enemies again-and-again. Who could doubt His existence!

When our focus is wrong

Yet, the psalmist, a godly man who sought to maintain his faith and trust in God on a daily basis went through an experience that deeply disturbed him. He looked around him and found it difficult to explain why certain things in life did not seem to make sense.

… I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.

They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong.

They are free from common human burdens; they are not plagued by human ills.

Therefore pride is their necklace; they clothe themselves with violence.

From their callous hearts comes iniquity; their evil imaginations have no limits.

They scoff, and speak with malice; with arrogance they threaten oppression.

Their mouths lay claim to heaven, and their tongues take possession of the earth.

Therefore their people turn to them and drink up waters in abundance.

They say, “How would God know? Does the Most High know anything?”

This is what the wicked are like— always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
(Psalm 73:3-12)

Who were these ‘wicked’ people? We often miss the point of the message by misunderstanding the category of people to which the psalmist is referring. They were ordinary people who had no time for God and refused to accept the kind of restraints God places on human behaviour. Their focus was on this life and everything they could get for themselves… no matter how they did it. That is all they cared for.

Human nature has not changed. People are the same as they have ever been, for all the seeming sophistication they like to adopt. Material prosperity brings about a certain arrogance; a false sense of superiority, of status and class.

Any Christian mixing in this kind of an environment for work or any other reason will find his or her faith challenged at times. Is this worldview, this ethos, and comradery the real world? Surely, this is what the vast majority of people see as ‘life’! Has the psalmist been wrong in seeking purity, integrity, holiness?

In the light of most people’s attitude toward God, these qualities do not belong to the present age. You live for what you can get out of it, and ‘blow’ everyone else — except when the network of associations becomes useful to you.

What is the good of keeping yourself pure, honest, and continuing to believe in God, when those who are just the opposite seem to thrive in life and seem to enjoy it! Their ‘virtual reality’ has become their reality and they seemed to be very happy with it. That is how the psalmist felt when he was depressed. Things just did not seem to make sense.

When depression overcomes a person … even a believer … life does not seem to make sense. That’s when Satan casts doubt on the meaningfulness of life. If there is a God, life must have meaning. But if there is no meaning, there can’t be a God who is in charge. Therefore, God becomes the focus of our doubts.

So, how did the psalmist deal with these doubts? It is an important lesson for anyone who goes through a similar experience. It is particularly important for Christian leaders to understand what to do, because their lives influence more people than they care to acknowledge.

Don’t share your doubts

The psalmist avoids doing what might be very natural for him to do under the circumstances: publicise his problem; share it with others. Isn’t this what we should to do when we go through difficult times?

If I had spoken out like that, I would have betrayed your children. (v15)

In an age where we are told to be open, honest, and transparent about our experiences, we find it hard to understand the psalmist’s attitude. He feels a responsibility about the consequences of sharing a doubt that is temporary and can be damaging to others. In contemporary society we seem to think only of ourselves, and our right to express ourselves freely without any consideration of the effects of our actions, or of what we say.

The psalmist is aware that his dark mood is temporary and will pass, but he has no right to impose his depression on others. Of course it was a troubling time for him (v16). But, he was also aware of where to go for help. He did not have the benefit of going to a psychiatrist or a psychologist or a counsellor. And, fortunately, there was no-one to place him on some seriously addictive anti-depressants that would make it impossible for him to ever face reality.

The psalmist realised what was at the heart of his problem. It was his relationship with God. He was no longer seeing life from the Creator’s point of view. He had to go back to the place where he could get a fresh perspective on reality. What the world almost convinced him to see as reality, was only ‘virtual reality’, a counterfeit, a facade. He needed to move out of that spiritual fog into the clean air of God’s reality.

Where to find the solution

When I tried to understand all this, it troubled me deeply
till I entered the sanctuary of God;
then I understood their final destiny. (vv16-17)

He is talking about the final destiny of what the world regards as ‘real’. It will ultimately be swept away and become like a dream that never existed — a mere fantasy. (v20).

It is in God’s presence, illuminated by the message of His Word and truth, the psalmist comes through the dark tunnel into the glorious light of divine assurance.

Yet I am always with you; you hold me by my right hand.
You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me into glory.
Whom have I in heaven but you?
And earth has nothing I desire besides you.
My flesh and my heart may fail,

but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever. (vv23-26).