Devotions

Doubt: A Faith Catastrophe or Catalyst?

March 5, 2019
“Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope.” Romans 5:3-4 (NIV)
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It was the greatest physical healing my kids had prayed for and then celebrated. God worked through a series of experimental chemotherapy treatments to heal one of my closest friends, Chrissy, from terminal cancer. Our family, and all who were close to Chrissy, rejoiced and hugged our walking and talking miracle.

For four great months.

Then one Saturday, Chrissy had a seizure while sitting in a blue chair in my living room. Three days later, we received the horrific news that her brain and spine were riddled with tumors. It was just a matter of time before Chrissy would leave this earth to be with Jesus.

A few hours after Chrissy passed away, my husband and I shared the news with our three kids. Two of them were shaken, but the third was devastated, burst into tears and ran down the hallway.

Following my daughter into her bedroom, I found her crying and pacing in circles. So I sat on the edge of her bed until she was eventually ready to sit with me and talk. “Mom, why would God heal Chrissy and then allow her to die? A person wouldn’t even do that, so why would God?”

I have a Ph.D. in Practical Theology. I’ve gone to 26 grades of school. But my middle schooler’s question about God and suffering stumped me.

My answer was the four-word phrase I’ve used time and time again when a young person — or a not-so-young person — asks me a question about God that I can’t answer. “I don’t know, but …”

Sometimes I finish that statement by inviting that teenager or twentysomething to meet with me again to talk further. But this time, I finished the statement with Scripture: “Babe, I don’t know, but here’s a passage from Paul that gives me hope when we’re suffering: ‘Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope’” (Romans 5:3-4).

As followers of Jesus, we trust that suffering and death do not have the last word. In the midst of our uncertainty and struggle, our “I don’t knows” are held by a resurrected Jesus who promises to be with us to the very end of the age. This doesn’t remove our pain, but it helps us navigate life challenges together, remembering that:

1. Doubt is part of faith, not opposed to it.

Our research with youth confirms that when young people feel free to express and explore their doubts, their faith grows. In other words, doubt isn’t toxic to faith; silence is. Honest questions about God — from our own souls, or the heart of our child, grandchild or neighbor — are not a faith catastrophe but a faith catalyst.

2. Faith isn’t just a noun; it’s a verb.

Theologically-speaking, faith is not only a noun, but also a verb; it is something we exercise so that it continues to grow. We don’t just “have faith” … we actively “faith.” To “faith” is to seek God in the midst of life’s complexities. We “faith” as God builds in us the perseverance, character and hope Paul promises. Faith isn’t a correct answer but a courageous process through which God transforms us.

3. God is big enough to handle our tough questions.

God wouldn’t be wholly and holy God if we humans could understand Him. There have to be aspects of God that are inexplicable in order for God to be God. When you and I timidly try to deny our tough questions, we rob ourselves of the chance to empathize with others and let our hearts be broken over the people and world we love. Here we can find comfort in C.S. Lewis’ words: “God whispers to us in our pleasures … but shouts in our pains.”

Lord, thank You for being big enough to handle the biggest questions we (and others we care about) bring to You. Please give us eyes to see how suffering is producing perseverance, character and hope in us and those around us. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.

TRUTH FOR TODAY

Isaiah 55:8, “‘For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,’ declares the LORD.” (NIV)

RELATED RESOURCES

Kara Powell and Steve Argue’s new book, Growing With: Every Parent's Guide to Helping Teenagers and Young Adults Thrive in Their Faith, Family, and Future, will unleash you to be the parent you want to be, and your teenager or young adult needs you to be, as they face new questions in their faith, family and future.

CONNECT

Gain proven and practical ideas to fuel your family’s faith journey by connecting with Kara and Steve at karapowell.com and stevenargue.com, or on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at @kpowellfyi and @stevenargue. You can also learn more about their work at Fuller Youth Institute.

For your chance to WIN a free copy of Growing With, share your thoughts about today’s devotion in the comments. To celebrate this book, Kara and Steve’s publisher is giving away 5 copies! Enter to win by leaving a comment here. {We'll randomly select 5 winners and notify them in the comments section by Monday, March 11, 2019.}

REFLECT AND RESPOND

What’s one step you can take this week to make space for doubt in your own faith journey, as well as in your conversations with close friends and family?

© 2019 by Kara Powell. All rights reserved.

Proverbs 31 Ministries thanks Baker Publishing Group for their sponsorship of today’s devotion.

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