Finally: Keys to Navigating Our Doubts (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 37)

NOTE: This post concludes the “Refiner’s Fire” series, now available as a book from Amazon and other retailers. To read the whole thing on this blog, go to the Matthew series and scroll down for the “Refiner’s Fire” section.

When circumstances go sideways or long-submerged questions suddenly break the surface of our hearts, many of us will find ourselves facing the refiner’s fire just as John did. I find comfort in knowing the fire is part of God’s plan—that it has a purpose, not to destroy but to purify and to bring us into a place that is ultimately stronger, more secure, and more deeply bonded to our Lord. In the fire, the wrong beliefs and weak understandings we’ve held to burn away like chaff, and we ourselves are called into a deeper place of faith and trust.

But moments of crisis are never easy, nor does the word “moment” necessarily accurately reflect what you or I are going through. Although crisis itself is much like the relatively short period of transition during childbirth—excruciating to the point of nearly breaking us, but in itself designed to go fast and hard and then reach its goal and be over—doubts don’t always manifest as crisis. Often they are gradual and compounding in nature. They can arise, build, and become a slow burn of torment for days or months, years or decades.

To experience doubt does not make us lesser Christians. Jesus called John the Baptist “the greatest born among women” at the exact moment of John’s greatest doubt. He saw the faith and hope that ultimately underlay even John’s questions. John wasn’t doubting Jesus because he wanted the gospel to be false. He wanted Jesus to be the Messiah. He wanted it all to be true. But he needed to know that he hadn’t built his faith on a false foundation. John cared enough about the truth to be willing to question it—to push it and make sure it really was true. We may need to do the same.

So the first step in navigating our doubts and surviving our periods of crisis is getting honest about our questions. Sometimes we avoid doing this because we think even having doubts is an affront to God; that it makes us like the Israelites in the wilderness who were so roundly rebuked for testing God. But there is an important heart-difference between doubting and testing God, and having questions and seeking him.

When you ask the questions because you care about the truth, when you knock on the door because you want it to be answered, when you seek God’s face because you truly want to see him—then you don’t need to be afraid of the fire that comes along the way. God—who became flesh in Jesus, suffered intensely, and cried out from the cross “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”—is not uncomfortable with raw pain or with unfiltered questions. He has felt them, and asked them, himself.

In the short term when we are dealing with doubt, then, we may need to remind ourselves of a few foundational truths. We may need to remember that we aren’t crazy to believe what we do, even if the culture at large strongly hints that we are. There are reasons to believe. Creation, the resurrection, the testimony of millions of people throughout history who claim God is real, that he has spoken to them and interacted with them, and that they have been transformed as a result—these are good, solid grounds for belief.

Not only that, but we have the testimony of Scripture and the innately compelling nature of the story it tells. And on top of that, we have our own experiences, our own testimony. But even then, let’s remember the content of our faith that is external to us. We believe, not based on a single answered or unanswered prayer; not based on a powerful emotional moment during worship; not simply based on the powerful swell of belief from our immediate peers.

Our faith, this faith—the Christian faith—is something much greater, older, and more established than that. It can be helpful, in times of doubt, just to remember that.

But ultimately, in the long term, let’s surrender our need for control and for certainty and allow doubt to push us toward the truth we have not seen before. If we will press in to God, doubt gives us an unprecedented opportunity to ask bigger, better questions—to step back and see our lives, the gospel, and God himself from a bigger perspective. We may need to adopt new lenses, accept different time frames (usually longer ones), rethink the outcomes we are seeking, and even retool our identities.

When the story we have told ourselves about God and our lives and our world is not working, we may need to ask—What if the storyline is different than I thought it was? What if there is more? What if rather than abandoning faith and abandoning God, we simply need to enlarge our understanding and trust to encompass something greater than we were able to see before?

As my friend Alan Gilman said, “It’s time we learn to believe our beliefs and doubt our doubts.” Sometimes that requires work, and asking more of our beliefs. Sometimes we need to dig deeper, work harder, learn more, and be willing to remodel our perceptions and our framework for the truth.

In a treatise entitled What’s Wrong with the World, the English writer G.K. Chesterton once wrote, “The Christian ideal has not been tried and found wanting. It has been found difficult; and left untried.” When we are angry and hurt and frustrated by our perceptions of God, it may be worth asking if we are really being fair in our accusations or if we have left something untried, unasked, or unwelcomed.

I’ve learned that if I read a story in the Bible (or more pertinently, in my own life) looking for a way to accuse God, I can probably find it. I can find a way to say God has failed in his promises, that he’s abandoned me, that he’s been unfaithful or unloving. But if I go in looking for a way to justify God and willing to call my own assumptions into question and compare them with the revealed truths of Scripture, I can usually find that too.

Often the answer is simply, Hold on. The story’s not over yet. In the garden of Gethsemane a moment after he’d tried to give his life to protect Jesus only to have Jesus rebuke him and go off willingly to be crucified, Peter felt like his world had collapsed. Three days later when he was greeted by the risen Christ, his world looked very different.

And in the meantime, while we are still struggling and wrestling in the darkness, the answers we seek are in the cross. God may not explain all our sufferings now, but he too has suffered. He has entered into our sufferings and borne them with us. He meets us in our weakness and brokenness, shares our pain, and promises to defeat the darkness through it. He fulfills and expands every promise of the Old Testament in the cross, and he does so subversively—defeating the enemy in his own death; paying for sins with his own blood; ruling the nations with kindness; bringing justice by bringing repentance, salvation, and regeneration.

We may not understand everything, but the Jesus who suffered can be trusted. No, that can’t be proven. But it certainly can be demonstrated, and it has been.

Ultimately we can’t answer every question to our satisfaction on this side of eternity. Ultimately, when we’ve done the work, sought God, sought answers, and found what there is to find, we simply have to recognize that we are in a relationship and not in a math equation. We simply have to choose trust.

In the final reckoning, we will always have two choices. And once all the evidence has been considered, both choices will require faith. We can choose to reject God out of faith in some other story, or we can choose to trust him out of faith in the story told by the cross and the resurrection. In that story, it all comes down to love.

God loves me, and I am asked to love him in return. He has proved nothing but demonstrated everything. I can know nothing with absolute certainty, but I can trust with my whole heart and life. In loving and being loved, the story will one day come clear.

In the final analysis, I don’t believe because I can nail down the truth intellectually. That will always be impossible. In the final analysis, it is love that leads me to believe, and it is love that keeps me here.

I’ve made a point of stating, throughout this book, that we can’t demand proof in a relational context. And it’s true: we won’t find peace or answers in some kind of formulaic, buttoned-up, here-it-all-is-on-paper absolute certainty. Yet there’s another meaning to the word prove, one that is relational and experiential. It’s the kind of proof that is only found after the decision to walk by faith. The old hymn exults:

Jesus, Jesus, how I trust Him,
How I’ve proved Him o’er and o’er,
Jesus, Jesus, Precious Jesus!
O for grace to trust Him more.

I don’t know where your journey will take you, any more than I know exactly where mine will end up. Maybe, when we have embraced questions and been willing to accept newer, bigger answers, we will lose everything.

Or maybe we will renew our faith and fall in love with Jesus, and the faith he gave us, all over again.

Personally, I think that is the more likely outcome.


This is the END of the Refiner’s Fire miniseries on this blog. You can purchase the entire series as a book, in digital, paperback, and hardcover formats, from Amazon or anywhere else books are sold online.

This is also Part 195 in a larger series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


Photo by Jason D on Unsplash




One response to “Finally: Keys to Navigating Our Doubts (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 37)”

  1. […] Part 195: Finally: Keys to Navigating Our Doubts (Refiner’s Fire, Pt 37) (Matthew 11:1-19) […]

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