The Waves Around and the Doubt Within
Faith has been one of the greatest treasures of my life. It’s also been one of the biggest battles. When I was a little kid, my relationship with God was so simple. I was an only child, living in a neighborhood where childhood friends were a luxury rather than a right. At the time, it didn’t seem like a great thing; but God used this lack of companionship to build in me the spirit of Enoch. I walked with God as if He were right there (which in fact He is). I remember just riding my bike around the neighborhood or sitting in a concrete tube at the park, talking with God as I went about the day. At this time in my life, I had little to no objections to my faith. It was just God and me. Simple.
But over the course of time, with new experiences and challenges, faith has become one of the most challenging dimensions of my life. I have come to understand some of the reasons for this. A lot of these reasons are epistemological. Ah, I used a big word! But don’t turn me off yet. Epistemology is “the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, its presuppositions and foundations, and its extent and validity”. In other words, with all the diverse experiences of faith systems in the world and ways people “hear” from God or discern God’s will, how can a person justify the legitimacy of his faith? You can have all the faith in the world that the three-legged chair is going to hold you up; but that faith is based on a shaky foundation. Faith is only as strong and valid as its object.
But somewhere along the way, I missed this. I found my faith in a constant state of flux. Why did this happen? I was putting faith in my faith (i.e., I was trusting in my own subjective ability to believe). This is an epistemological perversion of faith. The object of faith is not within oneself, but outside of oneself.
This morning, God’s Spirit was bringing me to Matthew 14:22-36. I had to ask myself, “What was Peter’s struggle with faith?” Why did he begin to sink? I began to wonder if he had the same faith issues that I do. Was Peter’s real problem his fear of big waves; or was his real fear the one within himself? If Peter is anything like me (and he’s a LOT like me), he was probably thinking, “Peter, you’re an idiot! Look where your passionate, impetuous spirit has brought you now! What if you didn’t hear Him right? What if it really was a ghost or a figment of your imagination? You’re really in over your head now! Why do you feel like you always have to prove something? This is crazy! What am I doing out here? I need to get back to the boat right now. I don’t know if I’m going to make it. Help!”
Faith is tripartite (has three essential components): knowledge of, assent to, and trust in something or someone. My problems with faith have not been primarily the ones that question God’s Word, but have been the ones that question my understanding and application of it. And I wonder if Peter was the same way.
But how do you break the cycle of self-doubt? The extent and strength of faith cannot be found in one’s own epistemological justifications, but in the actual object of belief itself. The object of faith is not more important than the method it takes to come to that conviction; but the object of faith is primary, whereas the method is secondary. When I read a passage like this and deal with the intrinsic doubter in myself, I have to ask the tough questions. This passage really comes to life when you’ve been faithful to God’s calling, you’ve stepped out on faith and obedience, but haven’t seen the results that you might have hoped for. You really start feeling the waves about you when your obedience starts to cost you things. And since the problem isn’t with God and His word, maybe they problem is with you. Maybe you lack the discernment and wisdom you need. This is a legitimate concern. That’s why James tells us that, during trials of faith, we have access to God’s wisdom through prayer. And just in case that wasn’t enough, know this: God gives this wisdom liberally and doesn’t find fault with us or scold us for asking.
The bottom line is this: Strength of faith doesn’t come from you. “[Abraham] did not waver at the promise of God through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised He was also able to perform. And therefore “it was accounted to him for righteousness” (Romans 4:20-22 NKJV). The kind of faith that gives God glory is not one that’s fixated on the method of assurance, but on the One who said it. Even God himself can and will undertake for His children. His compassion toward us and His exhaustive knowledge of our situation goes far deeper than we can fathom. Ironically, if God is going to hide any important details from anyone, He’s going to hide it from those who seek security outside of Him as a person. People who seek security and assurance in methods will not find what they are looking for because He has hidden these things from the wise and prudent and has revealed them to babes (Matthew 11:25, NKJV).