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Credo

A study of the Apostles Creed


 

Links to sections on this page:
- The place of doubt
- Commentary
- Bible Study
- Questions
Links to other chapters:
1: Why creeds?
2: Why were the creeds written?
3: Studying the Apostles' Creed
5: I Believe ...
6: ....in God the Father Almighty...
7: ...And in Jesus Christ His only Son ....
8: ...dead and buried ...
9: ...I believe in the Holy Spirit

Chapter 4

The Place of Doubt

Doubt is one of those taboo subjects. We are afraid that if we admit to doubts, people will feel less of us, that we will look stupid. Yet doubt is not an unusual or particularly unhealthy thing. 

Doubt is not scepticism, the decision to doubt as a matter of principle. Neither is it unbelief, the decision not to have faith in God. Unbelief is an act of will, rather than a difficulty with understanding. If a child in class has difficulty understanding, finds a subject difficult or not to make sense, we don't even begin to call that doubt. 

Doubt often means asking questions, or voicing uncertainties from the standpoint of faith. You believe but you have difficulty with that faith. Doubt is probably a permanent feature of the Christian faith. As life is a permanent battle against disease, so a life of faith is a permanent battle against doubt. 

Many people come to faith with doubts. We don't have to understand everything, indeed it would be strange if we did. This is what all relationships are like, we don't know the half of people before we get involved with them! How could we? When we embark upon any relationship we take a risk. Our doubt reminds us that we are in need of growth and development in our relationship with God. We know that God is bigger than our minds, we know that we have to use analogies and images. Doubt is a spiritual reminder that we don't know it all and that we have a limitation as a result of our humanity. We long for absolute security and certain proof. Yet we do well to remind ourselves that what we can know with absolute certainty is likely to be not that important. Tennyson said 

For nothing worthy proving can be proven 
Nor yet disproven: wherefore thou be wise, 
Cleave ever to the sunnier side of doubt 

But Christianity is not intellectual suicide. It is not like the emperors new clothes. We are not afraid of questions and analysis. If we have serious questions we should ask them and think them through. 

Christianity is about encounter with the living God and yet there is also a challenge to the mind to begin to understand and grasp our faith. Experience should be reinforced with understanding. But we have to realise that life will be filled with much we do not understand. 

An interesting passage from Romans 13:11-12. 'The night is nearly over, the day is almost here' Gives the idea that the Christian life is as walking in the dark. Paul also use the classic illustration in 1 Corinthians 13:12 'Now we see but a poor reflection in a mirror.' There are many things which we can expect to be unclear to us. We have not let God down if we doubt. Indeed our faithfulness is proved when we persevere through our doubts and uncertainties. Psalm 42 may be helpful for it shows the Psalmist talking to God about his doubts and difficulties. He is brutally honest with God. 

Psalm 42 
As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God? My tears have been my food day and night, while men say to me all day long, "Where is your God?" These things I remember as I pour out my soul: how I used to go with the multitude, leading the procession to the house of God, with shouts of joy and thanksgiving among the festive throng. Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. My soul is downcast within me; therefore I will remember you from the land of the Jordan, the heights of Hermon--from Mount Mizar. Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls; all your waves and breakers have swept over me. By day the LORD directs his love, at night his song iswith me-- a prayer to the God of my life. I say to God my Rock, "Why have you forgotten me? Why must I go about mourning, oppressed by the enemy?" My bones suffer mortal agony as my foes taunt me, saying to me all day long, "Where is your God?" Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God. 

God promises us his love, assures of his presence with us, even when we find it difficult to comprehend. In John 10:28, Matthew 28:20 God promises to be with us, we need to know these promises are true. 

Do we have to understand and believe every word? It's not unusual to have doubts and questions. In our church I hope that questions are encouraged. Our relationship with God is a personal journey and also one we share with others in this community of faith. The Apostles Creed clearly state the beliefs of the Church and we recite them as we join with those around us in the process of discovering our own relationship with God. So it's not easy to answer this question "yes" or "no." The importance is to take part with fellow pilgrims in this lifelong journey. 

Obviously there are some Christians who find statements in the Apostles Creed unacceptable, e.g. the meaning of virgin birth. The Apostles Creed should not be considered as a cage from which might never depart, but rather as bearing witness to the historic faith of the church which we have inherited. To answer such questions, we must consider not only what we believe, but how we believe.

Bible Study 

Matthew 28:16-20 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. Then Jesus came to them and said, "All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age." 

Commentary 

If you were thinking of using a passage to consider doubt would you have chosen 'The Great Commission'? 

Well actually whilst it is an unlikely place, it is nevertheless a good one! In Matthew 28:16-17, we learn that after Jesus' resurrection the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshiped him; 'but some doubted.' 

When I think of the Great Commission, the words 'but some doubted' are not the first that come to mind. But, especially considering their context, these words are very comforting.

 Some of the disciples - who had spent three years of their lives with Jesus, who had heard with their own ears his prophecy of his impending death and resurrection - doubted, even as Jesus stood right before them. They had heard that the tomb was empty, walked miles to meet with Jesus, saw him and began to worship him, yet even as they worshiped some doubted. That some disciples simultaneously worshiped and doubted reassures us that absolute freedom from doubt is not a precondition to the worship of God. Rather, the disciples' conflicting response indicates that having doubts about things we do not fully understand is not ultimately incompatible with worshiping the one we know to be our Saviour and Lord. 

How can that be? One way of approaching this question is to distinguish between the content of our faith and the structure of our faith; between what we believe and how we believe.

Christians believe and teach that God does exist, and that our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ is his only begotten Son. However, as finite, human beings, there are times when our faith may be shaken, when circumstances may lead us to question our most basic beliefs. Perhaps we have doubted God's providence because one we loved died, or our hopes and dreams were dealt a bitter blow. Perhaps we have doubted God's love because of a painful situation in our family. Perhaps, because a fervent prayer seems to have gone unanswered, we have wondered whether the God we worship even exists. Yet, despite our doubts, we continue to worship. And, despite our doubts, God accepts our adoration and praise. That is because God knows that we are finite, fallen, fallible creatures whose hearts and minds, clouded as they are by sin, are prone to doubt. Yet God continues to love us just as we are. 

Nowhere in Scripture does God condemn a believer who has doubts. Remember Gideon? He had serious doubts about leading the people into battle, so he laid out a fleece not once, but twice. God honoured both requests (Judges 6:36-40). And when Thomas said 'Unless I see … I will not believe,' Jesus answered, 'Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe' (John 20:24-29). 

While doubt is nowhere commended as an attitude to cultivate, neither does Scripture teach that our doubts lead God to cease caring for us. God knows the frailty of our human nature, and he responds to our doubts, as to our other weaknesses - with steadfast love.

 Faith in Jesus Christ does not mean living a life free from doubts any more than it means living a life free of suffering, trials, and temptations. It does mean that when doubts arise, we can prayerfully discuss them with God and ask him for wisdom. 

Had the disciples lacked faith, they never would have gone from Jerusalem to Galilee to meet someone they had watched die on a cross. Had the disciples lacked faith, they would not have worshiped their living Lord. They went and they worshiped, but some doubted. Yet despite their doubts, these disciples recognized their risen Lord as God in human flesh, and they worshiped him. 

As we have already noted, the most basic creed of the Christian faith is 'Jesus Christ is Lord.' To be sure, that confession does not give full expression to the breadth and depth of what it is to be a Christian. But once an individual confesses Jesus Christ as Lord, he or she is ready to begin a journey to try and understand our faith. Will doubts arise along the way? Undoubtedly! For doubt is not the opposite of faith. Disbelief is the opposite of faith. Doubt is merely a part of how we believe. But like the disciples, despite our doubts, we must worship our risen Lord. And like them, we must then obey the command to 'go and make disciples of all nations,' secure in Jesus' promise that, 'surely I am with you, to the very end of the age' (Matt. 28:19-20). 

Questions

  • Must Christians believe without reservation every affirmation of the Apostles' Creed?
  • Is it possible to trust Jesus Christ as Saviour and Lord and yet be unsure about some things the Bible teaches?
  • Do you find it helpful to think that doubt is not the opposite of faith, but a part of how we believe?
3: Studying the Apostles' Creed

5: I believe