Finding Hope in the Midst of DoubtJune 05, 2016
by Iain Duguid
At the beginning of Genesis 15, Abram appears fresh from his triumph in the two struggles of the previous chapter: he rescued Lot from the power of the invading kings, and he resisted the temptation to seize the Promised Land in his own strength. At that moment, you might think that Abram would have been strong and confident in his faith. Yet when the word of the Lord came to him once again, reiterating the promise, “Fear not, Abram, I am your shield; your reward shall be very great” (15:1), the old questions came flooding back. In practical terms, the promise seemed as far away from fulfillment as ever. Lot had apparently gone back to Sodom, and now someone who was not even a relative of Abram’s, Eliezer of Damascus, stood to inherit his estate. In spite of his faithful obedience to God, Abram still had neither offspring nor ownership of the smallest portion of the Land of Promise. The gap between what God had promised him and the reality he saw with his eyes appeared as wide as ever.
So what should you do when you feel that your faith is faltering in the face of your circumstances? What should you do when you fear that your grasp on God’s promises is slipping? Abram began to fear that he would never see his promised posterity, and that his present earthly portion would be all that he would ever receive from God. Now many people would have been satisfied with that. Life had been good to Abram. Materially, he had prospered greatly. But Abram was not content with the good life. He hungered to see God’s purpose and promises fulfilled, and it was his very faith that prompted the hard questions with which he wrestled.
What are your goals for the next year, or the next five years? Will you be content simply to say at the end of that time, “Life has been good”? Will you be satisfied simply to prosper materially, to have a happy family and live in reasonable comfort? Or do you hunger and thirst after the issues that are on God’s heart? Do you deeply desire to see God’s kingdom of righteousness advancing in and through you? That is what is at issue here. Abram was not simply looking for an heir to whom he could leave what he had accumulated. Eliezer of Damascus would have served that purpose. Nor was he simply in love with babies, in search of a cuddly Abram Junior with a heart-melting smile. He wanted to see God’s purpose of blessing the whole world through him carried out. He wanted to experience the fullness of God’s blessing and to see God’s blessing flowing out from him into the lives of all the nations around him. Is it too much to say that he was looking for the promised seed of Genesis 3:15, the one who would come and crush the Serpent’s head once and for all?
God doesn’t chastise Abram for his doubts; rather, God accommodates himself to Abram’s weakness and meets him where he is.
Is that what you are longing for—to see God’s kingdom coming more and more in your life, and through you in the lives of those around you? For me, that is often not the case. To be honest, I often just want to survive in life and have things go a little more easily for me. I am quick to resent the challenges and difficulties that God brings into my life, not because they get in the way of the advancement of God’s kingdom but because they get in the way of the achievement of my own kingdom here on earth.
But what do you do with your questions, when the temptation to doubt God’s purposes in your life rears its ugly head? Here Abram provides a model for us in laying out his concerns before God. He takes all his concerns, his fears, and his doubts, and he lays them out before the Lord. That is always the best thing to do. Some of us like to keep our feelings bottled up inside and to pretend to everyone around us that we are fine, even when it is evident that we are not. That is certainly the way I tend to respond. We don’t want to admit the truth—that we are struggling to believe in God’s goodness right now. We’d rather pretend that we have no problems at all. We write flowery entries in our prayer journals that bear no relation to the turmoil that roils inside our hearts. In reality, however, even our doubting thoughts and our sinful feelings are better laid out before the gracious eyes of the Lord than nursed secretly in our hearts. God is never shocked when you tell him the truth about your feelings. He knows your inmost thoughts anyway, so you might as well confess the truth to him and ask for his help! Often it is helpful for us to talk about our struggles with other Christians too, especially with those who are older and wiser in the faith. We need those other voices speaking into our lives.
How does God respond to Abram’s questions and doubts? He confirms afresh his promise to Abram of a son and of descendants like the stars. But this time, the promise of offspring is more specific. His heir will not be a servant, nor even a distant relative like Lot, but rather Abram will have a son from his own body. God doesn’t chastise Abram for his doubts; rather, God accommodates himself to Abram’s weakness and meets him where he is.
It is the same way for us. Even though we don’t receive personal promises from God, God often sends encouragement through his servants or through our circumstances at just the moment when we need it most. We would like our path to be smooth from beginning to end, but God often waits to send us encouragement. He leads us on step by step in dependence upon him, so that we constantly need to grow in our faith and dependence on him.
Do you see the appropriateness of the vision that God gives to Abram as he gazes up into the night sky and tries to count the innumerable multitude of heaven? Abram is given hope not just because the sky is filled with stars, but also because the one who called these stars into existence out of nothing can surely also raise up a son for him, even if Abram is beyond all human hope and help. As the prophet Jeremiah put it: “Ah, Lord God! It is you who have made the heavens and the earth by your great power and by your outstretched arm! Nothing is too hard for you” (Jer. 32:17).
This piece is adapted from Iain Duguid, God of our Fathers: The Gospel According to the Patriarchs (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 1999), 66–9. Used with permission of the publisher.
Seeing Christ in All of ScriptureJune 03, 2016
by Iain Duguid & Vern Poythress