Last week I spent some time in the little fishing village of Gardenstown in Aberdeenshire. Down on the small harbour, painted prominently on the sea wall are the words ‘GOD IS LOVE’. As the crews in their small vessels head out to sea – these are the last words they will see – and the first when they return.
The village of Gardenstown has a strong heritage of faith. Yet, as I pondered these words, I thought of the times anxious wives and mothers had stood here and waited for the return of husbands and sons. Sadly, there were times when they did not. And when that happened I wondered if they still thought of God as a God of love? Did they still trust – even in their pain, loss and deep sorrow.
We consider doubt and trust to be the opposite of each other. And yet, at another level, they can sit side by side in a tension that is difficult to bear. Where is my God in the middle of personal tragedy and pain, loss and distress? And yet, I know He is real – that is not at issue (although it may be for some I have no doubt).
If I have known God, rather that just known about him (the problem of a purely intellectual faith) – if I have felt his presence, known his love, seen his hand at work in my life, even on a very rare occasion – I cannot deny that he is. However, in days of darkness I can doubt that he cares, doubt that he hears my inadequate prayers, doubt that he is interested in my sorrow and complaint.
At yet another level I can doubt that any one else cares either – no matter if they bear the name ‘Christian’. Many today are disappointed in traditional Christianity. The last few days have seen several Catholic Churches burned down in Canada in protest against the dark and cruel history people see them as representing.
On a personal level I have stood outside traditional forms of ‘church’ for some years now. I also have been disillusioned with ‘Christianity’ on many levels, especially, as others, with much of the cruel history of the ‘religion’ which has brought us thus far. But does that mean that my doubts have smothered and suffocated my trust in the God who is love? By no means!
I would even dare to say with David –
‘But I am like an olive tree, thriving in the house of God.
I will always trust in God’s unfailing love.
I will praise you forever, O God,
for what you have done.
I will trust in your good name
in the presence of your faithful people.’
Doubt does not then, by default, displace trust – although doubt can certainly be part, perhaps even, at times, a necessary part, of the journey. To be in the company of those who have no doubts at any level concerns me. However, to meet a person who has struggled with doubt and yet held on to their trust in the unfailing love of God is always a refreshing experience.
In the final analysis I think the secret, at least in part, is to know where to go with our doubts. Sadly the ‘Christian’ community is very often not good at dealing with those of us who have doubts – even although it has been commanded to ‘Be merciful to those who doubt’ (Jude 22). So in the end of the day I go to God himself. With him I can share my doubts, secrets, concerns and weakness – in the full knowledge that wherever he may find me and wherever I may find him, he will always be, the God who is Love.
When doubt and fear assail me,
And bend my spirit low,
I know there is a Saviour,
To whom I e’er can go;
He’s promised to be with me,
No matter what betide;
Till some day when he’ll call me
To sit down at his side.
When I am sorely tempted,
And know not where to flee,
My Jesus walks beside me,
And ev’ry step I see;
I see him now, not plainly,
Although I feel his might,
But some day I shall see him,
When faith is lost in sight.
No matter what befall me,
My faith in him I’ll hold,
My share in his atonement
There’s nothing can withhold;
No wonder that I’m happy,
While here I wait and sing,
For some day I’ll behold him,
My ever-living King.
Charles Austin Miles (1868 – 1946)