For those who have not read Part One
The first extreme view of faith, which is focused on beliefs alone and is common in American evangelicalism, often leads to the perception that doubt is bad.
One verse that has contributed to this misperception is James 1:6. However, as is the case with all passages, it is important to examine context. The proceeding verse clarifies that verse 6 only pertains to asking for wisdom. Additionally, the context of the entire letter contrasts types of wisdom – God’s true wisdom is described as pure, peace-loving, gentle, and merciful. False wisdom is earthly, nonspiritual, demonic, and characterized by jealousy, selfish ambition, disorder, and evil. Therefore, it makes more sense that the “wavering” in James 1:6 would be in where we seek wisdom. This is reflected in the New Living Translation:
“If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.”
When read out of context, verses like James 1:6 can lead to a certainty-seeking faith. If we could be absolutely certain of something, there would be no faith required! One Biblical definition of faith is, after all, the hope of things not seen (Hebrews 11:1).
On the other hand, this doesn’t mean that faith has to be blind. There is evidence enough to have a reasonable faith. Using our minds is an act of worship when we’re focused on God (Matt. 22:37). God says, “Come, let us reason together” (Isaiah 1:18). God is not angry when we ask questions. Some of the most prominent Biblical characters wrestled with God! Even the Hebrews chapter 11 list of those commended for their faith includes some who exhibited serious doubts and other issues.
In Job, one of the most misunderstood books of the Bible, God was not angry at Job for expressing his doubts, even though some of his statements about God were blatantly wrong and borderline blasphemous. God humbled Job by demonstrating how much he didn’t see or understand, but it was for that very purpose – not for the purpose of forbidding questions or condemning doubt. God was angry at Job’s self-righteous friends who had considered themselves to have perfect faith, but God was pleased with Job for being “straight” or honest, even though Job’s faith had obviously faltered. When I saw the real reason for this (Job never found out that it was the enemy Satan who was torturing him), it provided a fresh perspective on why our faith and prayers sometimes seem arbitrary.
More on the spiritual warfare worldview here:
I had always perceived faith as a psychological certainty. I learned that ancient people had a more balanced and holistic view, which is evident when reading scripture as a whole.
Our culture’s imbalanced focus on beliefs alone can lead to a focus on personal salvation alone. Jesus did die to save each individual person, but we’re also saved for others! When I said the “salvation prayer,” I missed what is supposed to come next: partnering with God to be God’s image bearer, the hands and feet of Christ, as we reflect His kingdom on Earth as is heaven. This is how we’re supposed to pray, as an act of spiritual warfare against the evil that has corrupted God’s good creation as is the true meaning of the Lord’s Prayer.
This becomes clearer when examining multiple translations of Hebrews 11:1. In our recent prayer event, we discussed the Darby translation, “Now faith is the substantiating of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” One definition of substantiate is to make real, to embody, to give substance to. In faith, we essentially believe enough in God’s promises to work toward them to begin to fulfill them now, like the long list of witnesses in Hebrew 11. This chapter emphasizes walking by faith, and says, “They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance, admitting that they were foreigners and strangers on earth.” This understanding of faith can be helpful to animal advocates. When we become discouraged, we rely on our hope and trust in God as we continue co-laboring with God toward the promise of a peaceful creation, liberated from all suffering.
Trust is one thing that can be missing when belief-based faith becomes twisted. James 2:19 basically says, “Good for you for having the right beliefs, but so do the demons.” In modern Western culture, we think of knowing God as only an intellectual comprehension. But to “know” someone in the Bible had a meaning of intimacy. So, knowing God isn’t having the right knowledge of God – Satan has way more theological knowledge than we do. Knowledge has to be partnered with trust and submission. Satan had the right beliefs and used his free will to rebel against God’s good design. We can use our free will to trust and submit. This does not mean that we will have no doubts and no sin. It means we continue on a path of sanctification, asking Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:1-3) to do just that! He makes us more like Him as we strive to faithfully walk in relationship with Him. Walking in faith is Biblical faith.
James chapter 2 is adamant that our actions complete and prove our faith. Changes in our lives alone can’t save us, but they are the outward evidence of an internal reality: the indwelling light of the Spirit. Obeying God and striving to be like God is a natural result of loving God (1 John 2:3-6, 9). When this love is alive in our hearts and transforming us, it flows out to others (1 John 4:7-21, James 1:27). Our active extension of love and mercy is what invites others to know the source of our love.
Tragically, our lack of love paints an inaccurate portrait of the God we claim. As I described in part one, professing Christians who do not display the love, mercy, and equality found in Christ caused me to question if God is really anything like those qualities. As I will describe in part 3, I chose to trust that God is like Christ and Him crucified – not like religious people – but finding true Christ followers who display His love for all creation gave me enough hope in that to persevere. I was also comforted to learn that there is a difference between God’s true heart and human religion, which is often twisted to justify things which break God’s heart, like animal cruelty.
The more I studied how to read God’s word in context, the more I began to see a Biblical case for compassion toward animals, even a Godly design of peaceful veganism (for an excellent description by Sarah Withrow King of CreatureKind, go here)! I also began to see Holy Spirit opening believers’ eyes all over the world to this truth, this movement back to the heart of God.
Openness to being led by the Spirit requires authentic closeness with God. It’s this relationship that is moving, changing… and saving. There is no substitute for it, whether good beliefs or good works. And real relationship requires communication: not forced, superficial reciting of beliefs, but true vulnerability and honesty – including the expression of doubt.
For those who would like to read the entire article: How Losing My Faith Helped Me Find (Real) Faith. Stay tuned for Part Three.
Thank you for reading and for sharing with others! We pray you are blessed by it and we appreciate your support following our blog. Stay tuned for Part Two. ~Jessica