Posts tagged ‘Doubt’

Just Passing By

In Mark 6, Jesus’ disciples are sailing across the Sea of Galilee. Late into the night, Jesus decides to hit the water too, but instead of chartering a boat across the lake, Jesus steps out onto the lake. Mark tells the story like this:

Shortly before dawn He went out to them, walking on the lake. He was about to pass by them, but when they saw Him walking on the lake, they thought He was a ghost. They cried out, because they all saw Him and were terrified. (Mark 6:48-50)

Three of the four Gospels – Matthew, Mark, and John – recount this story, but Mark adds a unique detail that is not found in the other accounts when he writes: “He was about to pass by” (Mark 6:48).

This detail reminds us that Jesus is doing much more than simply trying to work a miracle. He is offering His disciples some revelation. He is showing His disciples who He really is.

In Exodus 33, Moses requests to see God. God reminds Moses that although he cannot see Him face-to-face:

There is a place near Me where you may stand on a rock. When My glory passes by, I will put you in a cleft in the rock and cover you with My hand until I have passed by(Exodus 33:21-22)

Moses may encounter God, but it will be only for a cursory, partially concealed moment. Moses will only get to encounter God as He passes by.

Likewise, in 1 Kings 19, when God reveals Himself to the prophet Elijah, He says to him:

Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the LORD, for the LORD is about to pass by. (1 Kings 19:11)

After the announcement of God’s arrival, there is a hurricane, an earthquake, and a fire, but God is not in any of these things. Instead, He passes by in “a gentle whisper” (1 Kings 19:12).

Like Moses, Elijah gets to encounter God, but it is only in a cursory, partially concealed way. Elijah only encounters God as He passes by.

This is how God consistently revealed Himself to His people of old – by passing by. So, when Jesus begins to pass by His disciples as they are sailing along on the Sea of Galilee, He is making a claim about His identity: He is the same One who passed by Moses and Elijah. He is God!

But in Mark 6, the story takes a surprising turn. Because instead of being there one moment and gone the next like God was when He revealed Himself to Moses and Elijah, Jesus, as He is about to pass by His disciples, instead:

climbed into the boat with them, and the wind died down. They were completely amazed. (Mark 6:51)

Before, when God met with His people, He only passed by. Now, when God meets people in Jesus, God gets in.

During difficult and uncertain times – like the ones we are experiencing as a society – it can be easy to wonder: Where is God? Why hasn’t He shown up? Mark 6 reminds us that Jesus does not just pass by us in our pain, in our uncertainty, and in our fear. He gets in. And because God gets in, He and we are all, as the saying goes, in the same boat.

Christianity is unique among the world religions in that it teaches that there is a God who does not just look down on our pain, but actually joins us in our pain. Jesus joins us in the boat.

The seeming absence of God, then, is undone by the presence of Christ. So, if you’re looking for God, you don’t have to look far. He’s right there. And He will not pass you by.

October 19, 2020 at 5:15 am Leave a comment

Where You Begin and Where You End

I have often said, when teaching in various settings, “Where you begin is where you end.” This is my axiomatic, though admittedly somewhat simplistic, way of expressing the truth that all of us come to a situation, a problem, or a challenge with our own preconceived notions and biases. These preconceived notions and biases, in turn, inevitably color the conclusions we draw and the solutions we formulate. This is especially true when it comes to working with the text of Scripture. If you approach the Bible with a stance of pessimism and incredulity, what you find will be appropriately pessimistic and incredulous. Conversely, if you approach the Bible with a stance of awe and a desire to “give the Bible the benefit of the doubt,” as it were, the conclusions you draw will strengthen your faith soothe your troubled soul. It is no secret that I am in the latter camp of how I approach Holy Scripture. In light of my ABC yesterday on the doctrine of the inspiration of Scripture, I thought that this quote from Ben Witherington III, given at the Greer-Heard Forum last Saturday at New Orleans Baptist Seminary, offered some keen insight into why I am in this latter camp:

I don’t believe in “justification by doubt.” I don’t believe that philosophical skepticism is the same thing as critical thinking, and I also don’t think that the sort of historiography that is undergirded by such a prioris can help us very much with the question are the Gospels reliable, truthful witnesses when it comes to the historical Jesus. In fact, if you want to actually get at the truth of something, you have to enter into dialogue with that source giving it the benefit of the doubt, allowing it to have its say, and while one doesn’t put one’s critically thinking cap aside, if you do not approach the material with an open mind and a willingness to learn from it, you won’t get at the truth of the matter, not even the historical truth of the matter. You can’t possibly analyze the actual nature of a raging fire, by pouring cold water on it, and then picking over the ashes and charcoal thereafter.

February 28, 2011 at 9:55 am Leave a comment

Help! I’ve Lost My Faith!

Just in time for the stress of the holidays, Concordia Lutheran Church has published a new pamphlet titled, “Help! I’ve Lost My Faith!” In a world and in times where Christianity and Christians are regularly attacked and maligned, our faith can sometimes get shaken.  So I invite you to check out this pamphlet and tell me what you think.  It’s available for download by clicking here.  Here’s a taste of what’s in it:

Every Christian experiences a time when he or she wonders, “Have I lost my faith?” Sometimes, it’s a habitual sin that a person is sure has completely destroyed his relationship with God. Sometimes, it’s a grave tragedy that compels a person to ask. “If God exists, why didn’t He stop this?” Sometimes, it’s a feeling of betrayal which leads one to exclaim, “I can’t believe God would do this to me!” And amidst such pain, frustration, confusion, and bitterness, we can be left wondering, “Has God abandoned me? Have I abandoned Him? Have I lost my faith?”

November 23, 2010 at 10:22 am Leave a comment

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