Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Confusion, uncertainty, and faith

You don't know which way to go.  You're faced with a choice or a decision of real, lasting importance.  But you can't make up your mind ... and you're a Christian!  What's going on here?

Doubt.  Uncertainty. Lack of faith.  You've been saved by the grace of God, according to John 1:12.  You've been born again, as Jesus commanded you to be in John 3:3-7.  And you know the importance of faith, and the disadvantages of doubt, in everyday life.  You hate to admit it, but you're confused: and you know that God is not the author of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33).  And yet for some reason, as you face a major decision, the certainty of God's direction isn't there.  Is God playing cat and mouse with you, or have you - - - as some Christians will tell you - - - somehow "lost your faith?"

It's a real dilemma, and it's faced by every real Christian more than once in his or her life.  But did you know that what we perceive as "confusion" isn't always a lack of faith at all?  It might just be uncertainty. And that's very different.

Joseph, the espoused husband of Mary, knew something about uncertainty .... and he was a God-fearing, decent man, desiring to do God's will.  Like so many "common," hard-working men, he was probably very quiet and thoughtful, not brash or hasty in his decisions.  But when a man or woman is following God, even that kind of thoughtfulness can bring on uncertainty - - - and it's not doubt, or a lack of faith.

You know the story. Now the birth of Jesus Christ was on this wise: When as his mother Mary was espoused to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Ghost. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not willing to make her a publick example, was minded to put her away privily (Matthew 1:18, 19).  According to Jewish custom, "espousal" was virtually the same as actual marriage, but it didn't include cohabitation or intercourse.  And when Mary told Joseph of her miraculous pregnancy, which had been revealed to her in Luke 1:26-38, he was hearing something utterly incredible, and, if true, utterly unprecedented.  He was tempted to "divorce" Mary (for breaking an engagement was the equivalent of divorce), because he was so confused.  But he didn't want her to be disgraced.  What should a "godly" man do?  Marry a woman carrying a child not his own, or disgrace the woman he loved?  

But Joseph wasn't beset by spiritual doubts; he was simply uncertain, and who could blame him? So God, in His grace, gave him a very special message: But while he thought on these things, behold, the angel of the Lord appeared unto him in a dream, saying, Joseph, thou son of David, fear not to take unto thee Mary thy wife: for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Ghost. And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins (Matthew 1:20, 21). And Joseph proceeded to act on what God had told him.

If you're a Christian, you've never been in Joseph's exact position, but you know the feeling: suddenly confronted with a choice, conscious of your responsibility to do God's will, but completely baffled as to what God's will might be.  We've all been there.  And, in such moments, the Enemy (and perhaps some of the "brethren") will tell you that you're faithless and carnal and cowardly.  But you're not: you're not even doubting God.  You're simply confused - - - and God understands, and will guide you through it, if you keep your eyes on Him.

Your Christian friends might have all kinds of advice, and it might even be scriptural - - - even when it conflicts!  "Step out on faith," someone will say; "because whatsoever is not of faith is sin!" Someone else will tell you just the opposite: "stand still, and see the salvation of the LORD!"  Both good scriptural principles, both solidly Biblical, and both, no doubt, well-intended.  But not every verse in the Bible applies to every situation. You need to realize that, in seeking God's will.  Sometimes, God will want you to move ahead boldly, with nothing but faith to guide you; at other times, He'll want you to wait on Him, and be still, and let Him do the "advance work" for you.  (Faith in God is always proper, of course; without faith it is impossible to please him [Hebrews 11:6].  And waiting for the Lord to reveal a course of action is proper, too.  But these things are general principles, and not to be used as "quickie" solutions.) Your brothers and sisters in Christ may offer good advice, but it's still your situation, your issue, your problem.  And although "a multitude of counsellors" is good, it can be even more confusing when they're offering conflicting counsel!

But remember: temporary confusion or uncertainty isn't the same as "doubting God."  The opposite of faith is not uncertainty; the opposite of faith is doubt.  The opposite of confusion is certainty, and God will provide it, if you don't give up, and if you keep seeking Him.

There are, alas, always those brothers and sisters in Christ who won't understand your uncertainty (if they know about it).  Perhaps you're considering a new job, or getting married, or moving to a new town, but you can't seem to find God's will ... yet.  Some Christians, like Job's "comforters," will be very quick to trot out certain verses of scripture: "Why are you so undecided?  Don't you know that God is not the author of confusion?" (They don't mention that the context of that verse - - - and a text without a context is a pretext - - - has to do with orderly behaviour in the public church assembly.) Don't feel like you're all alone: look at the "advice" Job's friends gave him: they didn't even agree among themselves!  The only One Whose opinion is binding is your Lord's.

Sometimes, God may even lead you in a path that nobody understands, and that baffles you completely.  (Ask the Old Testament prophets, like Isaiah and Hosea, about that!) God is bound by His word, but He's not bound by our expectations.

Think of a single incident in the life of one of the Apostles:  Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.  And the people with one accord gave heed unto those things which Philip spake, hearing and seeing the miracles which he did. For unclean spirits, crying with loud voice, came out of many that were possessed with them: and many taken with palsies, and that were lame, were healed. And there was great joy in that city (Acts 8:5-8).  What a wonderful thing!  Philip was doing exactly what Jesus had commissioned the disciples to do, and seeing exactly the results that Jesus had promised.  Could anything have possibly been more certainly "in God's will?"  But suddenly, God brings it to an abrupt end: And the angel of the Lord spake unto Philip, saying, Arise, and go toward the south unto the way that goeth down from Jerusalem unto Gaza, which is desert. And he arose and went: and, behold, a man of Ethiopia, an eunuch of great authority under Candace queen of the Ethiopians, who had the charge of all her treasure, and had come to Jerusalem for to worship, Was returning, and sitting in his chariot read Esaias the prophet. Then the Spirit said unto Philip, Go near, and join thyself to this chariot. And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest? And he said, How can I, except some man should guide me? And he desired Philip that he would come up and sit with him. The place of the scripture which he read was this, He was led as a sheep to the slaughter; and like a lamb dumb before his shearer, so opened he not his mouth: In his humiliation his judgment was taken away: and who shall declare his generation? for his life is taken from the earth.  And the eunuch answered Philip, and said, I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself, or of some other man? Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus.  And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?  And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.   And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him (Acts 8:27-38). 

Philip had been seeing a large-scale, genuine "revival" in Samaria, with people rushing to receive Jesus Christ, and suddenly God told him to walk away, and leave it all behind - - - without telling him why.  Philip must have been confused, if not downright baffled; and, surely, there were those who said "Philip!  Don't you see all the good that you're doing here?  You can't stop now! This can't be God leading you!"  But, in spite of his own uncertainty, he had faith to obey God: and he found himself talking to a most unlikely individual, an African eunuch, in a remote location, instead of the crowds in Samaria.

But that eunuch was the first person in the New Testament to be saved in exactly the way we're saved today - - - by faith alone, in Jesus Christ.  God took Philip from a place of spectacular success to a place of historical, eternal significance - - - in spite of Philip's uncertainty and, perhaps, confusion.

What a God!  What a Saviour!  If anyone ever tells you that temporary uncertainty is a sin, or a failure of trust in God, tell them about Joseph, and about Philip; and then continue to seek God's will, without wavering (James 1:5, 6), until He makes it clear. And rejoice in a God Who isn't bound by our limited understanding!


  1. Thank you for the reminder about others who have had confusion or uncertainty in their lives.