Casting Doubt

The noun ‘doubt’ means:

A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.

“some doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of this account”

synonyms: uncertainty, unsureness, indecision, hesitation, dubiousness, suspicion, confusion

antonyms: certainty, confidence, conviction, trust

Two world-historical persons faced life threatening doubt in their lifetimes. One chose poorly which resulted in death for himself, his wife, and all his children and the Other chose well which resulted in everlasting life for those who are His. These are their stories.

The first story starts and ends in a garden:

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made.

He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”

Genesis 3:1-3 English Standard Version (ESV)

To this, the commentator, John Calvin, said:

Yea, has God said? …More correct is the [translation…] ‘Can it be, that God should forbid the eating of any tree whatever?’ …because there is greater probability that Satan, in order to deceive more covertly, would gradually proceed with cautious prevarications to lead the woman to a contempt of the divine precept.

…Under the pretext of inquiring into the cause, [Satan] indirectly weakens [Adam’s and Eve’s] confidence in [God’s] word. …I have no doubt that the serpent urges the woman to seek out the cause, since otherwise he would not have been able to draw away her mind from God.

Very dangerous is the temptation, when it is suggested to us, that God is not to be obeyed except so far as the reason of his command is apparent. The true rule of obedience is, that we, being content with a bare command, should persuade ourselves that whatever he enjoins is just and right.

But whosoever desires to be wise beyond measure, him will Satan, seeing he has cast off all reverence for God, immediately precipitate into open rebellion…Satan…wished to inject into the woman a doubt which might induce her to believe [what God had said] not to be the word of God…

The second story starts in a wilderness and ends on a site of execution:

[Jesus…was led by the Spirit in the wilderness] for forty days, being tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing during those days. And when they were ended, he was hungry. The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command this stone to become bread.” And Jesus answered him, “It is written, ‘Man shall not live by bread alone.’” Luke 4:2-4 (ESV)

and

After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” But he answered, “It is written,

“‘Man shall not live by bread alone,

    but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’”

Matthew 4:2-4 (ESV)

To this temptation, Calvin said:

Christ’s reply…is appropriate: “Man shall not live by bread alone.” […It is as if He said:] “You advise me to contrive some remedy, for obtaining relief in a different manner from what God permits. This would be to distrust God; and I have no reason to expect that he will support me in a different manner from what he has promised in his word. You, Satan, represent his favor as confined to bread: but Himself declares, that, though every kind of food were wanting, his blessing alone is sufficient for our nourishment.”

Such was the kind of temptation which Satan employed, the same kind with which he assails us daily. The Son of God did not choose to undertake any contest of an unusual description, but to sustain assaults in common with us, that we might be furnished with the same armor, and might entertain no doubt as to achieving the victory…

Next, he unravels the often-unacknowledged truth of our daily sustenance:

The word does not mean doctrine, but the purpose which God has made known, with regard to preserving the order of nature and the lives of his creatures. Having created men, he does not cease to care for them: but, as “he breathed into their nostrils the breath of life,” (Genesis 2:7,) so he constantly preserves the life which he has bestowed.

In like manner, the Apostle says, that he “upholds all things by his powerful word,” (Hebrews 1:3😉 that is, the whole world is preserved, and every part of it keeps its place, by the will and decree of Him, whose power, above and below, is everywhere diffused. Though we live on bread, we must not ascribe the support of life to the power of bread, but to the secret kindness, by which God imparts to bread the quality of nourishing our bodies.

Hence, also, follows another statement: by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God shall men live. God, who now employs bread for our support, will enable us, whenever he pleases, to live by other means…

Finally, Calvin sums up this lesson as:

The precise object of Christ’s reply is this: We ought to trust in God for food, and for the other necessaries of the present life, in such a manner, that none of us may overleap the boundaries which he has prescribed.

But if Christ did not consider himself to be at liberty to change stones into bread, without the command of God, much less is it lawful for us to procure food by fraud, or robbery, or violence, or murder.

And this second story ends outside Jerusalem:

Those who passed by derided him, wagging their heads and saying, “You who would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days, save yourself! If you are the Son of God, come down from the cross.” Matthew 27:39-40 (ESV)

About these verses, Calvin discusses the question:

If thou art the Son of God. Wicked men demand from Christ such a proof of His power that, by proving himself to be the Son of God, he may cease to be the Son of God. He had clothed himself with human flesh, and had descended into the world, on this condition, that, by the sacrifice of his death, he might reconcile men to God the Father.

So then, in order to prove himself to be the Son of God, it was necessary that he should hang on the cross. [Yet,] those wicked men [argued] that the Redeemer will not be recognized as the Son of God, unless he come down from the cross, [disobeying] the command of his Father, and, leaving incomplete the expiation of sins, [thus] divesting himself of the office which God had assigned to him.

But let us learn from [their evil witness] to confirm our faith by considering that the Son of God determined to remain nailed to the cross for the sake of our salvation, until he had endured most cruel torments of the flesh, and dreadful anguish of soul, and even death itself.

And lest we should come to tempt God in a manner similar to that in which those men tempted him, let us allow God to conceal his power, whenever it pleases Him to do so, that he may afterwards display it at his pleasure at the proper time and place.

And so God deigned to show us favor by resisting the temptation and triumphing over death.

On the same topic, the preacher, Charles Spurgeon, offers solace and encouragement in the face of many such ‘ifs’ that cast doubt.

Therefore, no longer doubt, but believe in Him.

R.C. Sproul: Christ Crucified, YouTube, Ligonier Ministries

Make Friends

The following saying has always held mystery for me. Parts of it make sense. It’s the idea of ‘casting your bread upon the waters.’ However, some of it almost sounds like buying your way to heaven.

And I tell you, make friends for yourselves by means of unrighteous wealth, so that when it fails they may receive you into the eternal dwellings. Luke 16:9 English Standard Version (ESV)

The theologian, John Calvin, dismisses the notion of a ‘pay to play’ entry into heaven. Instead, he says:

Make to yourselves friends. Christ…teaches us that by acts of charity we obtain favor with God, who has promised, that to the merciful he will show himself merciful, (Psalm 18:25.)…

The Lord looks not to the persons, but to the work itself, so that our liberality, though it may happen to be exercised towards ungrateful men, will be of [benefit] to us in the sight of God. […The depravity of men does not prevent the Lord from placing on his records all that we have expended on the poor.]

…Our kindness to the poor will be a seasonable relief to us; for whatever any man may have generously bestowed on his neighbors the Lord acknowledges as if it had been done to himself.

Calvin’s explanation makes me reconsider the make-up of my own giving.

To the parts I did understand, Calvin says:

When you fail. By this word he expresses [our] time of death, and reminds us that the time of our administration [of riches] will be short, lest the confident expectation of a longer…life should make us take a firmer grasp. …Many squander what they have on superfluities; while others…deprive both themselves and others of the benefit…

Of the mammon of unrighteousness. By giving this name to riches…Christ justly represents them as worthy of our suspicion; just as on another occasion he called them thorns, (Matthew 13:7, 22.)

[…Christ intends, by way of an unstated contrast,] that riches, which otherwise, in consequence of wicked abuse, polluted their possessors, and are almost in every [case] allurements of sin, ought to be directed to a contrary object, to be the means of procuring favor for us. [This is] a warning given to believers to keep themselves free from unrighteousness.

Key to the right use of riches, then, is to neither squander nor hoard; using it not as an occasion for sin but, instead, for righteousness.

Clarifying what our attitude should be when giving, the Apostle Paul cautions:

The point is this: whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. Each one must give as he has decided in his heart, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:6-7 (ESV)

And we do well to remember that time really is money when it comes to charity:

You shall not see your brother’s donkey or his ox fallen down by the way and ignore them. You shall help him to lift them up again. Deuteronomy 22:4 (ESV)

Deeds of Christian Charity

Deeds of Christian Charity, 1575, Pieter Aertsen (circa 1508–1575), in the public domain in the United States

The Shocking Concrete Abstract Universal

Flannery O’Connor meant to shock us by her storylines and imagery:

The novelist with Christian concerns will find in modern life distortions which are repugnant to him, and his problem will be to make these appear as distortions to an audience which is used to seeing them as natural; and he may well be forced to take ever more violent means to get his vision across to this hostile audience.

When you can assume that your audience holds the same beliefs you do, you can relax a little and use more normal ways of talking to it; when you have to assume that it does not, then you have to make your vision apparent by shock – to the hard of hearing you shout, and for the almost blind you draw large and startling figures.

Anyone who has read The Violent Bear It Away or Everything That Rises Must Converge would have to agree that O’Connor had the ability to shout and startle.

On a more philosophical note, she reflected on the imbalance between abstract and concrete knowledge of her day in her essay: ‘The Catholic Novelist in the Protestant South,’ p 858–9, Collected Works:

It takes a story of mythic dimensions; one which belongs to everybody; one in which everybody is able to recognize the hand of God and imagine its descent upon himself.

In the Protestant South the Scriptures fill this role. The ancient Hebrew genius for making the absolute concrete has conditioned the Southerner’s way of looking at things…

Our response to life is different if we have been taught only the definition of faith than if we have trembled with Abraham as he held the knife over Isaac.

I’d say it was God’s genius for making the absolute concrete; but who’s quibbling. To paraphrase O’Connor, the point is that the abstract is transformed into the concrete thereby making the universal accessible. That’s what God has done throughout the Scriptures. To illustrate, I cite two examples.

The intricate description of the ephod and breastpiece of judgement belonging to the High Priest’s garments culminates in Exodus, chapter 28, verses 29 and 30:

So Aaron shall bear the names of the sons of Israel in the breastpiece of judgment on his heart, when he goes into the Holy Place, to bring them to regular remembrance before the Lord. And in the breastpiece of judgment you shall put the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be on Aaron’s heart, when he goes in before the Lord. Thus Aaron shall bear the judgment of the people of Israel on his heart before the Lord regularly. English Standard Version

If we have ears to hear it, all the concrete details of these garments portray the concern Aaron was to have for the people of Israel as he regularly bore their judgement on his heart while he brought them in remembrance before the Lord. We later learn, in the Letter to the Hebrews, that Aaron and his line are a shadow of the reality residing in the Lord Jesus Christ’s intercession for His own before the Father.

Another example of the abstract being made concrete is the bread and wine of communion. First, the Lord Jesus shocks the religious rulers of His day (and us, if we’re honest):

“I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. And the bread that I will give for the life of the world is my flesh.”

The Jews then disputed among themselves, saying, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

So Jesus said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever feeds on my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” John 6:51-54 (ESV)

Then in the Upper Room, the Lord inaugurates the commemoration of His death and resurrection:

And as they were eating, he took bread, and after blessing it broke it and gave it to them, and said, “Take; this is my body.” And he took a cup, and when he had given thanks he gave it to them, and they all drank of it. And he said to them, “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many. Truly, I say to you, I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until that day when I drink it new in the kingdom of God.” Mark 14:22-25 (ESV)

Finally, Paul explains its significance

For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes. 1 Corinthians 11:23-26 (ESV)

Which brings us full circle back to John, chapter 6:

Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” John 6:35 (ESV)

Even the Prophet Isaiah said as much:

“Come, everyone who thirsts,

    come to the waters;

and he who has no money,

    come, buy and eat!

Come, buy wine and milk

    without money and without price.

Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,

    and your labor for that which does not satisfy?

Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good,

    and delight yourselves in rich food.

Incline your ear, and come to me;

    hear, that your soul may live;

and I will make with you an everlasting covenant,

    my steadfast, sure love for David.

Isaiah 55:1-3 (ESV)

Indeed, come and eat.

High Priest's Garments

The High Priest Aaron, Illustration from Brockhaus and Efron Jewish Encyclopedia (1906—1913), Public Domain in the United States