Last week a friend asked me why she doubted God. She struggled to believe a promise which the Lord had confirmed through prayer and Scripture. She couldn't grasp it, because she doubted her own ability to hear from Him. Despair settled upon her, and there was little chance that faith might take root.
The relationship between doubt, despair, hope and faith is explored by Edmund Spenser in his allegorical poem, The Faerie Queen (Middlesex, England,: Penguin Books, 1978). Faith goes for a walk in a forest named Doubt. Faith becomes lost, and meets a person named Despair. Despair assures Faith that he can lead her out of the forest of Doubt. Despair leads Faith to a river called Suicide and tells her to jump in. Just as Faith is about to jump into the river, Hope comes along, takes Faith by the hand, and leads her away from Despair and out of Doubt.
How many of us wander through a forest of doubt everyday, and grabbing hold of despair, follow him instead of hope? Despair's mission is to destroy hope, and bring spiritual death to your faith. At this point the stage is set for hope's entrance, but somehow hope is stuck in the wings. Perhaps we wait for hope to gallop on to our stage as a knight on a white horse. Most often, though, hope enters as a tiny spark which, when fanned into a flame, has the potential to grow into great faith.
Doubt is a state of mind, but disbelief is a state of your spirit. Disbelief is the result of spiritual death. Doubt hears Jesus knocking at the door, and longs to open it. Disbelief doesn't even hear His knock (Revelation 3:21).When despair pulls you down to the point of spiritual death, and disbelief has overwhelmed your spirit, you forget that there is any hope.
However, there is great news! Jesus Christ died so that you might have hope! Consider Jesus Christ as Hope in Spenser's poem. He is the Savior that comes as a still small voice and speaks to our despair—encouraging us not to sink into the depths of disbelief. If we allow He guides us away from spiritual death toward a life of faith.
“Isn't this stupid?” my friend asked. “To doubt what I have heard from God?” She didn't want to change God's will into her own, but she was so terrified of doing just that very thing, despair was ready to claim her.
Following the resurrection Jesus appeared to the disciples. “Why do doubts rise in your minds? Look at my hands and my feet. Touch me and see” (Luke 24:37-39). David Seamands writes of Christ as our wounded healer. “If he merely understood the fact of our infirmities, that would be good enough. But I've got better news for you. He understood the feelings of our infirmities—not just the crippling, not just the weaknesses, not just the emotional hang-ups and inner conflict, but the pain that comes from them” (Healing for Damaged Emotions, [Colorado: Chariot Victor Publishing, 1991], 43). Jesus was wounded for our transgressions and for our feelings of despair-not just with His mind, but with His body and His spirit (Hebrews 4:15).
Oswald Chambers describes a spiritual plane where doubt can not intrude as one of “sublime intimacy”. “Believe steadfastly on Him, and all you come up against will develop your faith” (My Utmost for His Highest [Michigan: Discovery House Publishers, 1963], 177). “Faith,” Chambers concludes, “is unutterable trust in God, trust which never dreams that He will not stand by us” (page 177). Sublime intimacy with the Savior is where faith has been tested and has become our personal possession. It has become pure joy because it has overcome our deepest suffering (James 1:2-3).
My friend has a great longing in her heart to reach this higher spiritual plane. She realizes that this can only be found in Jesus. She has discovered that if she concentrates on what she has been promised instead of the One who gave her the promise, she loses the faith not only to believe the promise, but also faith in the One who gave her the promise.
Don’t follow Despair around in your forest of Doubt. Despair will lead you to the river and tell you to end it all. But Faith will build a bridge and speak hope to your promise.
“Did I not tell you that if you believed, you would see the glory of God?" Jesus asked Martha after raising Lazarus from the dead (John 11:40). Hope takes Faith by the hand, and leads her away from Despair and out of Doubt. Jesus waits for you to place your hand into His wounded one and believe. Reach up and grasp His wounded hand and you grasp His promise.