Doubt is in many ways the dirty d-word of modern evangelicalism. In a culture ruled by Oprah and Osteen, everyone tends to keep their demons and doubts hidden away under the bed. We are told we must be positive at all costs - even if it means being plastic.
Thankfully, there are still saints who reject this artificiality. The plain truth is that "we are not as strong as we think we are," and our cheap cosmetics are wearing off. We sin. We struggle. We trip over trials and temptations and plunge headlong into darkness. But God is still there.
God in the Dark is the second title I have redd from Os Guinness (after Prophetic Untimeliness last year). I appreciate his simple and robust writing, as well as the numerous well-chosen quotations he includes from other great authors such as George MacDonald, Søren Kierkegaard, Oswald Chambers and C. S. Lewis. Guinness is writing in the great orthodox tradition, while at the same time making his insights highly accessible to the modern reader.
The book begins by clearing up a widespread confusion surrounding the words doubt and unbelief. Many people use these terms almost interchangeably; Guinness attempts to show that they are actually quite different. Unbelief stands over and against faith - doubt is simply a state of suspension between the two. Doubt, like temptation, is a neutral proposition. It is the forbidden fruit, the proffered bribe, the fork in the road. It is only when doubt hardens into unbelief that it becomes damnable.
Many people suppress doubts because they are embarrassed or uneasy about them. Embarrassment or uneasiness may be appropriate feelings, but suppression is not the proper response. Doubts may be distressing, but they must be faced and dealt with. They are, in a sense, a sickness, and we cure sicknesses by treating them, not ignoring them.
Anyone who has done any endurance hiking knows that your leg muscles will from time to time "doubt" your ability to continue. Our spiritual pilgrimage is similarly demanding, straining heart, mind and soul to the breaking point. As Rich Mullins sings, "On this road to righteousness, sometimes the climb can be so steep." Sometimes it's hard to avoid wondering how much longer we can keep going, or whether it's even worth it. And that's okay. In the larger scheme of things, everything - even doubt - is part of the process of maturity. As Guinness writes, quoting Richard Sibbes, "We learn to stand by falls, and get strength by weakness discovered - virtutis custos infirmitas - we take deeper root by shaking." (18) Or as Aaron Tate wrote, "He came to show the way, not around but through." (-We Come To You)
Getting into the meat of the book, Guinness masterfully describes seven different kinds of doubt. This is where his insight really shines. At once very spiritual and very human, he gently leads the deluded, delirious doubter back to the cool, rational waters of truth. He is very comfortable with intricate matters of theology and philosophy but is not afraid of common sense either: "Interestingly, God's remedy for Elijah's depression was not a refresher course in theology but food and sleep." (137) "[Sometimes,] what is needed is not fresh arguments so much as fresh air." (159)
Near the end, Guinness deals with two tough, gut-wrenching questions: Why, O Lord? and How Long, O Lord? I actually skipped ahead and redd these two chapters before the central section, because I was in need of some answers and wanted to hear what he had to say. I was not disappointed. There was no jaunty self-help gobbledygook or gushy positive thinking, just solid exhortation to faith and fortitude.
"Faith does not know why, but it knows why it trusts God who knows why. We do not trust God because he guides us; we trust God and then are guided, which means that we can trust God even when we do not seem to be guided. Faith may be in the dark about guidance, but it is never in the dark about God. What God is doing may be mystery, but who God is is not." (176)
Image courtesy of samford.edu