A coda on doubt

I forgot to include one thing in yesterday’s post about doubt. The unqualified affirmation of doubt, combined with the extension or requirement of experiencing it to all, is a problem also on pastoral grounds. Namely, the goodness of the good news depends on the ability to proclaim it without reservation or condition. The gospel announces an unrestricted promise of divine grace and love: “God has come near in Christ Jesus—repent and believe the good news!” The creeping, casual generalization of doubt to all believers and all belief as such has the effect of nullifying the force of this proclamation. For it is not only the unconditional quality of the message but the divine subject of the evangelical predicate that makes the message a matter of glad tidings, an announcement that is much more than a strong suggestion, but rather a word that of itself has the power to change lives, because it has already changed the world.

For example, the gospel does not say “You are forgiven.” It says “In Christ God has forgiven you.” It does not say “You have worth.” It says “You are made in the image of God.” It does not say “You have the power to do the good.” It says “God has given you his Holy Spirit, who will empower you to do the good.”

Moreover, such claims lose all power with a question mark placed next to them. “God loves you—maybe.” “God’s grace covers your sins—possibly.” “God’s Spirit will not abandon you—hopefully.” The gospel is a promise, and for the promise to take effect, it must be believed. It can be believed because of its speaker, the creator and redeemer of all, the One who keeps his promises. The irony is that, in seeking to be responsive to pastoral needs, those who absolutize doubt as an inevitable and even healthy mark of mature faith in the modern age rob themselves of the greatest pastoral resource available to them: the power of the gospel.

On the contrary, then: Do nothing to qualify or undermine the liberating promise of God’s good news in Christ: as the power of God for salvation, it places a question mark next to all human endeavors—not the reverse.

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