March 12, 2008

Is Skepticism Killing Your Spiritual Growth?

"We live in a culture that has, for centuries now, cultivated the idea that the skeptical person is always smarter than one who believes. You can be almost as stupid as a cabbage, as long as you doubt. The fashion of the age has identified mental sharpness with a pose, not with genuine intellectual method and character. Only a very hardy individualist or social rebel--or one desperate for another life--therefore stands any chance of discovering the substantiality of the spiritual life today.Today it is the skeptics who are the social conformists, though because of powerful intellectual propaganda they continue to enjoy thinking of themselves as wildly individualistic and unbearably bright." Dallas Willard, Hearing God.
"So the other disciples told him, 'We have seen the Lord!' But Thomas said to them, 'Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.'" John 20:25

Following God is an act of faith. God reveals just enough of Himself to make it plausible to believe, but not so much that our belief can be substantiated beyond the shadow of a doubt. We have to weigh all the evidence, check all of our facts, learn all we can, but in the end it is a leap of faith. We have to take a risk, and trust.

It is imperative that we hear God's voice in today's culture...hear His voice and see Him working in our world, but skepticism can stand in our way.

Just because we have taken a step of faith to believe God exists or even trusted in Jesus for forgiveness doesn't mean we have left our skepticism behind. In fact, it is quite in vogue to remain skeptical well into the Christian life. It is seen as being thoughtful, or, as Dallas Willard puts it "unbearably bright."

It OK to question, ponder, not chase after every whim and breeze of belief, and evaluate and test things. The Bible encourages us to love God with the totality of our being; including our minds. But there is a difference between questioning and being skeptical. Skepticism is the pessimistic side of the equation. It approaches the question, problem, or idea from the side of disbelief and rejection. The idea must be proven before considered valid.

Skepticism is an easy trap to fall into. The educational system breeds skepticism. The culture encourages it. Believers are considered naive and simple. Those who accept and follow an idea are said to be uneducated or stupid. But skepticism has some dangerous side effects. It is like one of those television prescription advertisements that promotes the cure for one problem, but leaves you with a long list of side effects that are worse than the original problem. It will rob you of joy and hope, and ultimately kill your spiritual growth.

The problem arises when it comes to modern day miracles and hearing the voice of God. Skepticism automatically looks for scientific explanation. It ascribes much to the realm of coincidence. We chalk things up to coincidence or "luck," and remove God from the entire equation. The money just happened to show up on that day. That person just happened to give the much needed compliment or correction at that time. You just happened to be late enough to miss that accident. It is easier to say the body self-healed or that some prescription started working than it is to say that the Creator of the universe intervened and brought healing or provided for a need. When skepticism reaches full bloom, God is robbed of the credit and glory He deserves for what He has done.

I am not saying we need to see every little thing as the intervention of God; only that we must be more open to see things as the movement and communication of God. Is it so wrong to say that the same God who breathed life into humanity, that nurtured the message of His love for centuries, and ultimately sacrificed Himself for our sins would not want to care for us and speak to us on a regular basis? Leonard Sweet once said, "I would rather be known for being too forgiving than for being too judgmental." I think we could say a similar thing about our belief in the activity of God. We should rather be known as expecting God to be too involved than not involved enough.

It is just as easy to believe that every trial is demonic and ever coincidence is a sign or symbol and every dream has a message (and wasn't the pepperoni pizza you ate way too late the night before!) and every thought a Word from God. Sometimes those things are exactly what they appear to be, and sometimes they are meant to be a Word from God.

Skepticism comes easily for me. I test and weigh everything I see and hear, and this is not necessarily a bad thing...until it becomes a pessimistic skepticism. There is definitely a fine line to be walked.

Hearing God's voice and recognizing His movement is of vital importance for us today. We need to believe that the stories of Bible are normative for Christians; that they are our stories, and that God can and will respond to us in the same way. If we allow skepticism to rule, we will never hear God's voice or see His working in our world because we will always disregard it as something else, and over time we will blind ourselves to His movement and deafen ourselves to His voice.

Dallas Willard gives a formula for Living with God's Voice:
1. Enter into the new birth offered by Jesus Christ. Jesus told Nicodemus, "You must be born again." The symbolism of birth is meant to demonstrate the need to accept a whole new framework and worldview...a Kingdom mindset.

2. Seek the fullness of that new life and be led by the Holy Spirit. This means we are growing and gaining in our faith. We are doing the good required to bring about God's Kingdom in our world, and seeking to live in the fullness of His gifting.

3. Meditate on God's Word. The Bible reveals God, and sets forth His principles for living. We cannot expect God to lead us on a daily, conversational basis if we are not willing to listen to His word as revealed in the Scripture.

4. Remain alert and attentive to what is going on around us. God works through our thoughts and speaks to us in the situations around us. We can hear Him if we really listen.

5. Pray and speak to God. This is a two-sided conversation, and prayer is our responsibility in the relationship. God wants us to talk. He wants us to tell Him our hurts, pains, wants, desires, and problems, and not just ours, but those of the people around us whom we care about.

6. Use a regular plan. This means we take time to actively listen. We ask God questions and prayers, and then wait for His response. Lectio Divina is one method for hearing God's voice through Scripture, and there are others. Richard Foster's book Celebration of Discipline offers some practical steps and guidelines.

7. Expect times of quiet. In the beginning, it will take time to get used to hearing God's voice, and sometimes there will be no voice. When this happens:
  • Ask God to point out any sin or hindrance that may stand in the way. There may not be, but it is always wise to start here. Give it some time, and then move on if nothing is revealed.
  • Ask for advice. Go to one or two people who are wiser and have a deeper relationship with God (not close friends) and ask them for help. They may see something in your life that needs attention.
  • Correct any cause or sin if God points one out.
  • Act on what seems best if no answer or correction comes. Sometimes God is silent and lets us make the choice.
Skepticism can kill our spiritual growth because it gives alternative explanations to God's working and communication. It can become an idol in that rather than weighing everything against God it becomes the standard against which God is weighed. God will not stand allow Himself to be compared to anything.

Here are a couple other posts that may be of value
How Do I Hear From God?
5 Steps to Have a Consistent Time with God

No comments:

Post a Comment