The wednesday morning session was introduced by Mark Seager (Paulsgrove Bapist). We sang "When we walk with the Lord" and then I read the scripture.
Jonathan introduced this difficult passage by telling us about a conversation a friend of his who is a pastor in London. This man had many years experience as a Christian - but had recently been involved pastoring a young couple whose 4 year old daughter had a serious illness which eventually proved fatal. And he described how this trauma brought in its wake a wave of doubt; questioning things he had been certain of for half a century.
Only blind faith is invulnerable to doubt. And there is no merit in blind faith. A schoolboy definition of faith goes: "faith is believing something you know aint true" - a similar definition is taken by the so-called "New Atheists."
He spoke of students who had tried assiduously to keep the studied discipline completely separate from their faith - lest their faith be threatened.
Biblical faith does not recognise these options. We are encouraged to ask impossible questions. To wrestle with them. Habakkuk starts his prophecy with questions and ends with worship. A christian who claims to have no doubts should be treated with the same degree of skepticism as a husband who claims never to have arguments with his wife.
If we try to live consistently and allow our faith to inform our lives there will inevitably come a seemingly inexplicable problem which confronts and threatens our faith. Nevertheless we should distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Only a believer can doubt - doubt is the questioning of an already held belief.
Jeremiah's doubt: Faith in two minds
v7,8,10 He felt isolated. "I am ridiculed all day long: everyone mocks me." He had just received a humiliating and painful punishment in the stocks. He was nicknamed "Terror on every side" - a phrase that often cropped up in his prophecies. He was somewhat paranoid fearing a whispering campaign against him.
Isolation is demoralising and often leads to doubt. And yet it's common. Being the only Christian in your workplace. Or in your family.
v7 He felt betrayed. God had given him prophecies but had yet to make good on them. Jeremiah was looking increasingly like a false prophet as the doom he predicted didn't take place. He felt as though he'd been sent out on false pretenses.
v14-18 He felt depressed. He ends the chapter despairing to the point of being suicidal. "I would rather have been aborted than live the life I have" is the essence of his message. The incredibly graphic language describes the way he feels, rather than being specific curses.
But he is not alone in this depression. Elijah, after the showdown with the prophets of Baal in which both he and God were vindicated, pleaded with God to take his life.
Battered emotions can produce a crop of doubt more devastating than an atheists hardest questions.
An then there was another prophet, alone crying out "My God! my God! Why have you forsaken me?" from a cross against a darkening sky...
Jeremiah's faith: talking straight with God
He was totally honest. "We need not attempt to bottle it up because God invites us to pour it out." -- John Goldingay
There is no point or room for pretense with God. "Unreality towards God is the wasting disease of much modern Christianity" -- Jim Packer
This honesty is not merely emotional catharsis: it is an adult and appropriate way to deal with issues in a trusting relationship.
v9 He felt compelled to speak. "His word is like a fire. I am weary of holding it in; I cannot." Going on is hard, but not going on is impossible. This works because true faith is not something we conjure up, but a gift of God. Irresistible grace. It is there - and in times of doubt we can experience the strength of God's grip on us as our grip on him seems to weaken.
v11-13 He was sure of God's presence and power. "The Lord is on my side like a mighty warrior." God was there and Jeremiah was confident of rescue.
When they are in Doubting Castle in Pilgrim's Progress, Hopeful reassures the doubting Pilgrim by reminding him of the great things that he was already seen accomplished.
We can look back at the cross and consider what Jesus Christ has accomplished for us on our behalf. We may not understand what we are experiencing and it may not fit neatly into a box, but the cross assures us that it is not God's indifference or abandonment.
"faith ... is the art of holding on to something your reason has once accepted in spite of your change of moods" -- C. S. Lewis
He spoke of a family he knows where the father is suffering from cancer. His latest prayer letter was characteristically upbeat - asking for prayer that they would not spend time looking inwards so much as upwards.
We need, as Martin Lloyd-Jones put it, to spend more time speaking to ourselves than listening to ourselves.
This is not false comfort, nor a cheap hallelujah - a dark night of the soul can be used to build a stronger, more adult, godliness.
It is not so much great faith we need as faith in a great God." -- Hudson Taylor.
We closed by singing "I know not why God's wondrous grace"