My natural inclination is to believe life will turn out just fine; I lean towards the positive. It’s not that I think every day will be sunshine and daisies (my home is in Michigan, the birthplace of gray skies), it’s just that I believe the sun will come out eventually.
Last month my outlook on life was normal: optimistic. I had reasonably high hopes that my next book will sell well after its July release; I felt positive about the “fruit” of my daily tasks (writing, counseling, etc.); and I mostly believed God would work things for the good.
These past couple weeks I’ve been sick and my outlook on life turned sour.
I began to doubt that people are interested in learning to hear God (the topic of my book); I questioned whether anything I do contributes anything of value to the world; and I began to worry that God wanted to punish me for some past, forgotten sin.
Bear in mind: nothing external had changed! I didn’t receive negative comments from my publisher. Readership of my blog and one-on-one counseling interaction remained the same. And I didn’t read a Scripture passage that says, “God really dislikes you.”
The world outside remained constant. No new information came my way—not the dinkiest fact—that should convert my beliefs into doubts. And yet my fears festered and flourished.
Sometimes we need to doubt our doubts.
And Then There Are Other Times
Jerome Kagan is a pioneering psychologist in the area of adolescent development. He studied children across thirty-six cultures and discovered that children everywhere are born with one of three different instinctive reactions to external threats:
- Some are wired for anxiety: their immediate reaction is, “Let’s get out of here.”
- Some are naturally aggressive: they think, “Let’s get them before they get us.”
- Some are just optimistic: they say, “Hey, let’s not get bent out of shape; things will work out just fine.”
But none of these temperaments is always right. The anxious response may be healthy in dangerous times but it’s crippling in times of plenty; and aggressive people may succeed during safe times but their lack of caution may kill them when restraint is required.
Sometimes our natural beliefs are just wrong. Kagan says,
The aggressive has to realize that sometimes you really are to blame, the anxious has to realize that sometimes you really aren’t to blame, and the optimistic has to realize that sometimes things are terrible.
In other words, sometimes we need to doubt our beliefs.
But … How Do We Know?
Our instinctive doubts and beliefs are unreliable. Our moods create doubts we shouldn’t always believe, and our natural temperaments create beliefs that should sometimes be doubted. We need something outside ourselves.
That thing outside ourselves is God’s promises.
Anytime we make a promise, we commit ourselves to create a future for someone else. In marriage vows we vow “for better or worse, in sickness and health.” We pledge our lives to make a hopeful future for another. (Though we’re not very good at keeping our word.)
In his promises, God has committed himself fully to create a future for us. And he is faithful:
- I will never leave you nor forsake you.” (Deut. 31:6)
- All things work together for good … for those called according to his purpose. (Rom. 8:28)
- I know my plans for you, plan for good and not disaster, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jer. 29:11)
Our beliefs and our doubts are fickle and erratic, sometimes sunny and often gloomy. We can choose what we believe. We really can choose to doubt our doubts, even doubt our natural beliefs, and simply believe his promises.
In both our sickness and health.