As we discussed last time, suggestion is one of the great weapons in the enemy’s toolbox for harming those who struggle with doubt. The devil has no actual truth on his side in making the case that God does not exist or is evil or uncaring, so he has to rely on illusion to sell that lie. It is no accident, then, that Tradition has tended to cast a jaundiced eye on the magician or wizard as a servant of the devil — for all of them rely on the weaving of spells and illusions. The devil, says Jesus, is a liar and the father of lies. When he lies, he speaks his native tongue. And his most potent lies are reserved for turning us away from believing in the existence and love of God.
How, then, do we fight back? It is a surprising fact that Jesus answers that question, not with a book of apologetics, but with a counsel:
“My teaching is not mine, but his who sent me; if any man’s will is to do his will, he shall know whether the teaching is from God or whether I am speaking on my own authority” (John 7:16-17).
This is solid incarnational wisdom. If you are hagridden by doubts about your faith, the sensible thing is not to sit stewing in your juices about abstractions, but to start doing the things Jesus says we should do: namely prayer, fasting, almsgiving, the works of mercy, etc. As we do, we find the Holy Spirit coming alongside us and helping us begin to rediscover in a living way the truth of the things which, in the thick of doubt, might have seemed strictly academic or theoretical. Jesus becomes a living presence, not some guy who lived a long time ago.
This call to action is a useful diagnostic for us, because our response to it tells us something important. Namely: Are we doubtful because we have questions we want answered or because we have questions we don’t want answered? For, of course, there are two sorts of people in the world: those who ask questions to find things out and those who ask them to keep from finding things out.
The former sort can be seen in the apostles, who asked all sorts of questions of Jesus because they really wanted to know what was going on. Jesus never rebuked them for doing so. But when Pharisees demanded to know (despite all Jesus had done) by what authority he was doing his signs, Jesus refused to answer them for a very simple reason: He knew they didn’t want an answer. They were looking for ammo, not answers. The counsel to do what Jesus commands is a quick way to find out which sort of questions we are asking. If we are looking for answers, we will be happy to obey him while we ask our questions. If we are looking to avoid him, we will find some excuse not to obey while “asking questions” and ignoring the answers. And, if we are in that latter camp, we will have the first response to our doubts right there — namely, “Repent, obey and believe the Good News.”
Chances are, of course, if you are poring over an article like this in search of what to do about your doubts, you are not in the class of people who is struggling to escape from Jesus. On the contrary, odds are, you’ve been trying to serve him the best you can and you feel dry as a bone, filled with all sorts of doubts and questions. Of questions, we will speak next time. But in the meantime, know this: The prayer and obedience offered in dryness pleases God best — and if only the will to obey is present. He delights in your service. On that, more in the future, as well.
Mark Shea is senior content editor at Catholic Exchange. He blogs at NCRegister.com.