When I drive in the car, I usually have WAY-FM (think K-LOVE but less sappy) on in the car. I enjoy most of the radio personalities and they play semi-recent Christian music. To be honest, though, I have it on for background noise most of the time. Occasionally, I do listen to the songs, what the radio hosts are talking about, and whatever else may be part of their programming. One of the station’s regular spots is called “Reaching Your World with Luis Palau.” If you don’t know who Palau is, you can read up on him here. To save you time, he is a well-known radio evangelist. And to be quite clear, that’s not a bad thing. Not at all. Most of his radio spots are quite good (as far as radio evangelism is concerned). It was a few mornings ago now when, in a strange moment of interest, I started listening carefully to one of Palau’s clips – and I could not believe what I was hearing.
To keep from spoiling the surprise, here’s the actual clip:
I hope that you’re as shocked as I am. In case you aren’t able to listen to the clip, I’m also including the transcript below:
“Did you know that doubt is a sin? Yet how often do we doubt God’s faithfulness along with His direction in our lives. We doubt He has a plan for us and doubt that He hears our prayers. But He does. Often we struggle with doubt when it feels like God isn’t coming through for us in the way we want Him too. Our human nature is all too keen to envision the perfect solutions to our problems when only God knows which solution is really the absolute best. ‘For I know the plans I have for you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.’ When doubt comes we must repent of this sin as soon as we recognize it. God doesn’t respond to need He responds to faith. When we doubt him there is no room for faith. And the bible clearly states, ‘Without faith it is impossible to please God.’ My friend, when we aren’t receiving our human desires and doubt God, remember to repent. Let’s remind ourselves of His faithfulness and trust his plans. As we reach our world we must encourage those around us to do the same.”
Before I charge headlong into this, some concessions need to be made. Palau and I are probably approaching this word – “doubt” – from differing angles. This will inevitably produce different interpretations. Also, Palau and I have different agendas. From what I can discern, Palau wants to instill security and urgency in people; I, on the other hand, am much more apt to arouse questions and critical consideration. With that said, let’s begin.
I dislike it when a person in power (the speaker) immediately plays his cards in the first two seconds. The rhetorical question “did you know that…” is an underhanded way to begin an argument about something like doubt. He then describes normal behavior – doubting faithfulness, plans, whether or not God hears prayers. Palau reminds us that God does, in fact, hear our prayers. Jeremiah 29:11 makes a predictable-yet-still-inappropriate appearance and then we’re hit with the bottom line: doubt is a sin. Why? He doesn’t give an explicit answer, but if we read between the lines, we can figure it out. The sin seems to be more tied to faithlessness than to having doubt. Doubt is symptomatic of lacking faith. What’s so incredibly frustrating is this sentence: “God doesn’t respond to need He responds to faith.” Doesn’t respond to need? I understand that, in context, Luis Palau is speaking about our own personal desires, things that might not necessarily align with God’s will/plan. But then he should have said it more accurately: “God doesn’t respond to want…” If God doesn’t respond to my needs, then Luis and I serve very different deities. What’s so funny about the following statements is that he sets up a Catch-22 (if we’re going to ride this literal merry-go-round): Without faith, we can’t please God (Hebrews 11:6). But isn’t faith a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8-9)? To be fair, that last comment was a bit biting – but I think you can see my point. Proof-texting is never a good option, and while I’m not accusing Mr. Palau of employing such a method, his argumentation teeters dangerously close to doing so.
Let me be clear about something: faith is far too large and complex to be parsed into a simple equation pertaining to doubt and trust. There are too many levels of rationality, emotional engagement, and physical expression to make faith basic enough to be reduced to “doubt is bad” and “faith is good.”
Perhaps most troubling is that this is radio evangelism. If the main trajectory of this clip is to “reach our world” – a world full of doubt, uncertainty, and confusion – shouldn’t we be careful about using such polarizing language to describe how doubt and faith should work together? If I was a non-believer and I heard this, I’d probably say, “Well, if even Christians can’t doubt without getting in trouble, there’s no way I’ll ever make it.”
I do understand that Palau is trying to urge Christians to cast aside doubt when we are called to have faith, to trust when it is difficult, and to understand that any plan of God is far superior to anything we could ever dream up. However, his language is too general and his scope far too broad. In what should be a specifically targeted message, his comments cover too much ground and it seems he condemns any type of doubt in a believer. The whole reason I’m writing this post is because it angers me that, in order to reach the world around me, I am being urged to quell the very state of mind that many people have when they seek questions, unsure of what the answer will be. Do I doubt God? No. Do I have doubts about who God is? No, but I am confused sometimes. Have I ever had doubts? Yes. Double yes. Triple yes.
We must be careful in how we speak. Though doubt is not something a believer should actively practice, the topic of “repenting of doubt” probably isn’t the best evangelistic message to broadcast to a world that needs us to sit, to listen, and to help each other seek answers to terrifying and painful questions – through doubt, hope, joy, loss, and everything else.