Blessed are the Curious, When Doubt Pays Off

By Ryan Sanders
In Formed
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One of the most memorable sermons I’ve ever heard at IBC was about doubt. The preacher’s name was Jay. To illustrate the importance of faith, Jay invited a volunteer to come to the stage. He held out a closed fist to the volunteer and said, “I'm going to give you whatever is in my hand. I'm telling you now, before I show you, that what's in my hand is one hundred dollars.”

Then he turned to the audience and said, “Do you think I'm telling her the truth?”

There was a general rumble toward the affirmative.

Then Jay started to ask questions.

“If there really is one hundred dollars in my hand, where did it come from? My bank account or the church’s?”

A cloud of doubt flickered in the volunteer’s eyes.

“I'm speaking at all three services today.” (This was back when IBC had three services.) “Do you think I'm really going to give away three hundred dollars of my own? And if it’s not my own, do you think the board of elders would approve giving away the church's money this way?”

The volunteer shuffled her feet.

“What if it's Monopoly money?”

The volunteer looked visibly shaken.

“What if I really meant I would give you whatever is in my other hand?”

After he created doubt in everyone's mind, Jay turned back to the volunteer and asked, “Do you still believe I'm really going to give you one hundred dollars?”

To her credit, she mustered her faith and answered, “Yes!”

Jay said, “Now, that's faith! She has reason to doubt. She has considered the alternatives. And yet she believes. Now I'm going to ruin her faith. I'm going to crush it right in front of you all.”

Then Jay opened his hand and revealed a crisp one hundred dollar bill. He handed it to the volunteer and she fairly skipped back to her seat.

Jay drove home the point: The only thing necessary to kill faith is fact. Doubt isn't the enemy of faith; certainty is. As long as the object of the promise remained hidden from her, the volunteer had to rely on her faith in Jay’s good character. But as soon as the money was in her hand, she no longer needed faith.

Corrie ten Boom, the Christian subversive who helped Jews escape the Nazi Holocaust, who had every reason to doubt God’s good character, wasn't content with certainty. She wrote, “A religion that is small enough for our understanding would not be big enough for our needs.”

That is why I’m so excited about the sermon series we’re in right now. It illustrates a remarkable honesty on the part of our teaching team. Barry and our other teachers realize that their role is not to be the most certain people in the room. Their role is to be the most honest people in the room. And they can do that because they trust the character of God.

Too many people in our culture have a stereotype of church people saying, “Don’t ask so many questions. Don’t rock the boat. Doubt is bad. Just be quiet.” But God is not afraid of hard questions or curious minds. In fact, I think he delights in them like a father watching his children learn. It’s not as if God is sitting on the edge of his eternal throne, wringing his hands and muttering, “Oh, I hope no one down there thinks to ask about evolution. I don’t know what I’ll tell them!”

Quite the opposite, like a shrewd filmmaker, he has planted whispers of truth and beauty like Easter eggs all around the universe in places we’ll never find them without keen eye and an inquisitive spirit. He only wants us to trust his good character. To have faith in what we cannot understand. To know that he wouldn’t lie to us and he’s not toying with us, but he’s also older, larger, wiser, and stronger than us.

Jay’s sermon about faith and doubt has stuck with me, which is an important mark of a good sermon. But his hundred-dollar illustration comes up short in one way: the goal of our faith is never to get the blessing God has for us. We don’t learn to trust God so that we can get him to open his fist. We learn to trust God so we can get him. The serendipitous unveiling in any journey of faith is not that we wind up more healthy, wealthy, or popular. It’s that we wind up closer to the one we have trusted. It’s that we trust him more.

So I hope you’re bringing your questions to God during this sermon series — your really hard questions. Because if you do, I know you’ll find him smiling his approval and whispering, “Blessed are the curious.”

FORMED

God is calling us, the people of Irving Bible Church, to become a multi-ethnic movement of missionary disciples, formed in the way of Jesus for the sake of the world.

We want to be a transformed people who experience vibrant spiritual growth together. We want the Spirit of God to shape us more and more into the likeness of Jesus as we follow him.

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