Thursday, September 06, 2007

Overcoming The Long Night of Unbelief

I once heard a story about a rather cruel experiment. It seems that a researcher put a mouse in a bucket of water to see how long it would tred water. Just as the mouse was going under to drown, the researcher rescued the unfortunate rodent. The researcher found that if the same mouse were subjected to the same conditions, the mouse would tred water for much longer than the first time the experiment happened. The reason it could last longer, the researcher hypothesized, was because the mouse had hope based on its first rescue. That hope of rescue gave the mouse the strength it needed to hold on.

David likened calamity to drowng. He wrote:

"If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,
Let Israel now say—
If it had not been the LORD who was on our side,
When men rose up against us,
Then they would have swallowed us alive,
When their wrath was kindled against us;
Then the waters would have overwhelmed us,
The stream would have gone over our soul;
Then the swollen waters
Would have gone over our soul. (Psalm 124:1-4).

The physical threat of armies caused anguish for the whole person. The spirit was affected as well as the body. The spiritual floodwaters of fear threatened to overwhelm their very souls. Yet, God delivered, and David reminded them, "Let Israel now say, if it had not been the LORD who was on our side" then the enemy would have prevailed.

God's faithfulness is the key to surviving the long night of unbelief. That is, after all, the main cause of our fears and woes. We believe that we will fail, that the enemy will prevail, or that nothing will ever change. The monotony of life and apathy erode our confidence in God. Yet, there is hope while faith holds and a candle yet smolders. The bruised reed may stand straight and strong again.

I have often said to those who grieve that the candle of hope kindled in Christ's resurrection shines brightest in the Valley of the Shadow of Death. The same can be said of the long night of unbelief. Though surrounded by doubt and hopelessness, if we can yet see the promise of God in the risen Christ, we may yet come out of this vale to the green pastures.

My failures as a husband and pastor are legion. I am unworthy of the mantle of those who came before me. And for every failure, I feel the accusation of Satan as did Martin Luther of old. Luther said that Satan would come to him and say, "Luther, Thou art a great sinner!" And what shall I say? There is truth to the charge. I answer with Paul, and with Luther, and with John Newton, "This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Tim. 1:15). John Newton who said, "My memory is nearly gone; but I remember two things; That I am a great sinner, and that Christ is a great Savior."

This hope, this blessed hope, that Christ came to save sinners is the guide out of the long night of unbelief. There I am, in the valley of woe, sad and filled with worry, a sinner filled with doubt. Yet that is precisely the kind of hopeless and helpless wretch that Christ came to deliver. I find in this a hope that cannot be quenched and a light that is never smothered. Hope in Christ, beloved, and He will see you through.

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