Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it from me (2 Corinthians 12:8)
There are a couple of paths that lead us to our doubts. Sometimes we come to doubt by decision. At other times we come to doubt by degree.
The path of doubt by decision usually runs its course in the mind. It is a grappling with one of life’s mysteries, a struggle to make sense of what seems senseless. But doubt by degree is different. It is a quiet and gradual dawning of uncertainty, a growing discomfort in which sense precedes thinking.
Our weedy doubts grow in the soil of silence. For those who claim to be people of faith, the path of doubt by degree often leads to and through the silence of heaven.
Maybe you’ve been on the waiting side of a missed appointment. We usually call this being ‘stood up.’ You arrive at an agreed upon place and await the arrival of the other party. You may go ahead and secure a table, positioning yourself strategically so you can see who comes through the door. Time passes. Initially you glance at your watch and make a simple observation of fact: someone is running late. But the longer you wait the fact becomes a question. With each glance at your watch the questions multiply: Are they late or did they forget? Did you come to the right place? Did you get the wrong day or time?
The longer we wait, the more we wonder.
The apostle Paul was patient in suffering, but he was not passive. As to the nature of his suffering – his ‘thorn in the flesh’ – we are entirely ignorant. What we do know is that it was to him a source of ‘torment.’ He pleaded that God would take it away, make it right, ease the burden. His three-fold pleading most likely means three extended seasons of prayer: a persistent and prolonged wrestling with God followed by a faithful waiting. Heaven was silent. The thorn remained.
You may find yourself in a season of pleading right now. Maybe a second or even a third season. You have prayed and prayed again. You have opened your hands and surrendered your thorn to God in patient trust. And yet the thorn remains and heaven seems silent. Slowly the doubts take shape. With the passing of time and the unbroken silence the doubts grow.
To be fair, Paul never speaks of his own ‘doubts.’ Later this week we’ll see where his prayers took him. For now, what we can observe is that the letter in which he speaks of his thorn ends with his affirmation of the grace of Jesus, the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit (2 cor. 13:14).
Doubt does not inevitably lead to despair. What we experience as the silence of heaven is not the absence of God. In your waiting and wondering don’t stop praying. Acknowledge you doubt, but do not yield to despair.
Go through this day knowing that “the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit” is yours, even in your waiting.
Through this day, O God, and the waiting and wondering it may bring, sustain us by your grace. Comfort us with your love. Encourage us by the presence of your Spirit, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.