Confident in a World Beset by Doubts
“Blessed is the able-bodied man who puts his trust in Jehovah, and whose confidence Jehovah has become.”—Bible
‘An easy and elegant skepticism is the attitude expected of an educated adult.’—Worldly philosophy
1, 2. What was the attitude of certain Greeks, and what has this world’s higher learning produced?
“WHAT is truth?” That reply given by Pontius Pilate to Jesus Christ is typical of the skeptical attitude of many people. (John 18:38) Of the ancient Greek skeptics it has been said that they “aimed at an undisturbed tranquillity of mind, to be attained by a constant balancing of opposing arguments, thus reducing everything to a state of uncertainty and doubt.”
2 Variants of this attitude of skepticism were developed nearer our day by such philosophers as Frenchman René Descartes, Dutchman Spinoza, Scotsman David Hume and the German philosopher Kant. Through the influence of these men and many others, systematic doubt has become an article of faith of higher learning. Universities in all countries have thus produced a generation of doubters, for whom “everything is relative.”
3. (a) What is one of the bad effects of systematic doubt? (b) What better attitude is encouraged in the Bible?
3 Speaking of the bad effects of such systematic uncertainty, one authority states that a “consequence of the attitude of relativism and scepticism in our own age is quite simply a lack of reverence for truth as such.” It goes on to say:
Reverence for truth is not simply the pseudo-cynicism of our own age which tries to “unmask” everything, in the belief that no one and nothing can genuinely lay claim to truth. It is the attitude which combines joyful confidence that truth can indeed be found, with a humble submission to truth whenever and wherever it emerges. Such openness to truth is required of those who worship the God of truth. . . . This is the attitude . . . to which both the [Old Testament] and the [New Testament] bear witness.—“New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology,” 1978, Volume 3, pages 900, 901.
Joyful Confidence in the Truth
4, 5. (a) How do the Scriptures inspire confidence, not doubt? (b) What are the good effects of openness to the “healthful words” of the Bible?
4 Yes, the entire Bible inspires in its readers, not doubt, but confidence. The Hebrew Scriptures state: “Blessed is the able-bodied man who puts his trust in Jehovah, and whose confidence Jehovah has become.” (Jer. 17:7) And in the Christian Greek Scriptures Paul writes: “I have lost no confidence, because I know who it is that I have put my trust in, and I have no doubt at all that he is able to take care of all that I have entrusted to him until that Day.” No skepticism there!—2 Tim. 1:12, The Jerusalem Bible.
5 After having thus expressed his complete confidence in God, Paul adds: “Keep holding the pattern of healthful words that you heard from me with the faith and love that are in connection with Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 1:13) Openness to the “healthful words” to be found in the Bible increases our faith and love and gives us joyful confidence in the truthfulness of all the precious promises Jehovah has given us. This, in turn, gives us hope, which is “an anchor for the soul, both sure and firm.”—Heb. 6:17-19.
6. To be able to tell out the “good news” to others, what do we need ourselves?
6 It is such joyful confidence in the truth that enables us to go forth and preach the good news of God’s kingdom as the only hope for mankind. One must be thoroughly convinced of the truthfulness of the message of hope to tell it out to others. Thus we can say to those who listen to us: “The good news we preach did not turn up among you with speech alone but also with power and with holy spirit and strong conviction.” “When you received God’s word, which you heard from us, you accepted it, not as the word of men, but, just as it truthfully is, as the word of God.”—1 Thess. 1:5; 2:13.
7, 8. In the early Christian congregation, who helped the brothers to banish doubts?
7 In the early Christian congregation faithful overseers helped their fellow Christians to banish doubts and to be firm in the faith. With the help of the holy spirit the first-century governing body, made up of the apostles and elders of the Jerusalem congregation, made decisions, issued instructions and sent out faithful men to build up the brothers. In the Bible book of Acts we read: “Now as they [Paul, Silas and their traveling companions] traveled on through the cities they would deliver to those there for observance the decrees that had been decided upon by the apostles and older men who were in Jerusalem. Therefore, indeed, the congregations continued to be made firm in the faith and to increase in number from day to day.”—Acts 16:4, 5; 15:23-29.
8 Writing to the congregation in Colossae, Paul spoke of the faithful Christian Epaphras as “always exerting himself in your behalf in his prayers, that you may finally stand complete and with firm conviction in all the will of God.” (Col. 4:12) Even in those days, there could be no room for skepticism and doubt. Those early Christians needed ‘firmness in the faith,’ “firm conviction.”
9. Why is Christian confidence particularly important today?
9 Is Christian confidence any less important in our day, in a world where, to quote British philosopher Bertrand Russell, ‘an easy and elegant skepticism is the attitude expected of an educated adult’? No. If anything, firm conviction is even more important because, more than ever, “the spirit that now operates in the sons of disobedience” encourages mistrust and doubt. (Eph. 2:2) Therefore the Christian who is beset by doubts should recognize the danger and take the necessary steps so as “finally [to] stand complete and with firm conviction.”
10, 11. (a) If doubts begin to take root in our mind, what questions should we ask ourselves? (b) How would over 2,000,000 people answer those questions?
10 If insidious doubts ever begin to creep into his mind, the Christian would do well first to weigh the situation and ask himself a few pointed questions:
Where did I learn that God’s name is Jehovah, what that name means, what is God’s loving purpose for mankind and why he has allowed suffering to go on so long on earth?—Ps. 83:18; Rev. 21:3, 4; 2 Pet. 3:9, 13.
Who taught me that Jesus Christ is not a second part of a Trinitarian godhead, but Jehovah’s only-begotten Son, and who was it that helped me to understand the full meaning of redemption from sin through Christ’s ransom sacrifice?—John 3:16; 14:28; 1 Cor. 15:27, 28.
What religion cleared up in my mind the question of the holy spirit, not a personal “Holy Ghost,” but Jehovah’s active force, and where have I found a group of persons who sincerely endeavor to produce the fruitage of the spirit?—Acts 2:33; Gal. 5:22, 23; Col. 3:12-14.
Which religious organization set me straight on the ancient pagan idea of the immortality of the human soul, proving from the Bible that the soul is mortal and thus giving real meaning to the Bible doctrine of the resurrection and freeing me from the God-dishonoring dogma of hellfire?—Ezek. 18:4; Acts 24:15; Rom. 6:23.
Who has been preaching God’s kingdom as mankind’s only hope, and who has helped me to become aware that we are living in the “last days” and that we should “keep on the watch” for the coming of the Son of man?—Mark 13:10, 33-37; Luke 21:34-36; 2 Pet. 3:3-7.
With whom have I found a real purpose in life, “the peace of God,” protection from the temptations and pitfalls of this world and practical wisdom in solving life’s problems?—Matt. 24:45-47; 1 Tim. 3:15; Phil. 4:6-9.
Finally, what group of Christians genuinely have ‘love among themselves’ (John 13:34, 35), really respect the principles outlined in John 17:14, 16 and Isaiah 2:4, and are persecuted, not because they meddle in politics, but simply ‘on account of Jesus’ name,’ that is, for being real Christians?—Matt. 24:9; John 15:18, 19.
11 For over 2,000,000 persons living in more than 200 lands and island groups, the candid answer to those questions is: Jehovah’s Witnesses, as fed spiritually by the “faithful and discreet slave” class and its governing body.—Compare Luke 12:42-44.
Keep a Positive Attitude
12. Where do doubts begin?
12 To avoid catching the spirit of the world, a spirit of suspicion, mistrust and skepticism, it is necessary to watch one’s deeper motives. To the 11 faithful apostles and other disciples who had trouble believing that he was really resurrected, Christ said: “Why are you troubled, and why is it doubts come up in your hearts?” (Luke 24:38) Yes, that is where doubts begin—in the heart.
13, 14. (a) Of what can doubts be a sign? (b) What lesson can we learn from unfaithful Israel?
13 So if disturbing doubts ever start troubling us, we should begin by examining our motives. Are our doubts genuine, or are they a pretext for slowing down? Do they betray a lack of endurance? Do they reflect a lack of faith in God’s power to forgive? Has some individual been sowing seeds of doubt? (1 John 1:9; Acts 20:30) Paul writes: “Beware, brothers, for fear there should ever develop in any one of you a wicked heart lacking faith by drawing away from the living God. . . . ‘Do not harden your hearts.’”—Heb. 3:12-15.
14 If we keep a positive attitude and remember all that Jehovah has done for us through his Son Jesus Christ and all we have learned about his purposes and promises through the spiritual food provided by means of the “faithful and discreet slave,” we will avoid becoming ungrateful like Israel, of whom Jehovah said: “Cattle know who owns them, and donkeys know where their master feeds them. But that is more than my people Israel know.”—Isa. 1:3, Good News Bible.
These Regained Confidence
15. How was one elder helped to overcome his doubts?
15 One elder in the west of France began to have doubts about being associated with God’s true congregation because, as he put it, the spiritual food being served seemed to him to be always the same. So he asked to be relieved of his Christian duties as an elder. However, his family and the other elders did not treat him as if he were an apostate. They lovingly helped him through prayer and upbuilding conversations. Gradually, this brother was helped to realize that there cannot be new explanations all the time, any more than a mother can serve entirely different meals three times a day and 365 days a year. The same basic ingredients come back in different forms, but an appreciative palate helps one to enjoy the food, digest it and draw strength from it. This brother was also helped to reflect on the dearth of spiritual food elsewhere. He gradually regained confidence, deepened his appreciation for the good things learned in the Watch Tower publications, got his spiritual strength back and experienced newfound joy in Jehovah’s service. Now, he is once again serving as a Christian elder.
16. What caused doubts in the mind of a young French Witness and how was he set straight?
16 A young Witness in the south of France, who had had libertarian ideas before coming into the truth, came across a book on anarchism (“the theory that all forms of government interfere unjustly with individual liberty and should be replaced by the voluntary association of cooperative groups”). He read it, found it interesting, bought more books in the same vein and while reading these began to lose faith and to have doubts. Then, suddenly, to quote him, “I realized that I was allowing bad spiritual food to arouse in me traits of my old personality, one of which was a spirit of rebellion.” Two Watchtower articles set things straight in his mind: “The Way of Life—Narrow but Free,” in the October 15, 1977, issue, and “How God’s Kingdom Can Benefit You,” in the January 15, 1978, issue. He regained confidence, entered the full-time preaching work and is now serving as a special pioneer.
Confidence Brings Happiness
17, 18. What does James say about doubters, and what counsel does he give them?
17 These are just two examples of Christians who were beset by doubts, but who overcame them and recovered their happiness in God’s service. If they had yielded to their doubts, today they would be unhappy and without hope. The Bible says: “He who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven by the wind and blown about.” (Jas. 1:6) Yes, doubts make us vulnerable. James adds that the doubter “is an indecisive man, unsteady in all his ways.”—Jas. 1:8.
18 Strong confidence in Jehovah, in his Word and in his organization eliminates paralyzing doubts and brings real happiness. This is the path of true wisdom. “So,” says James, “if any one of you is lacking in wisdom, let him keep on asking God, for he gives generously to all and without reproaching; and it will be given him. But let him keep on asking in faith, not doubting at all.”—Jas. 1:5, 6.
19. Why should we avoid “the spirit of the world,” and what will help us to hold on to “the confidence we had at the beginning”?
19 If we pick up the “spirit of the world,” doubting will become a part of our thinking pattern. But Paul writes: “Now we received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is from God, that we might know the things that have been kindly given us by God.” (1 Cor. 2:12) If we are fully conscious of all “the things that have been kindly given us by God,” and if we recognize honestly that we have come to know these things by studying the Bible with Jehovah’s Witnesses, our deep gratitude to Jehovah will move us to banish doubt and “make fast our hold on the confidence we had at the beginning firm to the end.”—Heb. 3:14.
20. What are two of the rewards of confidence?
20 If we ‘make fast our confidence’ in God, his infallible Word and his earthly congregation under the direction of Christ, we will reap rich rewards both now and in the future. One of these, not to be underestimated, is peace of mind. The psalmist wrote: “Abundant peace belongs to those loving your law, and for them there is no stumbling block.” (Ps. 119:165; see also Colossians 3:15.) Most rewarding also are our healthful associations with faithful Christians who are appreciative of “the things that have been kindly given us by God,” through his spirit, his Word and his visible congregation.—Ps. 1:1-3; 2 Thess. 3:6, 14; Heb. 10:24, 25.
21, 22. (a) What other benefits does confidence bring? (b) What will be examined in the following article?
21 Holding fast “the confidence we had at the beginning” enables us to be zealous in God’s service, bringing joy to Jehovah and to ourselves. (Prov. 27:11) The joy we feel is a reward in itself (Matt. 25:23), but in addition it is a protection, a “stronghold,” for us. (Neh. 8:10) Such joy in Jehovah’s service gives us a positive outlook, one that becomes ever brighter as we see prophecies being fulfilled. We have a purpose in life. We know where we are heading. We have a glorious hope, centered on the “city” or Messianic kingdom to which Abraham looked forward.—Heb. 11:10, 16.
22 However, “the inspired utterance says definitely that in later periods of time some will fall away from the faith.” (1 Tim. 4:1) Why is this, and why should it not trouble us unduly? We will examine this in the following article.