Sermon illustrations


Between the Probable and Proved

Between the probable and proved there yawns A gap.

Afraid to jump, we stand absurd, Then see behind us sink the ground and, worse, Our very standpoint crumbling.

Desperate dawns Our only hope: to leap into the Word That opens up the shuttered universe.

Sheldon Vanauken, A Severe Mercy, HarperCollins.

Doubt and Trust

Michael Polanyi brilliantly points out that we cannot doubt something without simultaneously trusting in something else. Eve began to doubt God—more importantly her relationship with God—at the same moment she began to trust the serpent.

Taken from The Magnificent Story by James Bryan Smith. Copyright (c) 2018 by James Bryan Smith. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

Doubting the First Days

In this short excerpt from C.S. Lewis’ The Screwtape Letters, the fictional demon Wormwood instructs his apprentice Screwtape to build on the doubts that often occur once the initial spiritual and emotional exuberance of conversion begin to wear off.

Lewis’ imaginative advice here is a helpful reminder of the spiritual battle we are in, and the enemies’ goal to dampen our faith, making it an ineffective little part of our lives, rather than a world-changing faith.

Let him [the Christian] assume that the first ardours of his conversion might have been expected to last, and ought to have lasted, forever, and that his present dryness is an equally permanent condition.  Having once got this misconception well fixed in his head, you may then proceed in various ways.  It all depends on whether your man is of the desponding type who can be tempted to despair, or of the wishful-thinking type who can be assured that all is well. …

[Make] him doubt whether the first days of his Christianity were not, perhaps, a little excessive.  Talk to him about ‘moderation in all things’.  If you can once get him to the point of thinking that ‘religion is all very well up to a point’, you can feel quite happy about his soul.  A moderated religion is as good for us as no religion at all—and more amusing.

C.S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters (1942) in The Complete C. S. Lewis Signature Classics, HarperOne, 2007, p.210.

Doubt is in Everyone

Writer Michael Novak says that doubt is not so much a dividing line that separates people into different camps, as it is a razor’s edge that runs through every soul. Many believers tend to think doubters are given over to meaninglessness, moral confusion, and despair. Many doubters assume believers are non-thinking, dogmatic, judgmental moralizers. But the reality is, we all have believing and doubting inside us. For ‘we all have the same contradictory information to work with.”

John Ortberg, Faith and Doubt, Zondervan.

Doubt over Faith?

Have you ever noticed that the phrases in our culture favor doubt over faith? The famed missionary and theologian Lesslie Newbigin pointed this out when we speak of “Honest doubts” and “blind faith”. Can’t faith and doubt be honest or blind? Belief is often spoken of as inferior to “science” or “objective truth. But the reality is, as Newbigin points out, “one does not learn anything except by believing something, and — conversely — if one doubts everything one learns nothing.

On the other hand, believing everything uncritically is the road to disaster. The faculty of doubt is essential. But as I have argued, rational doubt always rests on faith and not vice versa. The relationship between the two cannot be reversed. ” 

Stuart Strachan, quoting from Lesslie Newbigin, Proper Confidence: Faith, Doubt, and Certainty in Christian Discipleship.

Existential Brokenheartedness

In this short excerpt, pastor and author Austin Fischer describes a surprising dynamic that sometimes occurs in the life of a Christian: believing so strongly in a loving God that one cannot fathom the depths of the world’s suffering, and thus, can lead to a loss of faith:

Christianity sows seeds of celestial charity in our hearts, and those seeds can mutate into an existential brokenheartedness on behalf of the suffering world. The radiance of divine love can morph into a tumor that destroys faith. Christian faith creates a love so fierce that it can accidently subvert faith in the name of love in the face of savage evil.

In other words, it is often those with deep faith, firmly grounded in the love of God, who find their faith languishing in the shadows when faced with creation’s ceaseless pain: “The more a person believes, the more deeply he experiences pain over the suffering of the world.

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


His House of Cards

A few years ago, a pastor of an evangelical-fundamentalist church with whom I’m acquainted announced on the Sunday after Easter that he had become an atheist. He told his stunned congregation that he had been an atheist for a year and a half and that all attempts to revive his faith had failed So on the Sunday after Easter he publicly left Christianity and moved on with his life—a life with no more Easters.

A few days after his bombshell resignation I met with this now erstwhile pastor. As I listened to his story, it quickly became apparent that he had not so much lost his faith in Christianity as he had lost his credulity for fundamentalism. Sadly, he had been formed in a tradition where Christianity and fundamentalism were so tightly bound together that he could not make a distinction between them.

For this fundamentalist pastor, if the Bible wasn’t literally, historically, and scientifically factual in a Biblicist-empiricist sense, then Christianity was a falsity he had to reject. When his fundamentalist house of cards collapsed, it took his Christian faith down with it. In one remarkable leap of faith, a fundamentalist became a newly minted atheist. I did my best to explain to him that he had made the modern mistake of confusing historical Christian faith with early twentieth-century fundamentalism, but by then the damage was done, and it appears his faith has suffered a fatal blow.

Taken from Brian Zahnd in Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer pp.1-2. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com


The Hitchhiker

Doubt is not unbelief, but it is not faith either.  It wavers between faith and unbelief, unable to make up its mind what it wants to be.  It is like the hitchhiker who was thumbing a ride with his hand in one direction–and thumbing a ride with his other hand in the other direction.  He wasn’t sure which way he wanted to go.

Kent Crockett, The 911 Handbook, Hendrickson Publishers.

The Unfulfilled Atheist

Some years ago, I was approached by a young man in our church who described himself as an “unfulfilled atheist.” He wanted to know why he should consider Christianity. I responded to him by asking him if he could name any of history’s atheists who had done a lot of good for their world. Unable to answer me, I gently dove in. I pointed him to Peter Claver at Columbia, who cared for slaves and built leprosariums. I talked of William Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle, the small community of men and women most responsible for leading the charge to dismantle the slave trade.

We dialogued about William Booth and his care for the poor, and then about George Muller, one of the leaders of England’s nineteenth-century orphan care movement. I reminded him that the civil rights movement of the mid-twentieth century that gained rights for African Americans like me was led by a courageous cohort of Christ followers.”

Brian Loritts, Saving the Saved: How Jesus Saves us From Try-Harder Christianity into Performance-Free Love, Zondervan.

Saints of Darkness?

There are many ways to be a saint, and at times our fidelity may look like betrayal. We may have to become “saints of darkness.” We may have to be saints whose light seems to go out as we wander in the shadows, saints who tell the truth even when the truth seems blasphemous. Satan is the father of lies, so lying about our doubt and pain, even in the name of piety and reverence, is Satanic. Conversely, the truth, even when impious and irreverent, can free us. Saint Job is proof, and at the end of his story he gets what he asked for: a showdown with the divine.

Taken from Faith in the Shadows: Finding Christ in the Midst of Doubt by Austin Fischer. Copyright (c) 2018 by Austin Fischer. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. www.ivpress.com

See also Illustrations on Beliefs, Confusion, FaithQuestioning GodTrust, Uncertainty

Still Looking for inspiration?

Consider checking out our quotes page on Doubt. Don’t forget, sometimes a great quote is an illustration in itself!

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