Faith’s Replacement

Doubt can be a friend to faith but not when it is embraced and coddled. At that point it becomes a replacement for faith.

This is a moving telling of the experience Muhammad when he first received the revelation of the Koran. He didn’t feel triumphant or exulted but he feared that he’d been possessed by a demon (a ‘djinn’ or ‘genie’) and considered throwing himself off the mountain to end it all. Hazelton says that Muhammad experienced doubt and this authenticates his experience even though she doubts that it was an experience with God.

Consider a similar experience that Peter, James, and John had with Jesus:

And after six days Jesus took with him Peter and James and John, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And he was transfigured before them, and his clothes became radiant, intensely white, as no one on earth could bleach them. And there appeared to them Elijah with Moses, and they were talking with Jesus. And Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good that we are here. Let us make three tents, one for you and one for Moses and one for Elijah.” For he did not know what to say, for they were terrified. (Mark 9:2-6 ESV)

What a difference! They were “sore afraid” as the King James translates it but at the same time they didn’t want it to end. “Let us make three tents!” An authentic encounter with God does and should involve fear. We are fallen, sinful creatures and God remains utterly holy. But with Jesus present, the experience is different. We’re afraid because of the vastness, the holiness of God. The closest I have come to that is standing at the edge of the Grand Canyon. I was drawn to the edge and terrified at the same time.

Did the disciples doubt? Sure, but not at the revelation of Jesus as God. They doubted at the execution of the man Jesus. This experience with the divine was a point of surety for them.

For we did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses of his majesty. For when he received honor and glory from God the Father, and the voice was borne to him by the Majestic Glory, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased,” we ourselves heard this very voice borne from heaven, for we were with him on the holy mountain. (2 Peter 1:16-18 ESV)

Hazelton goes on to praise doubt and condemn fundamentalism in her talk. This is because she is an agnostic herself and therefore believes that doubt is the best we can achieve. Anyone who is sure of what they believe does not have faith, according to her. St. Peter would disagree.

And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts, knowing this first of all, that no prophecy of Scripture comes from someone’s own interpretation. (2 Peter 1:19-20 ESV)

What did Mohammad experience on that mountain top? I don’t know for sure, but I am convinced that it was not a genuine revelation from God. His experience, according to Hazelton, was fear and doubt. The angel visited him again and again and wrestled the revelation into and out of him.

Again, Peter says the revelation that is more sure than the transfiguration is different. “For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.” (2 Peter 1:21 ESV) Men were carried along, not forced and wrestled.

Doubt can be a friend to faith but not when it is embraced and coddled. At that point it becomes a replacement for faith.

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