!! Course Review !! Credo Course – Overcoming Doubt !
A few days ago, my email alert popped up on screen to let me know an email had just come in. It was from CredoCourses, an online ministry that provides theological teaching to lay people in the church. So I stopped what I was doing and checked it out. Oddly enough, it was a course on doubt (serendipitous I think) and it was free. So I threw it in my cart, checked out, and within a few minutes had the four sessions downloaded.
So, let’s jump in and see what Michael and others at CredoCourses have to say about the doubt I’ve been going through lately…..
Kinds of Doubt
In the first session, they outline the different kinds of doubt that Christians tend to experience. There is Fundamental Doubt, where an individual is questioning or doubting some fundamental tenet of the faith, or there is the inability to accept God’s love for them, where they are convinced somehow that they are not worthy or often that they have committed some kind of sin that is unpardonable.
The reasons for doubt:
1. Sin in their life
3. Past Experiences
4. Medical causes
5. Physical causes
Michael is correct concerning sin in our life. It can have extensive ramifications without us even being aware of it. When God gave me the conviction that I needed to prepare for a future wife, it immediately shined a glaring light on sin I had been engaging in that, as a single person, I didn’t really think much of at all. I didn’t feel any kind of conviction against such sins. It was not harming anyone (that I knew of). I didn’t think it was harming me. I didn’t consider that it might be hurting God. But when I began thinking for two people, putting my own self-interest aside and thinking of what my wife would think if God brought me a wife, the conviction to put that sin aside grew exponentially.
Personality is also a possible culprit in my own doubt. That doubled with the fallout from past experiences. I can’t say that I was born a disagreeable person or really even anti-social. As a child and a teenager, all I really wanted was the find a beautiful wife, settle down, and have kids. But, relationship after relationship slowly burned those desires out of me, until at last I did marry, only to discover that marriage is not the panacea it was being marketed to me as. I recall pastor after pastor, my parents, my friends, all telling me that I just needed to settle down and life would get better. I was told ministry would be easier. I was told that Christian marriage was a state of bliss. I discovered the dirty little secret in the modern Church first hand. It’s difficult now for me to believe that whatever God has in store for me is going to actually work out. Despite all the times that he has looked out for me, protected me, provided for me, those too easily are overshadowed by the few times when things ended brutal, and devastating.
Michael also mentions Medical issues. I have to say, this could be a contribution to my doubt. Not only do I have a hard time believing that God would bring me a wife in the first place, but I struggle to think he could (or would) create someone (more like strong arm someone) into marrying me. I am not a catch by any imagination. My health is poor, my assets are substandard (I own my house but it is literally a shack – even after it is remodeled it will still be just a remodeled shack), I have little in net worth, I work but only part time, make little money (compared to the world’s standards) and desire that we live on little, live in my tiny house. I’m quite a boring fella to add to it. Much of my time I spend studying the Bible, or watching lectures on theological topics. When conversing with people, inevitably the conversation swing around to God or the Bible because that is simply all I think about or all I really want to think about. I am introverted, so I do enjoy being alone or abhor large crowds. I live in a rural area that is actually declining in population year after year because everyone is moving away. Many people actually come here for work, last maybe a season or two, before they move on to a place that has more happening. I love it, but I can’t imagine it would be attractive to a mate.
He mentions stress as a culprit in causing doubt, though I can’t say I have much stress to speak of. Maybe stemming from medical concerns, but that stress certainly didn’t last 3+ months.
Lastly, he cites theology as a source of doubt, though, I’m not sure how that could be the case. Though I do know that many people struggle with the idea of evil, and how a just and loving God could kill children, or could create someone intentionally to sacrifice for the good of those created to experience God’s mercy.
Fear of Being Alone
I’ve always hoped for love from another. From the age of 17 I had the love of the Father, without wanting it, without recognizing it, taking it for granted. Yet, he was always there, is always there. But, too often I put certainty in the hands of the frail, faulty human. In a wife. In a pastor. In a public figure.
Some of my doubt in this most recent test of my faith derives from being shaken by hearing of another man’s divorce. His name is Mac, and he was once my boss, an acquaintance, someone I took a real liking to, even though he was nothing close to a believer and really not actually a very likable person either.
Yet, I remember our discussions about marriage and my failures, and I remember him recounting how his first marriage had been very much like mine. Failure upon failure, destruction. Mayhem. Yet, he spun a tale that I should give marriage another chance since his second marriage had been everything that his first had not. His current wife and him really clicked. They had life in common. They now shared a young son. They worked in the same profession. They were aligned emotionally, practically.
After they left the area (another couple to leave because this area is beyond boring), I came across not long ago a mutual acquaintance. This acquaintance was the one who broke the news to me that Mac, despite all the kindred soul talk and appearances and posturing, had lost his second wife much like he had his first.
I don’t know why, but the news of his divorce shook me, fundamentally. He wasn’t a Christian so I’m not sure why I held their relationship in such high regard. It felt, though, as if I had suffered the split, physically. I carried that hurt with me for weeks after receiving the news. Now Mac lived in another city, in another state. He was severed from his wife who he had loved, from his young son. A family broken on the altar that is doubt, that is regret.
He had been so certain that this wife was the one. She was the cure for marital woe. Adding more still, Mac had been so certain that my life choices had been so very wrong. That I had made the mistake of remaining single after my divorce instead of “getting back out there” and finding a better wife. I don’t think he understood me at all. He couldn’t have. I was a believer. I had not been incompatible with my wife; my wife had betrayed me. She had lied from the very beginning and continued in those lies throughout our marriage, until the very brutal end. Yet, I still couldn’t help but internalize my friend’s disaster. I felt so bad for him, could only imagine what shock he must have underwent when he realized for the first time that his marriage, his family, had come to an abrupt and devastating end. (Then again, it’s possible he was responsible for the end of his marriage, through adultery or some other kind of insanity, in which case I have no idea what he was thinking). Yet, I still couldn’t help but feel defeated somehow. Like their divorce had happened also to me. After all, if they couldn’t make it, if the marriage Mac had been so certain of couldn’t make it, what chance do I have? What hope is there for someone like me?
At the 18 minute mark in Session 2, Michael makes the following comment concerning the kind of Christianity that rejects anyone who is not exactly like us, and that this ultimately results in being alone, and “If that doesn’t cause any doubt, being all alone in your Christian faith, I don’t know what will.”
For the bulk of my last 13 years I’ve been convinced that I was called by God to a solitary faith. My 20’s and subsequent 30’s proved to me that the modern evangelical church and I were incompatible. They simply had no room for me in service or in theology, and I grew tired of their shallow, often superficial teachings that seemed designed to placate congregants into infantile spiritual conditions where the most money could be extracted from them while they chased after the world rather than Christ. It was in between my separation and divorce that I stumbled onto the writings of the Desert Fathers, and I remember how shocked I was that I had never heard of them before. Never once from any pulpit had any pastor or teacher admitted to the reality that such a large section of church history was dedicated to this kind of vocation.
So, it’s difficult for me to understand Michael’s perspective on this. I suppose if one is not called by God to it, solitude, singleness, being alone – spiritually, emotionally, physically – would be a fate worse than death. I’ve encountered countless people over the years – family members, friends, co-workers – many of whom would rather be in a broken, unhealthy relationship than even consider the prospect of being alone or on their own. But, I felt the draw early on in my life to separate myself. It was a natural inclination. As a young child my parents recounted out I preferred my own company to that of playing with other classmates on the playground. I had friends throughout my school years, but I could take them or leave them. Much of my summers were filled with reading books or spending all day at the library wandering the stacks. High school as a Buddhist, I seriously considered the Buddhist monastery. Even in my 20’s I always felt better when I could get off by myself. I felt closer to God, not wrapped up in drama or distraction. I always felt fake when involved with the church, not knowing exactly how to describe it, but always feeling as if I didn’t belong there.
Once I discovered monasticism and the desert fathers, eremitic monasticism, for the first time in my life, I felt at home. That feeling of contentment and being in a rightful place would describe the next 13 years of my life. My faith and my relationship with God only grew. I wasn’t bound by arbitrary tradition, did not have to censor my thoughts like I did when I was around people. I could explore my faith and my practice and my God with abandon.
But, all this makes quite a bit of sense, given that I was reborn outside of the influence of modern churches in the first place. I was not brought into the faith by a pastor or a bible teacher or any other Christian. In fact, the only other Christian in the room at the time (she was actually asleep) turned out to not be a christian at all. It would be more than two years from that night before I would step foot in a local church and subsequently be baptized. I had already read through much of the Bible by that point, the NT several times. So a foundation was already laid. And when the modern churches by and large rejected me or my service, when the house church movement rejected me (really I think it was God keeping me from these groups), I was fundamentally okay being on my own. After my divorce and I discovered for the first time writings about the desert fathers, it all made complete sense. I fit. My faith. My personality and disposition. Why I struggled so much in the context of a local gathering. Why the typical activities in modern churches often left me underwhelmed. Why no one in those organizations could really make sense of what I was saying.
Why Do I Believe Him? Why do I Not?
Faith, belief, believing, it is something that was not the least bit intellectual. It was not something that I learned from reading the Bible or from listening to a sermon, nor was I convinced by an evangelist or a bible teacher who had all the facts and the persuasive argument. For right or wrong, good or ill, my faith derived and still derives from supernatural experience. I’m not talking about word-faith visions or some ecstatic session of speaking in tongues (I’ve actually never experienced this at all despite one christian’s determination over the course of several months to get me “slain in the spirit”). I am convinced that I did not produce my faith, I did not come to believe (of my own volition), but, rather, it was given to me, fully formed, when I was 17. In that encounter with God, one moment I did not believe, the next I couldn’t help but believe (even though I really didn’t want to believe).
Michael talks a little more about this in Session 3, at min 18, how some people’s faith is built up like a house of cards. If one thing gets pulled out, everything falls. I think this is why I have never suffered from a crisis of faith in the last 30 years. My faith was given whole, and does not consist or rely upon different component pieces or evidences to stand. If God took away the Bible from people today, my faith would be unchanged. If undeniable information was released that aliens are contacting earth, my faith would not falter, because my faith is not built upon a prerequisite that there are not aliens nor on the existence of the Bible (though, it is possible my theology would be quite different without the Bible to course correct). My faith is not only built upon, but actually was acquired from a direct, supernatural experience, an experience that completely altered my life going forward.
I often consider the hypothetical, if God would one day bring me a wife: what would my response be if, after marrying her, settling into our life together, within 5 years, she dies in a tragic car accident or she is diagnosed with and dies from cancer. After being single and celibate for the last 13 years, having firmly determined in my own mind from the beginning that Paul was correct, that it is better for people to not be in a married relationship, that, in fact, even those who are in a marriage should act and behave as if they are not, and having spent those 13 years spiritually and emotionally content, not slowly dying from loss or loneliness, not desperate to share my life with someone, not carrying inside me a love unrequited, but being content, resolute, and having that decision repeatedly confirmed by other peoples’ experiences, why would God, after all that, subject me to 5 years with a wife only to take her from me again? I think my first instinctive response would be that God somehow likes to make people suffer. My next thought would be that this is some form of punishment. For a very long time (even partly still today) I considered my divorce as a punishment for not being a better husband or father. That, if I had done things differently, if I had been more attentive, if I had been more accommodating, then maybe I could have saved my marriage. It’s taken all these years to come to terms with the stark reality that I’m not certain there was anything I could have done to fix things. In the end, my wife was adamant that she did not need help. I think part of her was convinced that she didn’t even have a problem. But, I kept trying to encourage her anyway. I kept trying to find counselors for us to go to. Even in the end, I was trying to salvage our relationship, trying to understand what it was she needed. But I’m pretty sure she knew I wouldn’t stop trying to help her, and any help would have meant risking tearing down that psychological wall she had erected as a child to hold back the deluge of trauma and monsters that were already scratching and clawing at her subconscious.
If she had been willing to get help, it is entirely possible the net result would have been so much worse. She might have turned into her older sister, who couldn’t get out of bed most days, couldn’t take care of her kids, and could barely function. But, it took me discovering that not long after we separated (but before we were actually divorced) that my wife had moved one of her coworkers into our house that I knew it was over and that’s when I filed papers. If she had not committed adultery before I left, she certainly had at this point. There was no going back for me then. No means of reconciliation any longer.
It’s taken a long time – 13 years now – for me to get enough distance from the trauma to be able to say I hope she found what she was looking for. She and the coworker eventually married. I’m not sure what their status is today. All I do know is that the wife I thought I had married was not the woman I had actually spent those years sharing my life with. And she had never fully shared her life with me, never shared who she really was with me. She betrayed me from the very beginning, lied about who she was and what she believed.
I hope it was worth it.
Michael makes the comment about the man who was in ministry and was having marital problems, yet he was certain that God would save his marriage because of who he was, because he was serving Christ. This hit home for me because, when I was married, I thought we were brought together by God. I had convinced myself (because it was what my wife and I had agreed on before we got married) that no matter what issues might arise, we would work them out. Divorce was simply not an option for us. I believed this wholeheartedly all the way until the day I sat down on the sofa and my wife told me that she didn’t want to be married to me anymore. When she said those words, it floored me. It destroyed my entire world. It dismantled in an instant everything that I believed in.
My job was terrible, but thankfully God brought me my wife. The housechurch ministry we hosted might be failing, but thankfully I have God and he has blessed me with my wife. We certainly don’t have a good marriage, or as good as I thought it could be trying to maneuver through the gauntlet of trauma from her childhood, but at least we are honest with each other and we look out for each other. We are not manipulative, and, thankfully, divorce will never be an option, because that’s what we promised each other. I thought my marriage was something I could count on, and I did…that is, until I couldn’t. Until I discovered (until she confessed) that the “no divorce” clause in our initial discussions she had just gone along with so I would agree to marry her. She never really believed it. She never intended to keep her promises or her vows. I also found out that my wife had no intention on actually working on our relationship. If it was going well, then she was fine with it. If it was going not so well, she was somewhat okay with that, too. But when it wasn’t working, there was no option for her other than to just give up and find someone else. She was not going to put in any effort. As our marriage disintegrated, I learned that the entire foundation of our marriage had been forged not on the foundation of the Bible nor with Christ as the chief cornerstone, but on lies spoken and whispered to elicit a desired response. I learned that the woman I had married was not the woman I had been led to believe she was`. She was a different person entirely. I had been duped into believing a lie.
But, would I begin to doubt God, if this happened to me again? If another woman came into my life, just as the first had, saying all the right things, doing all the right things? Yes, I’m much more cautious today than I was back then. Yes, I would certainly do things differently and would be proactive in building our relationship and hedging against the perils of married life for both of us. But if I took the risk and another wife was taken from me (or I, due to my stubbornness, lost her), or worse, I found the perfect woman for me, perfect in every imaginable way, only to lose her to death, I’ve always wondered what my response would be. Would I doubt him? Would I abandon my faith? Could I do so even if I wanted to?
In Session 3, Michael talks about Decarte, asking the question, why can’t I be certain of God as I am certain of mathematics? The answer is in the requirement of faith. “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.” It goes to the core of Jesus’ teachings about doubt. “If you believe.” And James’, “you must have faith.” For whatever reason, we have been placed in this particular circumstance, where so much is kept from us, and, yet, we are still held accountable for doing what God has called us to do. We do not know with any certainty those things which have not yet come to pass. We are fallen and finite. Our reality, the very substances that our physical dimension consist of are corroded, atrophied, sickly. Paul put it, “we will know as we are known. Now we see in a mirror, dimly” (1 Co 13:12).
On Being Skeptical
The church has driven me to be skeptical (of other people and creeds and programs and traditions). A skeptical mind, though, I think is different than someone who is plagued by doubt. Though I could see that a skeptical mindset might be very similar or have at its core a seed of doubt or a doubtful disposition. Yet, Jesus and James are pretty clear on the subject when it comes to approaching God. There is to be no doubting. When we ask God for something, we need to believe and have faith that God will give to us what we have asked or, as James concludes, there is no reason for us to presume that God will give us anything, let alone what we ask for. Doubt apparently kills the connectivity between us and God, and the active, fervent prayers of a righteous man availeth much (James 5:16).
He brings up doubt that arises from being abused by the church, by seeing the corruption in the church, having gone to every church in your community and finding they are all the same, that there is no authentic, biblical church anywhere in your area (Min 28 – session 2). I experienced what I would call authentic, genuine christian fellowship as a new believer. It was in the barracks while serving in the military in Germany. There were several single soldiers who all lived in the same building, there were married soldiers who would stay with us for short periods of time, or occasionally couples or whole families would come visit us. There was no formal structure, no organization, we were just brought together by God through happenstance, but we would live our lives together, we would share our faith together, we would talk together about God and read the Bible together, even vacation together. Sundays we would go to church, sometimes to different churches, but it was tangental to the real fellowship we had in the barracks. Later I would find genuine fellowship in an informal group that met in the backroom of a business in a small town that I lived in. They would meet 6 days a week between 6-8am (before the business opened) and the focus was on prayer, with impromptu discussions toward the end. There were no real leaders, no rituals, just genuine prayer and fellowship.
Unfortunately, these experiences ruined me for the shallow and fabricated activities that are so often found in most modern churches today. Between false doctrine, doctrines of men, even doctrines of demons, I’ve found it impossible to fellowship with a group of believers. In my current location, most churches seem altogether apathetic to a genuine call of Christ, as if they were spiritually stunted in their ability to welcome new people. One pastor I had dealings with for a few days, we spoke extensively about ministry and about people in the community we both knew. We spoke cursorily about theology and even the background of the congregants of his church. But, never once did this man of God invite me to attenda one of their meetings, to share a meal, or even check his sermons out on Youtube. I have my suspicions why, and that his motives were rooted in fear. I’ve often found a hesitancy or an uncomfortableness among professional clergy when they realize I’ve been through seminary. Whether they have the unfounded fear that I’m angling for their job, or they would rather keep a flock of passive sheep who have only a cursory knowledge of the biblical text, I do not know. One church in a neighboring town met on a time and day that I could actually attend. I sent them an email asking about locations, but was met only with silence. They never once responded.
After all these years, I have all but given up on ever finding a fellowship where I feel as if I belonged or had a purpose or was even wanted among the body. Then again, even in the Baptist church I was baptized in in Germany, I never really felt like I belonged. My faith did not reside in the building nor did it henge on the people. My faith has been entirely based and built upon a supernatural experience and then that experience being verified and solidified by the apostles and the prophets, with Christ being the capstone and pillar of my life.
But I found Michael’s discussion of this quite interesting. There are certain time periods where authentic christian fellowship was low or even nonexistent. Certain places do not have a large presence of biblical believers. I think of the Middle East in modern times as one of these kinds of places. North Korea, too. I would imagine it is difficult to find an authentic Christian community in most places in Europe that is not in some way contaminated or compromised by Catholicism, Eastern Orthodoxy, or Atheism, or even the new cultural ideology of wokism. It must have been much easier to find a genuine fellowship in the early 1900’s in America, or even in the 1990s. Though, I would imagine “genuine” would be subjective.
At min 30 of session 2 he comments that pain and suffering were reasons that some people doubt, but that Ronald Nash had commented that unless our doubt derives from the problem of evil then our doubt is illegitimate.
I would very much disagree with this, unless doubt itself is illegitimate (which James and Jesus seem to at least lean toward). Much of my life has encompassed some measure of doubt. Never has it included doubt about God’s existence or his abilities to save me or help me in times of need. In fact, I have several incidents throughout my life where God has spared me: saved me from death, saved me from real peril at the hands of wolves in sheep’s clothing, saved me from myself. Yet, I do often doubt my own worthiness before God. I doubt my own salvation, that I somehow have it all wrong, that I have somehow misunderstood what is actually required. I also have a great deal of doubt concerning what is to come in the afterlife. There seems to be no information really provided. So many gaps in the record. So much convoluted doctrine that was seemingly created over the centuries to pacify people, to make them feel better, doctrines that really have no roots in the Bible message at all. Even when God convicts me of something, I often doubt that whatever he’s said will actually come to pass. Not because I doubt his ability to bring it about. Not because I doubt that he is a loving God. But I doubt that I am worthy of it. I doubt that others would be willing to even tolerate me if whatever he has promised includes then. I doubt my own ability to not somehow screw it all up. So many challenges in my life. Health problems. Emotional problems. Psychological problems stemming from past relationship hurts. The inability to trust other people. The belief that the real me, the actual person I would have become if it had not been God rescuing me at 17, is really a monster deep inside and that I’m just lucky to have entrance into the Kingdom at all (if I even have that). I also have found a tendency that if God convicts me that something is going to happen for me in the future, that what he’s really saying is I need to do xyz in order to merit that thing to come true, when, in actuality, God never actually said I needed to do anything at all. I also have a tendency to take whatever conviction God has given me and try to bring it about on my own terms, under my own effort.
But, to Nash’s point. If there is a legitimate emotional reason for rejecting or doubting God, especially if we have the wrong expectation, doesn’t having the wrong expectation immediately classify the emotional reasoning for doubt as illegitimate? Having the wrong expectations means that at some point we have errored in our understand of God, his motives, or the processes by which he moves in our lives. Michael uses the example of the wrong expectations that he and his family had over his sister’s issues, that God would not let her die since he kept guiding Michael to his sister before she was able to harm herself. The more accurate expectation would be that God is not letting his sister die, not that he would not allow it at some point in the future.
The same is true of a recent conviction I have been given. God put it on my heart that I need to prepare for a future wife. Upon receiving it, I immediately became very anxious, concerned, worried, terrified even, because along with this conviction he gave me the desire again to want to share my life with someone – a desire that has been dead for over 13 years. In that time I had never once thought about seeking out a girlfriend or a companion, never thought maybe it would be a good idea to find another wife. In fact, over that time period, several women had approached me with interest in a relationship, and every one of them I rejected out of turn. I had resolved within myself that, as Paul stated, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Not only had I determined it in my own mind, but it was supported by scripture (1 Co 7:1ff; Matt 19:12) and it was again and again supported by practical application – all the struggles I saw coworkers going through in their marriages, family members marrying, divorcing, marrying, and divorcing again. Even devout Christians would confide in me that they had secret sins hidden away from their spouses and from the church – that even the best looking marriages (even Christian ones) had dark underbellies. My life was not like that. I was truly, as Paul puts it, undivided in my devotion to the Lord. I could come and go as I pleased. I could obey him with all of my finances. I was without care. I had no wife, no children to consider. Even those who married were instructed by Paul to behave as if they were not married. So much so the times in which we now live!
But how do I know (without some level of doubt) that this conviction is truly from God? Granted, it came and settled in me the same way that he’s always done so with me. He has always been true to me, trustworthy, faithful. Every leading I’ve ever had from his has turned out in my favor. Quite often not in the way I would have ever imagined. And now, as I stand in faith with this latest conviction, I cannot fathom a means by which God could bring it about. Yet, my objections are reminiscent of Abraham and Sarah. I’m too old. It’s passed my time. Let’s put our faith in our own efforts, in our living son, Ishamael. So, I find myself wrestling inside, a battle between faith and doubt, between entertaining what is possible and what is impossible, what is real and what could only be fantasy (unless, of course, God takes from fantasy and makes it real.
Michael goes on to state one mentor used to teach: if you are 1% wrong on any theology you are 100% wrong. For me, this is not possible for one main reason. Theology is man-made. Interpretation is our opinion of what Scripture is saying. Theology is interpretation. It’s what we think God has declared. Yet, we are fallible. We are prone to judgment, to confusion, to pride, and to spiritual blindness. If we find 1% of our theology turns out to be wrong, that was 1% that was never actually biblical theology in the first place. It does not constitute any part of God’s theology. This renders the 99% of the rest of theology as being actually 100%, since the 1% was added after God declared what was truth.
Take, as example, Eve’s restatement of God’s command, “we may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God has said, ‘you shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, les you die’” (Ge 3:2-3). The statement is accurate, except for the part about “nor shall you touch it.” Now, it is certainly possible that God did say this but it was never recorded, or the recording of it was never disseminated to humans. That would make God true and every man a liar. We simply don’t know what we don’t know. But, if God never said this part, then it is not actually theology from God, but it is man-made. It is just like Michael’s statement on having incorrect expectations. We could be, collectively, wrong on many doctrines that we happen to currently hold dear. We could be wrong on the trinity. We could be wrong on baptizing people for the dead. We could be wrong on our justifications for getting a divorce and the rationale we use to say it’s okay to remarry. We could be wrong on the supernatural gifts (for or against). We could be wrong on baptism. If we are, though, it is not God that is wrong on any of these things. It is us.
How to Deal with Doubt?
This is one challenge that has surfaced with the recent conviction God has (presumably) placed on my life. By telling me that I need to prepare for a future wife, I’ve had to learn that he is not saying that I should seek a wife, or that I need to perform a certain way or to a certain standing in what I change in order to be rewarded with a wife. He has not necessarily told me when or even if I am to be presented with a wife in the future. All God has said is I need to prepare for a future wife.
I’ve had to discover that I have a doubt problem that is deeply rooted in past trauma, in past hope in God, in my confidence that he would protect me, that he would miraculously keep my wife and I together. When that marriage hit the rocks and broke apart, when I was swimming for my life, being tossed to and fro in the sea, doubt found its way into my soul and took root. It has been there since then, growing, infecting, changing how I pray, changing what I can or should expect from my God and King. More than losing my wife and family, I lost my ability to trust God fully, to the point that now when he tells me the future and what will occur, I cannot fathom that he will actually do it. That he would protect me.
There was likewise a level of safety in my singleness over the last 13 years. I was in control. I was refusing the risk of involving myself in a relationship with another human being. Yes, I was simultaneously sacrificing potential purpose and fulfillment and a potential call in Christ to married life. But, it was a choice, and it was the choice I made and I could stand by it and could find deep satisfaction and contentedness in that decision. Now, God is asking me to suspend disbelief. He is asking me to take him at his word, despite all the evidence that points to the contrary. Despite my secret hope that he would not actually be serious. I want to be single for the rest of my life. And that might just be the problem. It might just be the reason why God is making sure I will not be.
This course at CredoCourses has been one step along this path of discovery. Of learning how to let go of my past hurts, my feelings of betrayal – not just at the hands of my wife, but also what I perceive to be a betrayal by God for allowing me to be deceived in the first place. I find it reminiscent of Adam’s hasty reply, “the woman you gave me” (Ge 3:12).
But, in this time of growth, in exploration, of discovery, I strive to draw ever closer to Christ. Whether I marry again in the future or I remain as I currently am, I know that I have cast my lot in favor of him, for he has been with me all these years, protecting me, leading me, comforting me.
Unfortunately, the fourth session of the course is the wrong file. It’s actually the file from Session 2, which is a bit disappointing, but not the end of the world.
Overall, the course was pretty good, the sessions quite thought provoking. I found it quite serendipitous that it showed up in my email inbox right at the time when I’m suffering with doubt myself. But, God has a way of providing what we need right when we need it.
I would recommend the course to anyone who has found themselves doubting God, or your place in his kingdom, or when you are praying and can’t conceive that God can bring about what you’ve asked. Doubt is fear. And fear is the opposite of faith.
“Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things unseen.”
Until my next review….
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Ashen Monk Mountain:
There was an old elm tree near the end of the lawn, with a circular picnic table and several short benches.
“This looks like a lovely spot,” Mr. Eckey said, taking a seat.
He set his briefcase on the picnic table and flipped the latches, opening the lid.
Christopher took a seat opposite him and removed his hood, folding his arms in front of him.
“I have a tablet and a pen here somewhere,” Mr. Eckey said. “I had it when I left, that is. Not sure if I can find it in this disorganized briefcase of mine…”
He chuckled at himself.
“So – ”
Christopher ran a hand over his short cropped scalp.
“I’m confused about all this. I’m not sure I understand why exactly you wanted to meet with me.”
Mr. Eckey nodded.
“How long have you been a novitiate here?”
“Going on seven months now.”
He glanced up at Christopher as he fetched his notebook and ink pen.
“How are you liking it at Saint Joseph’s?”
“It has been – ”
Christopher thought about the question for a moment.
“ – wonderful.”
“I would assume it much different than – ”
Mr. Eckey flipped the first page over, scanned handwritten notes he had on the second page.
“I received some background from the Precept’s office, as well as from Abbot Greenly. You grew up in – North Platte, Nebraska? Is that correct?”
“I’m native of the Boston area myself,” Mr. Eckey said. “Tell me a little about how you came to the decision.”
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“To become a monk. It must have been quite a journey from Nebraska.”
“Not really. I guess. I just – ”
Unwanted images flashed through his mind.
Mr. Eckey took a deep breath before speaking again.
“Mr. Ward, I don’t actually know a whole lot about this request, to be perfectly honest. As you know, the Congregation for Institutes of Consecrated Life and Apostolic Life – that’s quite a mouthful, isn’t it – we are entrusted with monitoring abnormal behavior among those called to the consecrated vocation.”
He tapped his pen on the tablet.
“Tell me, what do you like about Saint Joseph’s exactly?”
“It’s the – well – I feel at home here. Like I belong. I very much enjoy the silence.”
“Yes, I know the Trappists to be quite ardent in their devotion.”
Christopher nodded in agreement as Mr. Eckey took a few notes.
“I enjoy the early mornings, the worship, the offices. The undivided devotion.”
“To God?” Mr. Eckey asked.
“Yes,” Christopher said. “Exactly.”
The stranger focused on his notes for several seconds, silently mouthing the words he wrote.
“Tell me, how does your life now differ from your previous one?”
Mr. Eckey stopped writing.
“Your military career.”
“Oh,” Christopher said, looking down. “I guess – I – I don’t know. There are lots of differences. I’m not – sure I – what is this inquiry about exactly?”
Mr. Eckey put his pen down.
“Mr. Ward,” he said. “The Vatican apparently has interest in your particular gifts and abilities for a – call it – a special appointment. I guess that’s the best way to put it.”
He shifted his weight on the hard bench.
“Normally, the Congregation does not get involved in appointments or a particular monk’s vocational choices. But, sometimes, when the need arises, special arrangements can be made.”
“Are you talking about another monastery?”
“Actually – ”
Mr. Eckey picked his pen back up.
“It’s an entirely different Order.”
Christopher leaned forward as a gust of wind billowed the long sleeves of his tunic.
“I don’t really understand,” he said. “Are you saying the Vatican wants me to move to a different monastery – to a different Order? But…I…”
Mr. Eckey waited a moment.
“Tell me, Mr. Ward, about your military training.”
“What about it?”
“Your experiences. You were a special operator, is that correct?”
Christopher shot him a quizzical look.
“How do you know that?”
“You were part of the 7th SFG? Assigned to operations in Afghanistan for the majority of your enlistment, surrendering your commission as a Captain. Is that correct? What did you like or dislike about your military career? Why was it you left?”
Christopher looked out over the cornfields in the distance.
“Sir,” he said, wringing his hands together. “I don’t really understand why you’re asking these kinds of questions. To be honest, they’re making me a little uncomfortable. I think I – ”
“Please, Brother Christopher,” Mr. Eckey said, putting up a hand. “I don’t mean to pry. As I said, this is a peculiar and rather sensitive situation, not at all normal procedure. So, I do apologize for my rather tactless approach. Let me explain a little, if I can – ”
Christopher tried to relax.
He struggled to repress the memories rising in the back of his mind, the bloody and gruesome images of dead bodies, a horrible, yet all too familiar wave of fear and dread washing over him.
A wave of putrid death enveloped and permeated everything.
He took a deep breath, tried to ignore it.
Mr. Eckey put down his pen again.
“There is a remote monastery in British Colombia. It is of a separate Order, not Cistercian, but similar. It’s rather distinctive, as I am led to believe.”
“What is the Order?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey shook his head.
“You would not be familiar with it,” he said. “There is actually only one monastery in the Order. But it has had a long, and quite fascinating history, to say the least. And, somewhat of a fantastic service.”
“So, why me, then?” Christopher asked. “I’m a novitiate. I don’t have much to offer. I’m not sure what you are asking of me.”
“The Vatican is asking a favor of you, Brother Ward. They are requesting that you take a leave of absence from Saint Joseph’s and visit this other monastery for a time.”
“I’m – I don’t – ”
“I’m honored that the Vatican has called on me,” he said. “I really do feel settled here, though. I would not wish to – ”
Mr. Eckey interrupted.
“Consider it simply a sabbatical of sorts. Without strings attached. We are interested solely in God’s working here in this matter.”
“Are you wanting me to relocate?” Christopher asked.
Mr. Eckey smiled.
“How about we say the Vatican is open and interested in the Father’s call on your life. We simply wish to – test the waters – see if this would or would not be a good fit.”
“So, if I go, and it is not a good fit?”
“Your place here at Saint Joseph’s would be available to you at any time you see fit. Like I said, no strings attached.”
“I would not feel comfortable going without Abbot Greenly’s blessing,” Christopher said.
“You have it,” Mr. Eckey said, his smile widening.
Christopher said nothing.
“Think of it as a vacation. Though, if I’m hearing you correctly, you really are in no need of one. But, then again…. ”
The man shrugged.
“May I – ”
Christopher pondered his words.
“Is it possible to consider this awhile before I decide?”
“Certainly,” Mr. Eckey said. “Because of the situation, though, we would need you to go sooner than later. Is there anything upcoming that you are thinking about in particular?”
Christopher shook his head.
“No,” he said. “I would just like to sit with this for a day or two. Pray about it. How long would the visit be?”
“As long as you need to decide,” Mr. Eckey said. “Preferably a month to start. Longer is encouraged. Like I said, it is a unique situation, so tradition does not really lend itself easily. But, I would ask – ”
He put his notepad and pen back in his briefcase and closed the lid.
“Because of the sensitive nature, the Vatican has requested that you do not discuss this with anyone except me. Not the other monks here, your family, not even Abbot Greenly.”
“But, how – ”
Mr. Eckey put up a hand.
“I’m heading back to discuss the situation with Abbot Greenly before I leave the grounds. He will certainly not have an objection. Not that I can imagine, anyway.”
He fished out a business card from the inside pocket of his blazer.
“Here is my contact information,” he said, handing him the card. “You can reach me on my cell phone any time. Whenever you decide, one way or the other. There is a great need, though, so I do hope you will consider at least visiting.”
Christopher took the card, looked at it, then looked up at Mr. Eckey.
“What kind of need, exactly?”
The man just smiled.
“All in due time,” he said. “Just let us know as soon as you are able.”
Christopher looked back at the card.
“Thank you, Brother Ward, for your time. I do think I can find my way back to the abbot’s office from here.”
He briefly looked around the grounds.
“I do envy you a little,” he said. “What a majestic space you monks have created here. It’s like a slice of Eden. Really.”
He got up, shook Christopher’s hand, then left him there alone, as the stranger retraced his steps to the abbot’s office.
Christopher took a deep breath, then sighed.
The wave of putrid death still lingered as another wind gust blew across the fields, dredging up memories he would have altogether wished could have remained buried, soaking him again in the blood of the past.
He stayed there for a long time, just watching as the endless sea of cornfields waved in the winds.
Buy my book Ashen Monk Mountain to find out what this cryptic and mysterious appointment is the Vatican is asking Christopher to take on. An unheard of monastery, hidden deep in the Canadian Rockies? A secret mission and call? What in the world could be going on?
Click here and grab your copy today! Whatever you do, don’t let this fantastically epic story get away!
But, trust me when I say, you’re not going to believe the truth even when you discover it for yourself. Find out what secrets lay hidden underfoot at Ashen Monk Mountain!