Pious Doubt?
4 September 2019
Everyone is seeking certainty. That search is becoming increasingly confused in our present intellectual climate in which the self-appointed experts in academia assure us that there is no such thing as truth. And most certainly, they say, there can be nothing like truth in statements of theology. The average person is quite buffaloed by this assertion that there can be no truth, because there seems to be no end of arguments and wrangling among theologians, who don't seem to come to any settled consensus about anything. Ironically, postmodernism's claim that there is no truth is invalid on its own basis, that is, if there is no truth, how could it be true that there is no truth? This criticism seldom occurs to either the academic despisers of truth or to the average person. While the academic delights to proclaim the ascendancy of doubt, he actually lives as though there were truth. If he receives poor service from an auto shop repairing his transmission, he would be outraged if the owner argued that his personal truth was that it was perfectly acceptable if a transmission made a loud clunk when shifting gears!
Unfortunately, the average person has succumbed to the idea that there is nothing truthful in the world; everything is a matter of opinion, in which every opinion is equally right (or wrong!). The result is that he dives down into himself in a search for something like truth. His own feelings, whether they are rightly informed or not, become the ultimate touchstone for truth. This is especially pernicious in theology where interiority shipwrecks judgment upon the shoals of our own depraved hearts. What inner sources of spiritual strength will lead us into the truth? How could we be sure of the presence of God's Spirit or the grace of God in our lives, if left with the depraved heart's testimony? If there is even a modicum of right regard in our consideration of our own hearts, we ought to be driven to pious doubt about our status in God's sight. Our hearts cannot bear the weight of our own sin. Like the cardiac patient feels the elephant sitting on his chest when he suffers a heart attack, so is the spiritual pressure applied when the certainty of salvation is laid upon our hearts. If salvation arises out of our own truth, out of our own self-regarding hearts, then we ought to doubt our salvation with an aggressive self-doubt (Mk 7:21). Most of the world, enmeshed in self-regard, is doubtful in precisely this way. If salvation comes from within, then, yes, by all means: doubt!
However, our heavenly Father has not left us sunk in the morass of interiority. He has not led us into the fetid swamps of self-regard. No. He has spoken in these last days by His Son (Heb 1:1), who speaks a word entirely outside of us, who has worked a salvation by His suffering and death on the cross. He worked the truth of our salvation in time and in human history. He did it long before we were even born, indeed the plan of salvation was worked out in the mind of God even before the world's creation (Eph 1:4). You can't get much more "exterior" to us creatures than that! Our gracious God has kept us from being the castaways of our own imaginations. There is no pious doubt for us, then, because our salvation is dependent not on us, but on Christ the Crucified. Here is why we must continue to repair to the word which is outside us. Here is the certainty to be pursued with our every fiber. God has spoken. He has spoken us into His salvation. Our hearts can err, doubt, and deceive us, but God's word can never err or deceive us. To doubt here is not to doubt ourselves, as well we might, but to doubt Christ and thus to doubt His grace and holy merits, which He speaks to us in His Word. There is nothing pious about this doubt.

Rev. Dr. Scott R. Murray
Memorial Lutheran Church

   Martin Luther
"Let everyone accustom himself to state certainly that he is in grace and that his person with its works is pleasing to God. But if he feels that he is in doubt, let him exercise his faith, struggle against the doubt, and strive for certainty, so that he can say: 'I know that I have been accepted and that I have the Holy Spirit, not on account of my worthiness or merit but on account of Christ, who subjected Himself to the law on our account and took away the sins of the world (Jn 1:29). In Him I believe. If I am a sinner, and if I err, He is righteous and cannot err. Besides, I enjoy hearing, reading, singing, and writing about Him. There is nothing I want more than to make His gospel known to the world and to convert many people.'
"These things certainly testify that the Holy Spirit is present. For such things do not come into being in the heart by human powers; nor are they acquired by any exercises or efforts. But they are attained through Christ. First by His knowledge He justifies us. Then He creates a clean heart (Ps 51:10), produces new motives, and grants that certainty by which we believe that for His sake we are pleasing to the Father. He also grants the sure judgment by which we approve the things of which we were formerly ignorant or utterly contemptuous. Therefore we should strive daily to move more and more from uncertainty to certainty. We should make an effort to wipe out completely that wicked idea which has consumed the entire world, namely, that a man ought to be in doubt about the grace of God. For if we are in doubt about being in grace and about being pleasing to God for the sake of Christ, we are denying that Christ has redeemed us and completely denying all His benefits."

Martin Luther, Lectures on Galatians, 4.6
Psalm 141

O LORD, I call upon you; hasten to me! Give ear to my voice when I call to you! Let my prayer be counted as incense before you, and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice! Set a guard, O LORD, over my mouth; keep watch over the door of my lips! Do not let my heart incline to any evil, to busy myself with wicked deeds in company with men who work iniquity, and let me not eat of their delicacies! Let a righteous man strike me - it is a kindness; let him rebuke me - it is oil for my head; let my head not refuse it. Yet my prayer is continually against their evil deeds. When their judges are thrown over the cliff,then they shall hear my words, for they are pleasant. As when one plows and breaks up the earth, so shall our bones be scattered at the mouth of Sheol. But my eyes are toward you, O GOD, my Lord; in you I seek refuge; leave me not defenseless! Keep me from the trap that they have laid for me and from the snares of evildoers! Let the wicked fall into their own nets, while I pass by safely. (ESV)
Lord Christ, You have redeemed us from sin and death and have given us all Your benefits. Keep us from falling into misbelief and doubt. Turn us out of ourselves to look upon You as our only Savior. Send Your Spirit through Your Word that we might be free from the crushing burdens of our own hearts. Amen.
For believers, that they might not be weighed down by the cares of this world and thus consider themselves too busy to attend services
For Michael Koutsodontis, that the Lord of all would grant him the peace that surpasses all human understanding
For President Trump, that he might be upheld in every good deed
For all military personnel, that they might be faithful to their calling and that the Lord would keep them safe in their duty
Art: Albrecht DURER, The Adoration of the Trinity (1511)
Memorial Lutheran Church
© Scott Murray 2017
Memorial Lutheran Church, 5800 Westheimer Rd., Houston, TX 77057
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