I like reading the book of Jude – I don’t quite know who Jude is, but Jude is so short and sweet and so extremely structured that it is also refreshing to read. The epistle of Jude was written by Jude, who clearly addresses himself at the very beginning of the letter, but as to who this Jude is exactly, we don’t quite know – he could be the apostle Jude, but as he distinguishes himself from the apostles [Jude 1:17]; perhaps not. He could also Judas the brother of James (the brother of Jesus) since he identified himself as the brother of James [Jude 1:1], but there are so many ‘James’s and ‘Judas’s in the Bible that it’s a beautiful mystery that I’d rather just skip over. Either way, this book was written very late – so late that apostasy is no longer something that was merely warned about (like in the times of Peter and Paul); but it was something that was already very much present and in full bloom [Jude 1:4]. In just 25 verses to this short book; Jude brings out the very danger of those who bring others astray and urge the brothers and sisters in Christ to contend earnestly for their faith. We’ll jump right to the end of his message and discuss about doubt. In a time where apostasy and false teachers are strong everywhere around them; it is natural that many will doubt and many will stumble. In this study, we will examine the concept of doubt and what it entails.
It should be noted that while a good number of versions are more or less similar to the NIV (1984) that I’m referring to in this study, the KJV is notably different in particular – And of some have compassion, making a difference – with a distinct lack of the mention of doubt. In general, since the topic is generally on falling astray of the road of Christ and much of the preceding verses warn Christians against that; of some here in KJV is generally interpreted to be referring to a separate group of people, i.e. those who have fallen astray of the path of Christ.
those who doubt – I was recently looking at the example of Abram and Sarai, whom, in their desire for a child; prayed and was promised one even in their old age. Genesis 16:6 tells us – Abram believed the Lord,and he credited it to him as righteousness. But even though he believed; he doubted – But Abram said, “O Sovereign Lord, how can I know that I will gain possession of it?” [Gen 16:8] Another example – Peter’s episode of walking on water. The moment he stepped onto the water and faced the strong winds; his heart wavered, and he fell. Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” [Matthew 14:31|Article]
It is very likely that the doubters that Jude was referring to had far greater doubts – and actions as a result of their doubts – than Abram or Peter. But even the most faithful of men would doubt. Even a man called faithful and righteous would doubt. Believing doesn’t mean that Abram didn’t doubt. And even if Peter truly believed that Christ can allow him to walk on water, it didn’t mean that he won’t doubt. Even if you understand God to be omnipotent; sometimes; our human weaknesses overwhelm us. We’re not used to godly things – we’re not good at dealing with things that don’t usually happen. We’re not good at waiting for miracles – we will think once about it and be unable to figure out how it can possibly happen; we will think twice about it; we will keep thinking about it and ultimately arrive at no answer – hence we doubt. Doubts happens. I think it’s inevitable. I think it’s okay. What’s more crucial is, what do you do with your doubts? Abram channeled his doubts to God. He threw his questions back to God. Sarai doubted, and she used her own means to get what she wanted – she was so desperate that she turned to doing something that displeased God, using Hagar as a means to get a child.
I think Jude was talking about people like Sarai – people who doubted, and acted in ways that are displeasing to God. Perhaps they sinned blatantly. Perhaps they followed the apostles and practised ways not preached by Christ. Perhaps they wavered and stumbled; and lost sight of the goal and drifted away from the church. Or perhaps they sinned by omission; by compromising themselves and condoning the sins around them. It could also apply to people like Abram, people like Peter – people who doubted while in the very face of our Lord. But at least, it is easier for us to be merciful to them. It is harder for us to be merciful to people like Sarai.
Be merciful – compassion stems from love, which is really the central theme of the Bible. But perhaps in this verse, in this command, there is another dimension to this compassion. In understanding that we are all weak, and we will all have doubts, and it is sometimes extremely difficult indeed to refrain from not wavering due to our doubts – with this understanding; regard those who doubt in compassion. It is easy to judge them; it is easy to shake our heads and say, that’s just not good enough – and that’s certainly true. That’s certainly true. But at the same time, let the love of God fill our hearts, just like how the Lord has compassion on us even though we are often not good enough too.
How did God deal with Sarai? In the end; God was extremely gracious to her [Gen 21:1]. Even if she used her own methods and did something totally redundant – God’s promise to her and to Abraham was still fulfilled in the end. She gave birth to Isaac. Perhaps it was a longer route, but the destination was still reached in the end. Perhaps it was a more painstaking route; but they still arrived at the destination safely. The implications of Sarai’s actions then were great and lasted through generations; but in the end; God never renegaded on his promise to her. The implications of her actions were perhaps less consequential to her than to her descendants – God was merciful, very merciful towards her.
In the next verse Jude uses an extremely strong imagery – snatch others from the fire and save them [Jude 1:23] – this is the extent of the love and compassion that we ought to have for our brothers and sisters; that we should be merciful to them even when they doubt; and see it not as them turning their backs on us, but see it as them nearing the fire – we need to save them. How do we save them? That is another topic altogether. We can’t; we don’t have that capability; all we can do is perhaps help God save them – but the very first step is to have the love and compassion for them.
They are burning in the fire as they doubt. Don’t make life more terrible for them; instead, show them some love with proper judgement; show them some compassion with discernment.