Thursday, January 20, 2005

Confidence - True or False?

Why is it that I get some of the most teriffic post ideas in the wee hours of the morning when I'm half-awake/half-asleep? That in itself is not so bad, but the pity of it all is that later in the day when I'm fully functional and trying to recall the details of what I had been ruminating on in my drowsy state, the specifics elude me. At any rate, I will build my post upon what I do recall, and attempt to flesh things out from there.

I had been meditating on the topic of confidence. What is confidence? Is it reliable, or is there such a thing as true confidence and false confidence? I had been thinking of instances in my own life when I was absolutely confident of a situation, or that such-and-such was going to come to pass, yet as things unfolded, it turned out that I was utterly misled and eventually disappointed. Yet, other times my confidence had been well-placed and was ultimately vindicated. What makes the difference? In neither case did my belief waver (until facts and reality interfered with my wishful thinking), nor could anyone have pointed to a lack of faith as being the reason or cause of failure.

What, indeed, is the difference between true confidence and false confidence? Confidence, by its very nature, must be based upon something - facts, evidence, testimony, knowledge, promise, perception, feeling - something. It follows, therefore, that the reliability of confidence is wholly dependent upon the reliability of its source. If the facts, etc. are reliable, then the confidence is well-placed and consequently reliable. In particular, confidence based upon a promise depends upon the reliability of the one making the promise. On the other hand, confidence based upon perceptions or feelings are not especially reliable, since these subjective foundations are notoriously fickle.

Biblically speaking, Christians can have true confidence when their confidence rests upon God and His Word. They know that God's Word is reliable since He has revealed Himself faithful, and He is therefore trustworthy. (I am not at this time going to introduce an apology for these statements. My intention is not to convince unbelievers of their veracity, but rather explain Christian belief as it relates directly to the subject at hand.) Christians may not know all the details, but they know how things will ultimately turn out. They've read the final chapter of the book, although they don't know the twists and turns the plot will take in the intervening chapters. Christians know the final destination, although they are largely ignorant of their journey's route. They have this true and total confidence because they have the promises of God, Who is truly and totally reliable.

An example of this can be found in the story of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Daniel 3:1-30). Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, had made a gold image, and commanded that all were to fall down and worship this image whenever he gave a musical signal. Those who disobeyed would be thrown into a fiery furnace. However, three Jews, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, blatantly disregarded the King's orders and refused to bow down in worship to a false god. Even when they were given a second chance and reminded of the penalty, they again refused, saying, "If that is the case, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and He will deliver us from your hand, O king" (vs. 17). These three Jews had total confidence in this situation because they placed their trust in God. They knew God was faithful, and that He was able. But what if God let them burn? "But if not, let it be known to you, O king, that we do not serve your gods, nor will we worship the gold image which you have set up" (vs. 18). In other words, it didn't matter to them. They knew that God had commanded them not to worship other gods (Exodus 20:3-6), so there was no other choice for an obedient Jew. Like Job, they could declare, "Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him" (Job 13:15). They trusted God for the final outcome, even as Christians do today (Romans 8:28).

False confidence, on the other hand, betrays those who rely on it. Christians run into trouble when they place their confidence in perceptions and feelings rather than in the Word of God. Just as Scarlett O'Hara refused to let the reality of Ashley and Melonie's marriage interfere with her fantasies about Ashley, so too do many Christians refuse to let reality interfere with whatever it is that they imagine God "led" them to do. All too often, Christians exhibit a false confidence because they base their actions not on a conviction born of Scripture, but rather on an impression or gut instinct that came to them as they prayed, or did the dishes, or were waiting in line at the supermarket. Unfortunately, Christians who act upon leadings and impressions more often than not end up in disgrace, having wasted time, money, or even a good deal of their own lives following a fantasy born of their own imaginations (and perhaps born of a pepperoni pizza as well). The unbelieving world looks at such Christians and holds them up for ridicule, bringing shame upon the entire body of Christ. It's like having to explain to others that your crazy Uncle Fred is not typical of your whole family; really, the rest of you are quite normal, even if Uncle Fred acts like a lunatic from time to time.

Christians! These "leadings" and "impressions" are extremely unreliable, and following them is foolhardy and detrimental, if not dangerous. It is not conducive to the well-being of your soul. Put away these childish, subjective, capricious whims, and place your trust in that which is totally reliable and trustworthy - the Word of God!

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