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Inside Doubt

'Inside Doubt'
From Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church Belfast.

In the second of Radio 4's series 'Inside Lent', the Rev Dr Lesley Carroll explores how and why we doubt.
Doubt is often seen as the enemy of faith; the New Testament teaches that the enemy is, in fact, fear.
Leader: Jonathan McCormick
With the Choir of Carrickfergus Grammar School.
Conductor: Edward Craig
Organist: Stephen Hamill
Producer: The Revd Dr Robert Tosh.

Through programmes on Radio 4, local radio and online resources for individuals and groups, BBC Religion & Ethics 'Inside Lent', devised by Bishop Stephen Oliver, invites listeners to join a journey of discovery through this Christian season by reflecting on the nature of a number of very human feelings.

Lent: Inside temptation (9th March)
Lent: Inside doubt (16th March)
Lent: Inside anger (23rd March)
Lent: Inside love (30th March)
Lent: Inside fear (6th April)
Lent: Inside hope (13th April)
Easter Day - Inside joy (20th April).

38 minutes

Last on

Sun 16 Mar 2014 08:10

Rev Dr Lesley Carroll

Rev Dr Lesley Carroll

Lesley grew up in Co. Tyrone and was ordained as a Presbyterian minister in 1988. From 1992-1997, she was minister at Macrory Memorial Church in North Belfast and in 1998 also became minister at Fortwilliam Park. In 2005 the two congregations amalgamated.

Lesley is passionate about promoting cross community development in the area and she served as a member of the Eames-Bradley Consultative Group on the Past. She has also been Convener of the Presbyterian Church’s influential Church and Government Committee.

Fortwilliam Presbyterian Church, Belfast 16/03/14

Please note:

This script cannot exactly reflect the transmission, as it was prepared before the service was broadcast. It may include editorial notes prepared by the producer, and minor spelling and other errors that were corrected before the radio broadcast.

It may contain gaps to be filled in at the time so that prayers may reflect the needs of the world, and changes may also be made at the last minute for timing reasons, or to reflect current events.

Opening Announcement from Radio 4   BBC Radio 4: It’s ten past eight and time for Sunday Worship. 'Inside Doubt' is the second in our Lent series and comes from Fortwilliam and Macrory Presbyterian Church Belfast. The service is introduced by the Preacher the Rev Dr Lesley Carroll, and begins as the Choir of Carrickfergus Grammar School sing an introit: ‘O come ye servants of the Lord’ O Come Ye Servants of the Lord (Tye) Dr Carroll

Good morning and welcome to Fortwilliam and MacCrory Church. We’re in North Belfast, a very diverse part of the city and it is our aim to build relationships with people from a variety of backgrounds. Leading the service with me today is Jonathan McCormick, one of our elders along with some other members of the congregation and the Choir of Carrickfergus Grammar School.

On this St Patrick’s weekend we remember the young man who left his home to bring the gospel to Ireland where he’d earlier been a slave, looking after sheep. A hero of the faith he struggled with the decision to heed God’s call and go. He was at the end of his tether, doubting what he believed God was calling him to. In his writings he reflected:

I did not proceed to Ireland until I was almost giving up. I give thanks to God who kept me faithful in the day of my temptation.

Almost giving up. This morning we reflect on the experience of being inside doubt. On our Lenten journey we call our human story of faith and doubt to mind. We will discover that faith and doubt go hand in hand, doubt does not oppose faith but can deepen it. In the Bible it is fear, and not doubt, that is opposed to faith for fear immobilises us, silences us, holds us fast. Doubt, on the other hand, emboldens us, opens our hearts to conversation with and about God and liberates us. Today we reflect on how faith, doubt and fear weave and dance together and bring us back to the hope that what is seen in our lives is made from what is unseen."

Jonathan McCormick Our first hymn acknowledges that there are times when we experience doubt and even despair but it prays for a more nature faith. To the tune Regent Square, we sing When our confidence is shaken HYMN When our confidence is shaken (Regent Square)


Jonathan McCormick Prayer

Loving God, we come to you this day with praise and wonder on our lips. We approach you with expectancy and thanksgiving.

You are the giver and the sustainer of life.

Your name is holy, your will is pure, your timing is perfect and your works are great. No word in any vocabulary could come close to describing your majesty and the wonder of your love.

And yet, despite this there are times when we feel, much like St. Patrick must have felt during his time tending sheep, that we are alone. We doubt what we know to be true about you, and the questions for which there are no answers seem too overwhelming.

While our love for you is real we acknowledge that there are times when we don’t show it. When we act out of turn, when we ignore your prompts or when we avoid need. Your love for us sees these failings, our weakness, doubt, and fear yet it brings us forgiveness, wholeness and life. Despite our inadequacies your love is faithful and comforting. Your love feels the depths of our pain yet is not overcome by it. Your love knows grief yet has the capacity to comfort us in our sorrow.

Forgive us when we fail to live a life that reflects your love. Strengthen us that we may better embody your character and forgive us for the many times we take you for granted.

We ask for your guidance God, during this Lenten period. A period of wilderness, a period where the doubt seems to creep in easier than any other time, a period where we are to slow down, attune ourselves more closely to you, and listen for the gentle whisper of your spirit carried on the wind. We pray that we would hear you telling us who we are, and not be defined by our own misguided notions, doubt or fear. We pray that we could come to rely more fully on you, trusting your will to be greater, more pure and more holy than our own.

Transform us through your spirit and empower us to serve you this day and throughout the rest of our days.

Through Christ our Lord, Amen



The reading from St Mark Chapter 4 and verse 35 is a story of Jesus and his disciples caught in a storm on the Sea of Galilee when the disciples begin to doubt that Jesus cares for them

Reading St Mark 4.35-41

That evening, Jesus said to his disciples, "Let’s cross to the east side." So they left the crowd, and his disciples started across the lake with him in the boat. Some other boats followed along. Suddenly a windstorm struck the lake. Waves started splashing into the boat, and it was about to sink.

Jesus was in the back of the boat with his head on a pillow, and he was asleep. His disciples woke him and said, "Teacher, don’t you care that we’re about to drown?"

Jesus got up and ordered the wind and the waves to be quiet. The wind stopped, and everything was calm.

Jesus asked his disciples, "Why were you afraid? Don’t you have any faith?"

Now they were more afraid than ever and said to each other, "Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!"

Jonathan McCormick The hymn "I cannot tell" recognises there are many things in the Christian Faith that we can know but there are others and we cannot tell how or why they happened. We sing it to probably the best known of all Irish traditional melodies- the Londonderry Air. Hymn: I Cannot Tell (Londonderry Air)


Jonathan McCormick The 11th chapter of Hebrews describes what faith is Reading Hebrews 11 vv1-3 & 8-10

Faith makes us sure of what we hope for and gives us proof of what we cannot see. It was their faith that made our ancestors pleasing to God.

Because of our faith, we know that the world was made at God’s command. We also know that what can be seen was made out of what cannot be seen.

Abraham had faith and obeyed God. He was told to go to the land that God had said would be his, and he left for a country he had never seen. Because Abraham had faith, he lived as a stranger in the promised land. He lived there in a tent, and so did Isaac and Jacob, who were later given the same promise. Abraham did this, because he was waiting for the eternal city that God had planned and built.



Dr Carroll Sermon


I was sitting in the corner of my settee. I had been sitting there for weeks on end. Physical pain made it impossible to move too far, impossible to shop or cook or clean. I had made several visits to the accident and emergency department and I was no further forward in knowing where the pain came from. A friend and colleague phoned to see how I was and we talked about the experience I was having and what it meant for my faith. As we talked I felt my eyes brim with tears and I said to him, ‘Do you think God has forgotten me?’ I felt I was sinking into darkness as the pain took hold. My mind was dimmed with suffering and pain relief and in that moment when I finally touched base with how I felt, I sensed fear turn me stone cold. Strangely, I was not afraid of the the things I might have expected to be. I was not afraid of dying . was not afraid the source of the pain would be missed until it was too late. I didn’t even question the reality of God - but in that moment of insight I realized I was, quite simply, afraid - afraid that God had forgotten me. I began to doubt all that I had been taught about God who loves us with everlasting love and who sees me whether resting or waking, whether it is dark or light. The fear finally drove me to the struggle of doubt, a dance of thought about what it means to have faith when you are full of questions and when you are just beginning to warm inside with the energy of wondering.

Friends called. Some did shopping. Some did cleaning. Some brought meals. Some sat with me and talked. Some phoned or sent cards. Many prayed. In the hands and feet and words and laughter and care of all those friends I found the everlasting love, the eyes that see and share a life in suffering as in joy. In those friends, and some strangers too, God was awake and well and there was no difference between dark and light for God was ever present.

The gospel writers record Jesus words:

Ask, and you will receive. Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you. Everyone who asks will receive. Everyone who searches will find. And the door will be opened for everyone who knocks.

Matthew 7 vv7&8

In the searching that comes with doubt there is hope, the hope of finding, of a knocked door opening, of asking and receiving. John O’Donohue, the Irish poet, author and priest, was a writer of blessings and he takes up the theme:

Reading from Bendictus

But caught in the searching when the diamond light of something like the certain hope the writer to the Hebrews describes, has not yet been found and eyes have not yet been schooled to find that one gift in the night corner, the journey is hard. It is a labour to put one foot in front of the other. But the other option is fear and the frozenness it brings. Fear destroys, distils no learning for those hide-bound by it. There is only hopelessness in fear. In doubt there is hope as cold insides warm to question and wonder and dare, yes dare, to hope.

Have you forgotten us Lord? Do you think that God has forgotten you? There are hands and feet and words and prayers to warm you with gentle compassion. In them you know that God is not asleep but watchful, the blessing of that diamond light will come. In doubting you insist that God is taken seriously. You insist that faith is real in every costly situation of life. You insist that God bears wounds and heals sorrows, weeps with those who weep, laughs with those who laugh and hurts with all who experience the hurt of wondering if God really cares.


Jesus was asleep in the back of the boat. The whistling wind and the swelling waves were rocking the boat mercilessly and the disciples were wide-awake, terrified of what would happen to them. Fearful and imagining all kinds of things they shook Jesus awake, at last grasping his attention. But instead of telling him they were frightened they spoke to him of their greatest fear - that he didn’t care about them, he didn’t care that they might drown. Ironically, when Jesus rose and calmed the winds and the waves they were even more afraid for they were struck with awe and wondered who Jesus was that even the winds and waves obeyed him.

This short story from this morning’s Gospel reading reveals the disciples as people who were full of fear. At every turn, even with the blessing of calmed waters, they were afraid and it was their fear that brought them to doubt that Jesus really cared about them. And it was their doubt that caused them to shake Jesus awake. It was their doubt that gave voice to their faith showing their faith was alive and well, looking for something from the Son of God, as they searched for the affirmation of care.

Doubt was not the opposite of faith for them. If doubt had been eliminated they would still have been captive to their fear but instead their doubt shook them from their fear and in faith they reached out and were blessed with calmed waters and taken to a new place in faith, a new place in which they wondered more about the Son of God and who he really was.

Choir Christ Be With Me (Pachelbel Canon arr Rawsthorne)



The story reveals that the disciples were people full of fear. In the difficulties of our lives we too are often revealed as people who are full of fear.

When our loved one dies ahead of time and we are alone and no one can feel the pain deep in our being, we are afraid.

When we watch over a child destroying themselves with addiction and bad choices, we are afraid.

When friends turn on us and when love turns out to be empty and artificial, we are afraid.

We can be so afraid that we can doubt God cares about us. We trusted in a God whom we believed sees us and knows us and loves us but life’s circumstances turn us to fear and then we can doubt that God is all we thought God was. Somehow the blessing of God in our lives slips into the shadows.

In his blessing entitled For Courage John O’Donohue, wrote this:


Fear, doubt, faith - we thank God for them for when they dance together our search for God is spurred on by the insistence that we take God seriously. The insistence that we take faith seriously, the faith that makes us sure of things we hope for but cannot see.

The American civil rights activist, poet, and actress Maya Angelou experienced abuse and the warped, exploitive love of people who were only for themselves. She wrote eloquently of the courage that comes from real and lasting love. The kind of love that calls faith from us, lingers with us in the dance with doubt and warms us from our fear. Angelou wrote:

Reading Touched by an Angel


Choir: Northern Lights (Gjeilo)


Jonathan McCormick Let us pray: Reader 1:

Father, we know that this is not the world that you want when you created it. So we pray for places where it seems that the world is crumbling. At this time we remember specifically the situations is Syria, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Ukraine. We think too of Northern Ireland. We don’t claim to know everything about these situations, or the people involved but, we ask that your comfort would reign in our confusion, that your peace would prevail over our problems and your love would transcend our expectations.

Reader 2:

Loving God of heaven and earth, of all countries and nations, of people of all faiths and of no faith, we ask that you would reveal yourself to those who are suffering, to those who are powerful, to those who are powerless, and to ordinary people in their everyday lives that this world might become a better reflection of your love and your glory.

Because our doubt and confusion often stops us acting, assure us that we can make a positive difference and give your people everywhere hands that are prepared diligently to work to help restore this earth;; hearts to see everyone, in every place as worthwhile, and minds focussed on you.

Reader 3

We remember all who feel lost in a confusion of doubt and uncertainty

Because of illness or loneliness or depression

Because they are consumed by guilt or fear or anger.

Help calm their doubts and quell their fears; speak to their hearts and bring rest to their minds.


Jonathan McCormick God of all care and compassion, you take us through deep waters but never abandon us in the storm; we often walk in the dark but you never leave us without your light. Be with us in the night time of our fear and in the day of our overconfidence that we may keep faith with each other as you have kept faith with us in Christ our Saviour who taught us to pray

Lord’s Prayer


Hymn: All my hope on God is founded (Michael) Dr Carroll Blessing




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