The Issue of Doubt
Have you ever had to ask questions about things that you thought you had nailed down in your faith?
Have you asked questions and failed to receive a satisfactory answer?
Have you ever been slammed into a wall so hard that you have found your faith in shambles?
I have been there. And if your Christian faith means anything at all, I know you have as well. So let’s ask the inevitable question. Is it wrong to doubt?
Different Kinds of Doubt
For most of us, doubt is a sign of weak faith, proof that a man just can’t hack it. After all, we do not call the one disciple Doubting Thomas for nothing. In our thinking, we should rip out doubt’s tendrils as soon as they wriggle out of the ground.
Some doubt is clearly wrong. The Bible is filled with examples of people who saw the Lord work over and over, only to keep questioning his motives. Doubt that constantly challenges God’s works is nothing more than disbelief in disguise.
Sometimes, however, we encounter genuine questions. When they are honest, the Bible always welcomes them.
John’s Big Question
A good example of an honest question lies in Matthew 11. While Jesus is teaching, a delegate from John the Baptist arrives. Here is how Matthew introduces the incident.
Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
How can words like these emerge from a man as great as John the Baptist? He is Jesus’ forerunner, the man who is called to announce Jesus coming in advance of the event. He has known the truth from the beginning. His words to Jesus were, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” (Matthew 3:13).
So why did John fall into questioning? We get a hint at the answer from an earlier passage in Matthew. John’s vision of Jesus’ ministry included not only glory, but also judgment. “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12)
This is a prophecy of the culmination of history in the end times.
John has been in prison (Matt. 14:3), but prison is easy to endure if the end is coming. Now the judgment that he predicted has failed to appear. His certainty has begun to waver, and he asks the unthinkable. “Should we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3).
Jesus’ Loving Response
This is massive doubt, particularly from a man as important as John. Yet Jesus never chides him. Instead he tells John’s messengers, “Go and tell John what you hear see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the poor have the good news preached to them” (Matt. 11:4-5).
The events that Jesus has referred to are announcements from Isaiah 35:5-6 and 61:1. They are reminders that the Messiah is to bring blessing as well as judgment. Rather than giving John the answers, he gives him tools. If Jesus has been a faithful minister of grace, he will also be a faithful minister of justice when the time comes.
Jesus finishes with a personal word to John, “Blessed is the one who will not be offended in me” (Matt. 11:6). In other words, don’t give up during the difficult times.
We can be sure of two realities. One, life is seldom black and white. We live in a world of gray areas.
And two, God does not limit himself to formulas. Grace is bigger than gray areas. What we see as a breakdown of justice may be grace working behind the scenes. God still holds control when we doubt.
So how can we be ready to tackle doubts when they arise? Here are some suggestions:
Realize that it is okay to ask questions. Everyone struggles with doubt at one time or another. If we take our doubts to the Lord with honesty, we keep our hearts open to his guidance. Problems begin when we try to look elsewhere for answers.
Be prepared for doubt. As long as we are in the world, difficulties will challenge our faith. If we remember this truth, we will be less likely to be blindsided when faith crises occur.
Recognize that life is complex. We probably will not receive simple answers. The future that God has planned for us, however, is far richer because of that fact.
Finally, build your internal defenses. We have three: prayer, Bible study, and fellowship.
Prayer teaches us discipline in our thoughts. Learn to take your questions to the Lord when they are small. Then when the big questions, arise, we will be better prepared to handle them.
Regular Bible reading connects us to the God who guides our lives. The deeper we sink our mental roots into God’s word, the more resources we will have when we need them.
And build deliberate relationships with men of faith. We need each other, men. Our brothers in Christ are there to encourage us when we have questions. What we learn from them will give us the opportunity to encourage them when they have questions.