Why Doubts are Faith's Allies
By Robert (Bob) W. Jones
When you challenge your outlook, you change your life.
We live in a beautiful, tragic, complicated world. Emotional, intellectual, and spiritual turbulence is the norm. Turbulence creates uncertainty. Uncertainty shakes up faith.
Over coffee I’ve listened to many believers say, “I struggle with my faith. It’s funny because I believe very powerfully in God and all that He can do and yet I have so many doubts.”
Does God hear my prayers?
Is the Bible really true?
Will God lead me and keep me safe?
With so much suffering how can you believe God to be good?
Is God really in control?
What do you do when your vision becomes a nightmare?
John the Baptist was a cousin to Jesus – the first prophet in Israel in over 400 years. John spent his whole life preparing. He lived in the desert, wore a cloak made of camel’s hair and subsisted on a diet of locusts. He was popular with a huge following.
John knew he was chosen by God to be the messenger of the Messiah. He was certain of his mission and lived on purpose. Set apart. Obedient. Powerful. He baptized those who responded to his preaching in the Jordan River. Jesus called him “the greatest man who ever lived.”
John saw the Spirit of God like a dove descend on Jesus. He heard a voice from heaven. “This is my beloved Son.”
What is clear is when the revelation came it was an overwhelming experience for John. He saw the Messiah. He began to promote Jesus as the Messiah. When his followers followed Jesus he celebrated their choice. “He must increase. I must decrease.” But then John not only decreased he disappeared.
John languished in a filthy prison for over 18 months. He had expected this. Prophets who rebuke sinful kings usually do not fare well. What he hadn’t expected was to be tormented by such oppressive doubts and fears. John had never doubted that Jesus was the Christ. But stuck alone in this cell he was assaulted by horrible, accusing thoughts.
“Why wasn’t something important happening? When is Jesus going to start the kingdom? When will our oppressors be judged? When will I be released? Is Jesus really the Messiah? What if I was wrong?”
John had expectations. Messiah would overthrow the Roman oppressors, and establish a kingdom of freedom, peace, righteousness. None of this was happening.
He tried to recall all the prophecies and signs that had seemed so clear to him before. But it was difficult to think straight. Comfort just wouldn’t stick to his soul. Doubts buzzed around his brain like the flies around his face. The events he witnessed that had been so compelling had lost their effect.
Can you relate? Have you been through a time when you felt overwhelmed? Your questions of God had no answers? Circumstances were not working out? Dreams became a nightmare?
The disconnect between how John thought things should work and how life actually turned out produced a crisis of faith and hope.
“When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Matthew 11:2-6 (NIV)
John’s fundamental error was he was mistaken about the Messiah’s work and the future. Jesus was not what John expected. But Jesus is what God intended. Faith in God doesn’t follow a script—even if that script is the Bible.
What if God is not acting like you expect Him to? What if your questions or doubts are not evidence of a lack of faith but are evidence of God’s prompting in your life? Challenging your outlook.
So John sent two of his closest disciples to ask Jesus, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Jesus invited John’s friends to sit near him as he healed the sick and delivered many from demonic prisons.
“Tell John what you have heard and seen: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up and the poor have the gospel preached to them.”
John would recognize those words. Jesus used words from a prophecy from Isaiah – a familiar prophecy about the Messiah. Jesus is saying, “I am the Messiah.” Jesus uses Old Testament verses to comfort John. This promise would bring the peace John needed to sustain him for the few difficult days he had remaining.
Jesus leaves out one part of the Scripture – about setting the captives free. It’s a message to John. He would remain in prison. But not saying this he told John everything he needed to know.
And tell him, ‘God blesses those who do not turn away because of me.’" (NLT)
The one thing people of faith have in common is doubt.
The longer I’ve lived and the more I’ve sought to know and understand God, the more I’m certain that doubts are essential to spiritual maturity.
The wrong response to doubting and questioning is to keep people in a bubble – or simply to dismiss their questions and exhort them to “pray harder,” “read the Bible,” or “just believe.”
The better response is to teach how to challenge your outlook.
1. Learn to doubt your doubts. Be honest with the fact you have doubts. Believers who don’t have doubts are dangerous. People don’t know how to doubt can be encouraged to develop critical thinking. Be merciful to the doubtful.
2. Doubting isn’t smarter than believing. Why would we doubt our faith or beliefs or convictions but we don’t doubt our doubts?
3. Ask honest questions. Questioning your beliefs is the best defense against questioning God. Distinguish between your ideas about God from who God is.
4. Faith is not 100% certainty. Faith is not finite answers to infinite questions. If you were completely certain of everything you wouldn’t need faith. Without faith it’s impossible to please God.
5. The opposite of faith is not doubt; it’s when you have it all figured out.
Faith is not fantasy. Faith is founded in fact. Jesus of Nazareth rose from the dead is grounded in reliable accounts from eyewitnesses and persons informed by those who saw a formerly dead man alive.
The documentary evidence is sound, and those bearing witness to what they saw made clear they meant what they said. Peter, one of the eyewitnesses explained years later, “We did not follow cleverly devised myths when we made known to you the power and coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, but we were eyewitnesses” (2 Peter 1:16).
The insistence of Jesus’s early followers that what they asserted was true implies they knew it sounded incredible. That’s why they went to such lengths to provide careful accounts of what they’d seen and heard. The Gospel accounts have no ring of fantasy about them.
6. Doubt confronted will make faith stronger. The struggle you’re in today is building the faith you’ll need for tomorrow.
7. Let your doubts lead you to worship.
Intellectual and spiritual growth will lead you, not to overconfidence in your ability to figure God out but to your knees in worshiping a good God who is beyond figuring out.
Are you facing emotional, intellectual, or spiritual turbulence? Are doubts piling up around you?
Challenge your outlook about doubt and change your life.
About this Contributor:
Robert (Bob) W. Jones is a recovering perfectionist, who collects Coca-Cola memorabilia and drinks Iced Tea. His office walls are adorned with his sons’ framed football jerseys, and his library shelves, with soul food. He writes to inspire people to be real, grow an authentic faith in Jesus, enjoy healthy relationships and discover their life purpose.
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