What If I Have Doubt? (Luke 7:18ff.)
We don’t discuss doubt much. It’s kind of an “off limits” topic… we should be CERTAIN and UNWAVERING in all the things we’ve been taught by parents and preachers. However, never discussing the doubts we have can lead to big spiritual difficulties. We’re encouraging all Bono members to go “All IN” – I believe many can’t because they have doubts.
John’s gospel was written to bury doubt. He plainly said it: “Jesus did many other miraculous signs that his followers saw which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you can believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. Then, by believing, you can have life through his name” (John 20:30-31).
Let’s say here and now and plainly: We’re allowed to doubt! The Bible’s books of Job, Ecclesiastes, Lamentations, and Habakkuk all deal with it. Several psalms are about feeling overlooked or abandoned by God. But we are not allowed to disbelieve – the Jewish leaders opposed to Jesus were full unbelievers:
The Jewish leaders gathered around him. They said, “How long will you make us wonder about you? If you are the Messiah, then tell us clearly.” Jesus answered, “I told you already, but you did not believe. I do miracles in my Father’s name that show who I am. But you do not believe, because you are not my sheep. (John 10:24-26).
Contrast them to the father of a demon-afflicted boy who cried out “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24) – he wasn’t an unbeliever, just a doubter (I can really identify with him). Peter is another believer who doubted: he first walked on the water toward Jesus but then began to doubt and sink. Jesus even said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31).
The author of Hebrews said, “Lay aside every weight… and sin… and run the race set out before us…” (Hebrews 12:1-2). Doubt is faith laden with weights of unbelief which can take us out of the race.
We may be “hush-hush” about it... but honestly, we all meet questions and situations every day that test our faith. I do! Here's one of those “hmmm…” tidbits: faith isn’t faith without doubt. When will all our doubts be gone and all our questions answered? Just inside the pearly gates.
Jesus’ select 12 were doubters. Many times in the gospels we can see Jesus chiding them for not understanding. The paramount proof is their corporate exit flight when Jesus was arrested… they were doubting everything they had thought Jesus to be. A strong proof of Jesus’ resurrection is that they stopped doubting.
(1) So the opposite of faith is unbelief, not doubt. Doubt reflects uncertainty; unbelief is willful refusal to accept truth. The word “doubt” in Gk. is meteōrízō (think “meteor”) which a meaning of “being suspended in midair.”
(2) Doubt isn’t unforgivable; really, in and of itself, it isn’t a sin. God’s big enough to handle our doubts. He doesn’t cast aside those who question. Job repeatedly questioned God; so did David. But neither was condemned. God gives great grace and so doubt can and often does lead to new growth.
(3) Struggling with God is a sign of faith, not the lack of it. It’s hard at times to keep believing: “When [his disciples] asked him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’” He answered, “The work of God is this: To believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29 NIV). Believing is “work”! If you know someone who says they never doubt, bless them. God didn’t wire us all the same. Some struggle mightily with doubt; we should give grace. Others keep on believing regardless. Most of us are in the middle – sometimes doubters. So we have no need to browbeat ourselves if our faith doesn’t match others’.
Many feel deep guilt for doubting. It’s mainly there that this lesson can bless. So let’s look at a man who doubted and notice how Jesus dealt with his doubt.
Doubting John the Baptist
He started out preaching with vast multitudes following (“All Judea was going out to him…”). But most of John’s disciples went over to Jesus when He arrived – God’s intended purpose. Sometime later, Herod threw him in prison because John told him it was gross sin to marry his brother’s wife. It wasn’t just any prison… it was Macherus, a Herodian fortress/palace in the desert east of the Dead Sea. For about a year he was locked up, never knowing his fate, but always feeling threatened. The time came that he was frustrated and confused over his plight and sent messengers to Jesus with a question: “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:2-3). Ah, this great prophet had come to a point of uncertainty even though he once triumphantly shouted, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”(John 1:29) and later and with certainty, “I have seen and I testify that this (Jesus) is the Son of God” (v 34).
How could a man once so certain now be in doubt? The answer? Isolation… fear of pain… Most know little of what it’s like to be in prison. A prisoner wrote, “No place on earth is more corrosive to faith than a prison cell… it’s like being dead; no one wants anything to do with you.” Prisons are Satan’s domain.
Really, no wonder about John! He’d lived out in the wide open and now awak-ened daily to prison walls. A queen despised him. He had no idea if he’d ever be released. He wondered if his work had been all for nothing. Not unlike Joseph (Genesis 37-50). Nor David fleeing Saul (1 Samuel). But he knew enough to ask the right question and who to ask. He sent disciples to Jesus asking: “Are you the one sent from heaven, or is someone else the promised Messiah?”
First, let’s get the background. Luke tells us in chapter 7 that Jesus was out and about healing. One day in Capernaum, He healed a Roman army officer’s servant from distance… The next, as He entered the village of Nain, He met a funeral procession and brought a widow’s only son back to life… “John’s disciples [went and] told him about all these things” (v 18).
The story tells us that John had been struggling with doubt and this news of all miracles Jesus was doing prompted him to send disciples to ask Jesus point blank, “Are you the ‘coming one’ (what the Jews called the “Messiah”)?”
Jesus gave John no rebuke at all. His love for His great prophet didn’t diminish at all. And He chose to “show” rather than “tell,” kept right on doing His wonders, and provided the evidence John needed to regain his faith: really doing six works every Jew believed the Messiah would do in fulfillment of Isaiah 61:1-2: “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cured, he deaf hear, dead are raised, and the poor are getting the gospel preached to them…” He instructed John’s disciples, “Go back and tell John what you have seen.”
He could have said… “Tell John that I walk on water. Tell John that I make the Pharisees look bad when they take me on.” He could have related, “I saw you weeping in your dungeon cell (like Nathanael under the fig tree).” But no, He told them to tell John that the hurting people of the world were served and blessed.
There’s a “rest of the story” – it lies what Jesus said then to the crowd that was following Him. He asked,
“What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? No? Then what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No? Those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet… the one about whom it is written: ‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:7-11).
Jesus gave John lofty praise before the crowd: “a prophet, more than a prophet… No man ever born has been greater!” It’s as if to say, John may doubt me, but I don’t doubt him; he’s Heaven’s faithful man, part of God’s A-team. I still believe in him.”
Now, if the greatest man who ever lived (up to his time) had doubts, shouldn’t we expect to, too? More than that – as grace getters, let’s be sure we give grace to one another and to all who come through Bono’s doors. We must flash the message like a lighted sign, DOUBTERS ARE WELCOME AND WILL GET GRACE HERE. “You have Doubts? Come on in! Questions? Come on in! Uncertain? Come on in! Skeptical? Come on in! Searching for truth? Come on in! We’ll hunt together.
Going “All In”
Remember our high-drama illustration of a poker player going all in? Betting the ranch? Jesus calls us all to do that for Him. Somewhere along the way we’ll have to make a stand… I decided years ago to go “all in” on Jesus… staked everything that He is the Son of God, died on the cross for me, rose from the dead, is Lord of all, and will someday take all of His own to heaven. There is no Plan B.
Just As I Am
When young Charlotte Elliott was visiting some friends in the West End of London in 1822, she met a noted minister named Cesar Malan who asked her if she was a Christian. Since she avoided such questions she changed the subject wand gave him no answer. So he said, “I don’t mean to offend you but I want you to know that Jesus can save you if you will turn to Him.” And their conversation ended. When they chanced to meet again several weeks later, she told him that she had been trying to come to Christ but did not know how. He told her, “Come to Him just as you are.” The words inspired her and she composed a poem we all know:
Just as I am, without one plea but that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidd’st me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
In 1849 William Bradbury set the words to music. Since then it has become one of the most beloved hymns of all time. The third verse contains Charlotte Elliott’s own testimony:
Just as I am, though tossed about, with many a conflict, many a doubt.
Fightings and fears within, without, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
And the last verse contains the gospel promise:
Just as I am, thou wilt receive, wilt welcome, pardon, cleanse, relieve;
Because thy promise I believe, O Lamb of God, I come, I come!
That’s God’s promise to us: He never turns an honest doubter away. We can come to Him with our doubts, skepticism, trying to believe, hard questions, uncertainties, anger, sinful habits, and hardest questions. It’s no sin to doubt. However, handling our doubt in the wrong way can lead us away from Jesus and into sin. We can’t let our doubts keep us from Him. Come to Him just as we are – bring our doubts with us. He will not turn us away.
2 Timothy 2:13 says, “If we doubt, if we believe not, He abides faithful. He cannot deny Himself.” We may doubt but God is ever faithful. He won’t break relation-ship with us; we're His child and He’ll firm His grip on us. So we can have the confidence and go to God with our doubt; He’ll give the answer we need.
Jesus Is Faith’s “pioneer and perfecter” (“finisher”):
In the faith race Jesus has called us to run, doubt is a weight we can’t run with.
The Hebrews writer wrote, “So then, with endurance, let’s also run the race that is laid out in front of us, since we have such a great cloud of witnesses surrounding us. Let’s throw off any extra baggage, get rid of the sin that trips us up, 2 and fix our eyes on Jesus, faith’s pioneer and perfecter.” (12:1-2 CEV) (other translations say “finisher of our faith).