Doubt is one of those things that none of us are immune to. One day we can be so sure, and then our circumstances change and all of a sudden we are beset with doubt. Just to be clear, there is nothing wrong with having doubts, after all, it is part of the human condition. What does matter is what we do in the midst of our doubts.
In the gospels, we are given a prime example of how to deal with doubt. Early in the book of John we are introduced to John the Baptist. As a cousin of Jesus, he had a particularly close relationship with Jesus. Even though they were relatives, John didn’t realize exactly who Jesus was until he had the opportunity to baptize Him. Once God revealed the full nature of Jesus to him, John had no doubts – he was sure. In John 1:29-30, John the Baptist demonstrates how sure he is:
29 The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! 30 This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’
In verse 34, he winds up his testimony with this statement:
34 I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.”
If you ask me, John the Baptist leaves no doubt – he is absolutely certain about who Jesus is.
Let’s fast forward 18-24 months. Circumstances have changed dramatically. Instead of paving the way for Jesus, John the Baptist is now behind bars. He has been imprisoned by King Herod because he had the courage to call out Herod over his (Herod’s) marriage to his own brother’s wife. Meanwhile, Jesus’ ministry has grown by leaps and bounds. More and more people are coming to realize what John the Baptist had proclaimed months ago: Jesus is the Messiah.
As he languished in prison, doubt has crept into John the Baptist’s mind. In Matthew 11:2-3 we read:
2 When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples 3 to ask him, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”
This is quite different from the confident proclamations he was making back in John 1! Instead of “the Lamb of God” and “God’s Chosen One”, John is no longer so sure – he is now racked with doubt.
In Matthew 11:4-5, we see Jesus’ reply:
4 Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: 5 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.
Instead of rebuking John, He takes the opportunity to teach all of us what to do when we find ourselves lost in the fog of doubt. In these verses, He gives us a great step one: When we find ourselves imprisoned by the four walls of doubt, take a look outside the walls – God is still working! Just because we have a hard time seeing and feeling God in our own lives, it doesn’t mean He is non-existent. There is always ample evidence of His power.
But then Jesus goes on to say something a bit more cryptic:
6 Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.”
Um, What? What in the world does that mean? I think it is highly likely that John, upon hearing evidence of Jesus’ power, would have loved to be a direct recipient of it – probably by way of a divine jailbreak! Instead, Jesus chose not to act on John’s behalf, and as a result, we all benefit with a powerful lesson.
In this statement, Jesus was encouraging John to avoid falling into a trap we all fall into when struggling with doubt: When we look outside the prison cell of our doubt, and are confronted with evidence of God’s power we start asking the question “Why?”
“Why aren’t you working on my issues?”
“Why am I stuck in here, while you are working out there?”
“Why God? WHY?”
And then we come to the conclusion: “It’s not fair.” And our doubts increase.
In verse 6, Jesus gives us the second step to battling doubt: Don’t let your expectations fuel your doubt. Whether God decides to act in the way that you would like Him to is entirely up to God, not you. He may decide to act, or He may not. And that’s okay – because He is God and He is in control. That we can be sure of!