“Don’t dig up in doubt what you planted in faith.”Elisabeth Elliot
Christians are known for being people of faith who have confidence in God. Surely that trust in God is the antithesis of doubt, right? But what if it’s God we are doubting? How can He be trusted if X, Y and Z is happening? I definitely have had doubts at times, but I am learning it is not a place where I can linger for long. It has never once helped a situation for starters! When times are tough, I tell God exactly what I think. Even if I don’t say it out loud, He knows my innermost thoughts (Psalm 139:2). One of my most frequent prayers when I have been struggling through illness or wearisome situations is ‘“I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). Like the father who cried out these words to Jesus, I do believe but I need help from the Lord for those times of doubt.
I cannot write about doubt without Thomas
In the Bible, one of Jesus’s disciples Thomas became known for his doubting. He has gone down in history as the doubter, but I like to think he verbalised what many (if not all) of us have internalised. Let’s not go too hard on the guy. Jesus certainly didn’t. Thomas missed out on seeing resurrected Jesus at the same time as the rest of Jesus’s closest followers. He wanted proof that Jesus was alive. He could not believe what the other disciples had seen with their eyes, but he had to simply accept.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”John 20:25 NIV
And Thomas got the evidence that he wanted eight days later. Jesus visited the disciples once again and spoke to Thomas saying,
“Put your finger here and look at My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas replied, “My Lord and my God!”
Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”John 20:27-29 BSB
Thomas had been with Jesus for three years witnessing miracles and hearing Him speak. Yet, when Christ was crucified that must have felt like the end of the road. Although Jesus had told His disciples more than once that He would have to die but then would be raised on the third day, they all scattered after His crucifixion. They went into hiding. They locked the doors. In the verses above, the disciples met together in private with locked doors, afraid of the Jewish leaders (John 20:19). But who entered that room and stepped into their fear? Jesus. His perfect love casts out fear (1 John 4:18). The disciples witnessed His resurrection and it transformed their life. Nothing like this had happened before. Nothing could be the same after this.
Jesus has the question and is the answer
If you could ask God one question, what would it be? I am guessing many questions would be quite emotive and strong. I imagine the majority will focus on the reality of suffering and all the unanswered explanations for why things are the way they are. We have so many questions and maybe, like Thomas, we want an exclusive audience with God face to face so we have the proof we need. But signs, wonders and miracles do not necessarily mean that we will believe (see John 12:37).
Thomas wasn’t the only disciple to doubt Jesus. When the disciples were out in a boat in the very early hours of the morning, a storm with fierce winds and mighty waves came against them. Jesus was not with them as He had sent them out whilst He went to the hillside to pray. When the boat was already some distance from the land, Jesus came out to them on the water. The disciples saw Him walking on the water and they were terrified. Wouldn’t you be as you saw a ghostly figure coming at you in the middle of one of the worst storms ever encountered? But Jesus said to them not to be afraid and to take courage because He was here.
It was His presence that would make all the difference. He was there. In their fear, He was there. In the boat, the disciple Peter called to Jesus saying,
“Lord, if it’s really you, tell me to come to you, walking on the water.”
“Yes, come,” Jesus said.
So Peter went over the side of the boat and walked on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw the strong wind and the waves, he was terrified and began to sink. “Save me, Lord!” he shouted.
Jesus immediately reached out and grabbed him. “You have so little faith,” Jesus said. “Why did you doubt me?”Matthew 14:28-31 NLT
Like Thomas, Peter wanted to have proof that Jesus was who He said He was. Jesus answered and called Peter out onto the water. He trusted Jesus enough to get out of the boat and walk toward Him. Yet, when Peter took his eyes off of Jesus and looked at the terrifying waves and felt the strength of the wind, he started to sink. Isn’t that what doubt does? It takes our eyes off of Jesus and places them on the circumstances. Before long, we are feeling battered and bruised by the storms of life.
Peter’s honest, heart-felt cry was ‘Save me, Lord!’ He knew who Jesus was in that moment. He was Lord. He could save his life. And without even hesitating, Jesus immediately reached out, grabbed Peter and saved him. And He does the same today. When we cry out to Jesus to save us, we can look to the cross and know that is exactly what He did. We may not experience physical healing at this time, but we can know real healing is in the presence of Jesus.
I love that Jesus says to Peter ‘why did you doubt me [emphasis added]?’ In other translations, it says ‘why did you doubt?’ Peter could say, well, the big, ugly storm threatened to kill me. Seems a reasonable answer. But Jesus is saying Peter doubted who He was. There was reason to trust Jesus after following Him so closely, seeing His interactions, hearing His teaching, witnessing miracles, doing life with Him. Yet, the storm seemed too much. Could Peter have faith in Jesus that was bigger than the storm? We need faith, even if it’s small (Peter got out of the boat for a start!). It’s not the size of our faith; it is the object of our faith – Jesus. It is His majesty, glory and power. He is the only God who saves.
It is Jesus and His presence, His power, His purposes in all things that we need which will quench doubt and increase our faith.Tweet
An old ploy and the love that conquered all
From the beginning, the enemy’s tactic has been to get us to doubt God. In Genesis 3:1, he challenged Eve saying, ‘Did God really say…?’ Eve doubted God’s goodness, believing that He was withholding something from her based on the cunning deception of the serpent. Doubting that God is good in the midst of suffering seems like a justified response. Yet, if we take our eyes off of the circumstances for a moment and cover our ears from the subtle whispers of the enemy, we look to Jesus. He willingly went to the cross and suffered there because of His love for the world (John 3:16).
What does this mean for those who doubt God? It means we can take all of the doubts and questions to Him. When we see all that Jesus has done for us on the cross by taking our sin and the sin of the world upon Himself, facing the punishment our sin deserves so that we are free, there is nothing that separates us from God. It is our sin that does separates us from a holy God, but Jesus has paid the price of our sin Himself. If we turn to Him in true repentance from the sin in our lives, confessing with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believing in our heart that He was raised from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9). The cross demonstrates God’s grace and love toward us. There is no doubt of His love, for when we were still sinners and far off from God, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).