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Dealing With Doubt

January 10, 2012

 

I have made a new year’s resolution to blog more – so here goes. These thoughts are taken from a sermon I preached a few weeks ago, so Graymere folks have heard it before. It led to some good conversations, and it has been on my mind ever since.

“…or should we look for another?”

As these words hung in the air, those listening must have experienced serious shock. In Luke 7, some disciples of John the Baptist had been sent to ask Jesus if He was the “expected one” or if they should wait for someone else. Apparently, John needed some assurance. That’s right – John the Baptist. The same John the Baptist who  leapt in his mother’s womb the first time he heard the voice of Mary, Jesus’ mother. Elizabeth must have told him that story. The same John the Baptist who had grown up hearing about how his father’s voice had been muted when he first heard Gabriel describe the son he would have. His father was not able to speak until his son had been born. That is when Zacharius wrote “His name is John.” Zacharias must have told him that story. The same John who saw Jesus and described him as the “Lamb of God,” causing two of his disciples to leave right then to follow Christ. Andrew was one of those disciples; he must have told the other apostles that story. The same John the Baptist who baptized Christ, saw the Holy Spirit descend like a dove, and heard the voice of God confirming what John already knew to be true – this was the Son of God. That itself is an incredible story.
Yet John is stuck in a prison cell, trapped because he spoke the truth about Herod’s message. And he starts to think to himself, “I wonder if I have this right.” Does that sound familiar?
Some might say that in order to be Christians, we can’t have any doubts. If we wrestle with doubt, then somehow we aren’t truly following God in the right way. I just don’t see that in scripture. In fact, I see the opposite. When Jesus hears news about John’s doubts, He does not say, “How dare you. You of all people should know My mission. You should understand what I am doing. I cannot believe you would be weak enough to doubt my identity.” He simply reassures him by pointing to the way He is fulfilling scripture. And in describing how great the Kingdom of God would be, Jesus later says that no one born of woman is greater than John the Baptist (you wouldn’t expect Jesus to say that if John’s doubts had disqualified him from serving God).
While there are ways we can grow in our knowledge and strengthen the foundations of our faith, if we hope to live a life free from any doubt, we are in for some serious disappointment. All of us deal with doubt. In fact, much like working out our muscles makes them stronger, wrestling with doubt makes our faith stronger. I think it helps us to understand some reasons behind doubt that we see in this text.
1. Difficult Circumstances – John was an active man. He lived in the wilderness, and the text gives us the sense that John was constantly teaching and preaching. Now he is trapped in a dungeon without the freedom to go fulfill his mission, as much contact with others as he was accustomed to, not to mention much less sunlight. He couldn’t do what he knew he was called to do. When we are more isolated and lonely, doubts tend to creep in more quickly.
2. Unmet Expectations – I don’t think John was exempt from some of the expectations of an earthly, political Messiah. After all, when Jesus reads from Isaiah in Luke 4, He quotes a messianic prophecy that says the Messiah will free the captives and give liberty to the oppressed. Didn’t John fit into that category? Notice that when Jesus responds to John, He discusses how He is fulfilling Messianic prophecy, but He doesn’t mention freedom for captives. When we come up against challenges where life does not meet our expectations, it is easy to struggle with doubt.

I also think this text gives us helpful ways to deal with doubt:
1. Understand Ourselves – When we know that doubts are part of any human existence, it helps us deal with them. Even Abraham, who left home to follow God still fought doubt when it came to the promise of his son. Yet several times in the New Testament, Abraham’s faith is highlighted. When we know that doubts don’t disqualify us from being faithful, then we can focus on how to deal with them. Someone once said that doubts are like mushrooms, when left in darkness, they can grow. When we bring them in the light before God, He helps us through.
2. Think About Blessings – Verse 21 tells us that when the messengers from John came, Jesus performed miracles in their presence. He wanted them to be able to see what he was doing. Doubts often come when we look at difficult circumstances. When I look around my own life and see all the ways I am blessed, I am reminded of all the good things God is doing.
3. Focus on Scripture – Jesus also referred to prophecies that showed His fulfillment of them as the Messiah. During a time of doubt, Jesus pointed to scripture. The answer to our doubts isn’t going to come from looking inside ourselves. That is not where the answers are – the answers are outside ourselves: in God.
4. Think long-term – It must have been easy for John to be discouraged inside that prison cell. Jesus was pointing John back to his larger mission as Messiah. One of the most difficult things to do when in a painful situation is to look beyond our circumstances and think long-term.

It doesn’t help to deny doubt. It doesn’t help to leave a struggle with doubts in the dark. Once we bring them into the light, God will help us through them.

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