Thoughts on doubt

“When Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ And Jesus answered them, ‘go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.’” – Matthew 11:1-6
“That very day two of them were going to a village named Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem, and they were talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing together, Jesus himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, ‘what is this conversation that you are holding with each other as you walk?’ And they stood still, looking sad. Then one of them, named Cleopas, answered him, ‘are you the only visitor to Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ And he said to them, ‘what things?’ And they said to him, ‘concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.’” – Luke 24:13-21
“And when they came to the disciples, they saw a great crowd around them, and scribes arguing with them. And immediately all the crowd, when they saw him, were greatly amazed and ran up to him and greeted him. And he asked them, ‘what are you arguing about with them?’ And someone from the crowd answered him, ‘teacher, I brought my son to you, for he has a spirit that makes him mute. And whenever it seizes him, it throws him down, and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid. So I asked your disciples to cast it out, and they were not able.’ And he answered them, ‘O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you? How long am I to bear with you? Bring him to me.’ And they brought the boy to him. And when the spirit saw him, immediately it convulsed the boy, and he fell on the ground and rolled about, foaming at the mouth. And Jesus asked his father, ‘How long has this been happening to him?’ And he said, ‘from childhood. And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.’ And Jesus said to him, “’if you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, ‘I believe; help my unbelief!’” – Mark 9:14-24

As I read through Matthew 11 recently, I couldn’t help but notice John the Baptist’s question: “are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” He was confused by what Jesus was doing, and he thought things were going to turn out differently than they really did. John the Baptist sent this question to Jesus through his disciples because he was in prison. Can you imagine the kind of fear and doubt that might come upon you in his situation? He did exactly what God called him to do, and he wound up arrested and eventually beheaded. I believe most of us would agree that, in John’s situation, it would be easy to doubt who Christ was and whether we should follow Him. Christ’s reply at the end of this passage, “and blessed is the one who is not offended by me,” shows His compassion and understanding for John’s response. Ultimately, Jesus is saying, “blessed is the one who does not lose his faith because what I’m doing looks different than he thought it would.”

On the same day I read these verses out of Matthew 11, I also read through Luke 24 and Mark 9. Though the situations in each passage are radically different, much like John the Baptist, the individuals in these passages are all dealing with doubt. In Luke 24, the disciples are upset because of all that has happened over the past three days. Though Jesus is standing right in front of them and even asking them questions, they cannot comprehend who He is and so they are distraught and depressed over His death.

Throughout the entire passage, the disciples are explaining—to Jesus Himself—what happened to Jesus in Jerusalem. To me, the pinnacle of their conversation on the road to Emmaus is this statement, “yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened.” How heartbreaking! Because they cannot see who Jesus truly is, they are telling Christ that they are most upset by the fact that this is the third day since He was killed, and He has not risen. Isn’t that incredible? Don’t you see why they would doubt? They were unable to see and understand who was walking with them, and they were devastated by the fact that everything they learned from Jesus looked like maybe it wasn’t true after all. He was the one who told them—multiple times—that on the third day he would rise. They couldn’t see it, and so they doubted.

Finally, in Mark 9, Jesus speaks one-on-one with a man who was desperate. He tells Jesus that he asked His disciples to cast out the demon that was controlling his son’s body, but they were not able to help. Jesus responds, saying: “O faithless generation, how long am I to be with you?” Before Jesus ever speaks directly to the man who came to see him, he comments on the lack of faith of an entire generation. The conversation goes on, and the man explains all the terrible things that happen to his son because of the demon within him. In desperation, he says to Jesus, “but if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Obviously, the “if” in this statement shows that the man doubts whether Jesus can help his son.

Jesus responds, saying: “’if you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” Here Jesus addresses the man’s comment and points out his lack of faith, and the man’s response is, to me, one of the most beautiful and transparent moments in Scripture. The Bible tells us that the man immediately responds, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Right after Jesus tells him that what he desires is possible so long as he believes and has faith, the man says “I do have faith. Please help me when my faith is lacking!” At first, this sounds like a paradox, but I think it makes a lot more sense than we as Christians are willing to admit.

Don’t you sometimes feel like, though you have faith in who Jesus is and what He did in the Bible, you doubt whether He can, or whether He is willing to, help you in your specific situation? I know I do; and more than anything these passages point to the fact that Jesus understands that we don’t believe. He understands that, at times, we lack faith in Him. Later in Matthew 11, Jesus tells the people He is with, “among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (11:11). Later in Luke 24, Jesus reveals Himself to the disciples (24:30-40). And because the man in Mark 9 believed, Jesus healed his son (9:25-27).

Jesus knew that the people in these passages doubted. He understood that they lacked faith. And do you know what is truly amazing? He helped each and every one of them! He was not mad. He did not turn away and tell them they weren’t worth it. No! He praised John the Baptist and gave him advice he needed so he would not turn from his faith. He showed himself to all of his disciples, proving to them that what he had always taught them was true. He healed the man’s son as a direct result of the man’s confession that he sometimes needed help to have faith in Jesus.

The Bible makes it clear that people doubt. These are just a few of the many examples on the topic found in Scripture. I think it is important for us as Christians to remember that doubt is real. We need to acknowledge that sometimes we don’t have as much faith as we think we do. But we also need to remember that Jesus isn’t automatically frustrated with us because of it. He wants to help us grow our faith in Him.

As long as we turn to Jesus when we doubt, and cry out to him, “help my unbelief,” He will always find a way to do just that.