It has been said that when the warm, moist air of our expectations collide with the icy cold of God’s silence, inevitably clouds of doubt begin to form. Things happen that don’t always make sense, and we wonder, Where was God in this? Why did God allow this to happen? Or, there were times when we needed an answer from God, and he was silent. It seemed as though God was sitting on his hands, intentionally dragging his feet, or worse yet, not paying attention at all. And that caused some doubt – at least some momentary doubt.
Some of the greatest men and women of God in the Bible have had their moments of doubt. Even John the Baptist struggled with doubt. John was not simply a man of significance; he was super significant. He was a man of national prominence, greatly admired and followed by thousands. He was someone whom people looked up to and loved because he was a prophet of God.
At this point in history, Israel had not heard from God for 400 years, since the death of the prophet Malachi. There was not a single prophet, not one angelic appearance, no miracles … nothing. Then suddenly bursting on the scene was this colorful prophet, John the Baptist, who dressed in animal skins and ate a very unusual diet. He was a little different, but he captured the imagination of the people, and they loved him.
So significant was John in his day that the ancient historian Josephus wrote more about him than he did about Jesus himself. In fact, John was so popular that some thought he might be the actual Messiah. But that was not his role. He was preparing the way for the Messiah. He was the voice crying in the wilderness. John’s motto, if you will, was, “He [Jesus] must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30 NKJV). It was John’s job to point the people to Jesus. And when Jesus began his public ministry, John essentially said to his own followers, “My work is done. Now follow Jesus from this moment on.” Overnight, he walked away from his huge ministry, because his mission was accomplished.
In John’s case, we might say that his doubt was due to confusion. He had a certain concept of what Christ was supposed to do that he simply was not doing. Everything was going exactly as it was supposed to go. It is just that John misunderstood. Scripture clearly taught that before Jesus would wear many crowns, he would first wear the crown of thorns. Before he would sit on a throne, he would first be nailed to a cross. This is what the Scripture taught. Passages like Psalm 22 and Isaiah 53 spoke extensively about the suffering of the Messiah. But John misunderstood the role of Jesus. Thus, he sent a message to Jesus, asking, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?” (Matthew 11:2)
This can happen to us as well. Sometimes we misunderstand God and Scripture. When tragedy strikes, when a child goes astray, when a loved one dies, when we unexpectedly get cancer, when something happens that wasn’t part of the plan for our lives, we say, “God, are you paying attention? Why did you let this happen to me?” The problem is that we interpret God in the light of the tragedy instead of the other way around.
It is not that Jesus was failing to do what he was supposed to do; it was that John misunderstood what God was going to do. And we have that same problem today. Many times our doubt is due to our confusion about what we think God ought to be doing.
Doubt is not necessarily a sinful thing. As the French proverb says, “He that knows nothing doubts nothing.” Sometimes doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith. It means that we are thinking something through. We are grappling with it. We are trying to process and understand it. G. Campbell Morgan put it this way: “Men of faith are always the men who have to confront problems. For if you believe in God, you will sometimes wonder why he allows certain things to happen.”
Doubt is a matter of the mind, while unbelief is a matter of the will. Doubt says, “I don’t get it. Help me understand this. Work with me through this.” But unbelief says, “I get it. I don’t like it. And I refuse to accept it.”
Sometimes we have to go through the foyer of doubt to enter the sanctuary of certainty. The important thing is that when we are having those matters of doubt, we cry out to God.
Jesus responded to John’s doubt by refocusing John’s priorities. John had unbiblical and unrealistic expectations of the ministry, purpose and timing of Jesus. And that was pretty much true of all his disciples. But Jesus did not rebuke John; he just corrected his thinking. He answered John’s question with a statement: “Blessed is he who is not offended because of Me” (Matthew 11:6), or literally, “Blessed is the man or woman who is not annoyed or repelled or made to stumble, whatever may occur.” Jesus was saying, “You may not understand my method or my ways or my timing. But I am asking you to trust me.” Jesus kept right on with His purpose and asked John not to stumble or be annoyed.
Sometimes we get things out of perspective. When that crisis hits, and it looks like our world is literally falling apart, we have to correct our thinking. I have to do this. Even though it has been well over two years since my son went to heaven, it is still very hard for me to accept at times. So I will correct my thinking with biblical truth. I will get things clear again in my own mind.
When you are going through hardship, you don’t need pious platitudes or silly sayings. You need the Word of God – the Bible. That alone resonates. That alone gives hope. That alone resounds in our soul.