Has it ever seemed as though God has let you down? Maybe something happened in your life that caused you to ask where God was. Has it ever seemed like God is intentionally dragging His feet and not really paying attention? Have you ever worried about the way God does or does not do certain things, causing you to momentarily entertain doubt?
If that is the case, it may surprise you to know that you are not alone. In fact, the greatest of the Bible’s prophets grappled with these very problems. We know him as John the Baptist.
During his earthly ministry, John the Baptist was not just significant; he was super significant. In his day, John was a figure of national prominence. In fact, the Jewish historian Josephus wrote more about John than he did about Jesus.
The reason John’s ministry was so significant was that it had ended a 400-year silence. From the time of the prophet Malachi’s death to John’s birth, Israel had not heard from a prophet for 400 years – not a single miracle, not a single angel, not a single prophet sent by the Lord.
Then the angel Gabriel appeared to John’s father, Zacharias, telling him that he and his wife, Elizabeth, would give birth to the forerunner of the Messiah. John emerged on the scene as a mega-prophet. Bold and courageous, he would stand by the Jordan River and tell the people to repent, because the kingdom of God was at hand. John had a huge following, and thousands of people would gather to hear the words of John. Some were even asking whether he was the Messiah, the one they had been waiting for.
Then one day, Jesus, who was a cousin to John, appeared on the scene. John realized that it was time for his ministry to come to a close. John pointed to Jesus and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29 NIV). And John’s disciples began to follow Jesus.
John’s ministry, however, was not over. He had been speaking to King Herod, who liked to listen to John. But John was not known for subtlety. He properly accused the king of immorality, and, of course, the king didn’t take it well. So John was sent to prison because of his bold preaching to Herod.
John’s far-reaching ministry had come to a close, and he was living in relative obscurity. Even worse, Jesus did not seem to be doing what John thought he would do. John, along with others, thought that Jesus was coming to lead a revolt. They thought Jesus was coming to establish a kingdom by force. They thought Jesus would overthrow the tyranny of Rome.
But 18 long months had passed, and Jesus was not leading the revolt against Rome John was hoping for. Not only that, but he reportedly was associating with sinners and tax collectors. Things were not going according to plan. So John began to have some doubts, which might be better described as perplexity or confusion. John was not questioning the truthfulness of the word of God; he merely was having difficulty understanding what it meant in his life. In John’s case, he had misunderstood what Jesus was saying. It is not that Jesus had done something wrong. It was that John didn’t quite understand what Jesus was trying to communicate to him and to others.
John thought maybe he had made a mistake. Could this be the actual Messiah? Isn’t the Messiah supposed to establish a kingdom of righteousness? What is going on? What was going on was that John, along with others, had misunderstood the mission of Jesus. What John and the others had missed was that Jesus was coming with the express purpose of dying on the cross for the sins of humanity. He would bring deliverance to the captives, but it would be deliverance from a spiritual prison of oppression and bondage. He would bring comfort to those who were mourning, but it would be different from what John was anticipating.
I bring this up because sometimes we grow impatient with God. We think God is missing his cues, so to speak. We think he is falling short. Something will happen in our lives, and we will ask why. Tragedy hits, and we ask, What did I do to deserve this? Where did I go wrong? Is there some bad thing that God is punishing me for?
These are questions that often go through our minds – even through a committed Christian’s mind. It is not unusual for even the most spiritual people to have their days of doubt and uncertainty.
Moses was so frustrated with the Israelites on one occasion that he was ready to quit. After listening to the complaints of Israel, He said to the Lord, “I cannot carry all these people by myself; the burden is too heavy for me. If this is how you are going to treat me, please go ahead and kill me …” (Numbers 11:14–15).
Elijah was so overwhelmed with his circumstances that when he heard that Queen Jezebel wanted him killed, he asked God to take his life.
Paul was discouraged as well. He wrote, “We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself” (2 Corinthians 1:8).
Maybe you are dealing with doubt and discouragement right now. But as I have said before, doubt is not always a sign that someone is wrong; it may be a sign that he is thinking.
But here is something we need to recognize. There is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is a matter of the mind. We cannot understand what God is doing and why He is doing it. Unbelief, however is different. Unbelief is a matter of the will. Unbelief is a willful choice not to believe.