The Dialogue of Doubt
We doubt. We question. We struggle to trust. It began in the Garden. The serpent led Eve to doubt God. Perhaps doubt existed before the fall because it is what led to it. Doubt is part of our nature. Maybe it is part of free will; our ability to choose what we believe and who we trust? Even God is not immune to our doubt.
I’ve had seasons of doubt. Long ones. I’ve questioned God. What was He doing? Why was I suffering, and why did He allow certain things to happen? Did He hear my prayers? And if He heard my prayers, why was He ignoring them? I’ve known many people who have walked through similar seasons. My friends, my wife, my family, pastors, and ministry leaders have all struggled with doubt. When we begin to doubt, we are quick to believe that our doubt is unbiblical. This leads to guilt and more doubt.
Part of this increase in doubt is prompted by the abundance of Christian clichés that are flung at us (and by us) in well-meaning moments. While some of these clichés may be biblically true, they are generally spoken when we don’t know what else to say about your struggle. And we find ourselves at a loss on how to speak to your doubt. Because we may doubt also.
Comments like “God has a plan,” “Everything happens for a reason,” “If God brings you to it, He’ll see you through it,” “When God closes one door, He opens another,” “Just give it to Jesus,” “God won’t give you more than you can handle,” and the list goes on. If you say these things, stop it. Seriously, some of these comments are not even supported by Scripture. All of these sayings only add to the anxiety and guilt of doubting a God that most of us already know to be a good God.
So, are we allowed to doubt God? I will remind you of the story of the disciple Thomas who told the other disciples that he would not believe that Jesus was alive unless he saw Him with his own eyes. He did see and he did believe. Be encouraged, Thomas spent three years with Jesus and still struggled with doubt. So the simple answer is, yes you can doubt and it will not disqualify you as a follower of Jesus.
But a better story, one that distinguishes between our different types of unbelief and doubt takes place in Mark 9. In this story a man comes to Jesus and asks Him to heal his demon-afflicted son after Jesus’ disciples are not able. The man tells Jesus that the affliction is so bad that the evil spirits routinely throw his son into water and fire in an attempt to destroy him. In coming to Jesus this father says, “But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” To which Jesus answered, “‘If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” Then the father makes a declaration that screams to our soul and rips through the heart of the matter. He cries out, “I believe; help my unbelief!”
It is in this father’s cry to God where many of us hear our own. We find a brother who believes and knows that Jesus is the One who can meet our deepest needs. It is his belief that brings him to Jesus. In the same cry we see his doubt that his son can be healed, even though he believes Who Jesus is. Like many of us, he struggles with his knowledge of who Jesus is and the truth of his son’s affliction.
Belief is the Victor
Undoubtedly he witnessed Jesus and His disciples healing others. This firsthand, or potentially secondhand, knowledge of Jesus’ ability had sunk deep enough into his heart that he was drawn to Jesus. Standing in front of the One that heals, his belief in Jesus ran hard into the wall of truth that was his son’s life-long illness. Belief met unbelief – and belief was the victor.
His unbelief didn’t keep him from Jesus. His inability to know for sure if his son would receive relief did not keep the man from asking Jesus to heal his son. He still approached Jesus, still asked, and still hoped in Him. Not only did he trust Jesus to deal with his son’s affliction of evil spirits, he asked Jesus to deal with his own affliction of unbelief. Jesus obliged both requests.
Two things I want to clarify.
Asking Jesus to do something doesn’t warrant it being done. For reasons beyond all of us, the answer may be “no.” An answer of “no” does not change who He is. We don’t follow Jesus for the things He can do for us, we follow Him to be close to Him.
Our belief in God and our struggle with doubting His active participation in our life are two separate things. Our struggles and questions of circumstance-based doubt does not signal our rejection of who Jesus is or God’s goodness. We can fully rest in our knowledge of Who He is and still ask all of our where, when, how and why questions. We can still struggle with feelings of doubt and know He still is in control. Doubt in dire circumstance does not disqualify us from anything in His Kingdom, especially following Him. God knows our weakness. He knows our propensity to doubt and struggle with unbelief. He knows our heart.
I encourage you that while we all experience doubt and unbelief, we should, in the midst of our weakness say: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
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