Questioning, doubting & hoping
Do you ever doubt? I imagine (and hope) so!
It is impossible for most of us to live in the 21st century without having times when we are filled with questions and doubts concerning God, and/or what God has done in Jesus. We look at the condition of the church now and through the ages, we look as nations develop weapons of annihilation, we look at poverty and injustice throughout the world and in our own country, we hold loved ones as they die from dreaded diseases, we sit with friends who are developing Alzheimer’s, we attempt to put together what we know scientifically with what we know from our experience and theology, we attempt to put together our experiences of God’s presence with our experiences of God’s silence—and we question. And, many times those questions reflect very real doubts.
The act of doubting has been around as long as human beings have been recording their stories. Consider this as just one of many examples in the Bible:
Matthew 11:2-3: “2When John heard in prison what the Messiah was doing, he sent his disciples 3to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'”
I find it helpful to see that the Biblical writers are honest about reporting this experience of questioning and doubting in the midst of trusting and hoping. In the context of the quotation above, Jesus does not castigate John for wondering how Jesus could possibly be the promised Messiah. Reality was extremely confusing for John at the moment, and God’s part in all of it was equally confusing. Nevertheless, instead of focusing on John’s doubt, Jesus focuses on his faithful courage, faithful willingness to pay the cost of serving God, and faithful role as a prophet of God speaking God’s word.
The ability to question and doubt is a gift and a necessary tool. We could never sort out falsehoods and lies without this tool. We can only grow if we can doubt that where we are at present is “all the truth there is” and ask questions about what else may be.
But, although our doubts are necessary, Jesus was also right to warn John that they can cause us to “stumble” because what God is doing and what we can discern may be very different at times.
Meanwhile, I find it comforting to hear Jesus speak in a manner that makes it clear that he did not see questioning and doubting as incompatible with serving God as people who trust and hope. After all, it is quite a Biblical heritage. Revisit Jeremiah, Abraham and Sarah, Job, Naomi, the Psalms, or Gideon—or John the Baptizer. You will find that questions and doubts are far less dangerous when they are not questions about God, but questions put directly to God and to Jesus. John doesn’t leave it at wondering about “him,” but questions Jesus as “you.” A very helpful model for living with hope and trust in our modern world!
Grace and peace to you,