Doubting God in Times of Crisis
As much as we don’t want to believe it, the future has always been uncertain. Unfortunately, because of our current global landscape this reality has allowed many to be overcome with fear and anxiety. It has even led many Christians to be crippled with doubt. In times of crises, it can be difficult to believe in the goodness of God.
It’s easy to say Jesus is good when things are going well; it’s another thing entirely to say he is good when we are ill, when we’ve lost our jobs, when we’ve lost a loved one, or when it seems like our world is falling apart. In these times, we can be plagued with the question, “Jesus, are you actually who you say you are?”
Fortunately, we aren’t the first ones to wrestle with this doubt in times of trouble; in fact, church history is full of men and women of faith who wrestled with a similar question. But even more importantly, Scripture itself gives us a model of what to do with our doubts in times of uncertainty.
A great example for us today is John the Baptist. We know from Scripture that John wasn’t a pagan man with no concept of God; he was the exact opposite. He was the one who had been prophesying and preparing the way for people to know Jesus (Matt. 3:1-3). Most significantly, he was the one who baptized Jesus and saw the Holy Spirit descend on him like a dove (Matt. 3:16-17). Christ went as far to say that of those born of women, there is no man greater than John (Matt. 11:11). In short, John was doing this thing called life better than you or me. Surely, if anyone were to be steadfastly confident in Jesus, it would be John. But that isn’t what we read in Scripture.
In the Gospel of Matthew, we discover that John was unjustly imprisoned—a situation that likely left him confused and frustrated, thinking to himself, “God, I did everything you wanted me to, so why am I suffering in prison?” Recall that before John baptized Jesus he said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (Jn 1:29). Now John sends a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matt. 11:3). In other words, he is asking Jesus, “Are you really the Messiah or was I wrong to assume so?”
That is a significant doubt! Given the significance of this particular doubt (not to mention the source!), it makes sense to expect a rebuke from Christ. But Jesus’ response to John wasn’t a rebuke or “How dare you ask this question!” It was a bold encouragement and assurance that he was in fact who he said he was. Rather than giving him a direct “Yes, I am he,” Jesus quotes Isaiah and appeals to John’s prophetic sensibilities. And then Jesus praises John for the work he has done. Why was Christ’s response different this time?
John wasn’t the only person to ask Jesus if he was the Messiah. In Luke 23:39, one of the thieves hanging on the cross beside Jesus asks a similar question, yet the heart and motive were entirely different. He tells Jesus, if you really are who you say you are, get me out of my circumstances—get me off this cross! He tells Jesus to prove it. But John did something fundamentally different. John had no conditions for his question to Jesus, he just needed to know the truth, not how he could benefit from it. John knew that ultimately he could trust Jesus with the outcome of his life if Jesus was in fact who he claimed to be.
What John was saying was, “Jesus, if you really are God, nothing else matters. I don’t need to be rescued from jail. You don’t need to do anything for me. You already know my pain. You already know my thoughts. All I need to know is that you are truly the Messiah, and then I know you will see me through this.”
Do we take our doubts to Jesus like John or the thief? What are we demanding from the author of our lives? That he proves himself by doing something for us? Or that he would give us the grace to believe once more that he is who he says he is? Because, more than life itself, what John needed was to be reminded of God’s sovereignty and love.
If someone like John the Baptist can wrestle with doubts, so can we. But we must take our doubts directly to the one who is able to take them head on, and we must also do so desiring the truth—not necessarily convenience or self-preservation. John needed reminding of the gospel, and so do you and I. A significant portion of the Christian walk consists of a fight to remember Christ’s persistent work in our lives. The beautiful thing is as this truth becomes a lived reality, we can live our lives firmly planted in his promises while being a beacon of light to those without hope.
The most comforting thing we have as Christians is not that Christ will take away our current struggles, but that he will be with us in their midst and that he has given us the assurance of our eternity. Christianity isn’t for those who want pat answers to hard questions; it's for those who need a solid foundation within the storm.
More than ever, we need to be reminded of the gospel. More than health, more than financial security, more than certainty, we need Jesus. Let us go to him in this time of crisis and find hope in the words he sent back to John in his times of uncertainty and need:
“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” (Matt. 11:4-6).
Itinerant Speaker, RZIM