Summary: Jesus walked through a wall, and the disciples went from fear to freaked out to faith.
Drowning in Doubt
It was a hot, humid Mississippi night nearly ten years ago, but I remember it like it was yesterday. I was sitting on the third step of the swimming pool at my apartment complex. I was twenty-six years and had just completed a very difficult seminary program. For nearly three years I had written papers about God, took tests on the Bible, and debated other students on the finer points of theology. Now, sitting in that pool that night, I was drowning in doubt.
My mind was flooded with questions like:
“I know a lot about You God. But do I really know You? Do I have the information without the inspiration?”
“If you are in control, then why is my mother dying?”
“Why do You not answer my prayers?” and “If You know everything anyway, why pray at all?”
“Why, when I need you the most, do you seem most distant?”
The most haunting question of all was:
“How can you use me? If people really knew my doubts, they wouldn’t listen to me. How can I be a minister for Your Kingdom with all these doubts?”
Thoughts of joining the circus seriously entered my mind.
We are in Good Company
I have a question for you this morning. Have you ever felt the same way? Have you ever felt dogged by your doubts? Have you ever asked some of the same questions of God I did? If you have, would you please raise your hands?
Doesn’t it feel good to be honest in church? For those of us who have doubted, be encouraged, we are in very good company.
In his classic book, “Devotions”, Augustine wrote of his desire for certainty: “I wish to be made just as certain of things I could not see, as I was certain that seven and three makes ten”
The great Reformer Martin Luther battled constantly against doubt and depression.
A church in Boston delayed evangelist D.L. Moody’s application to join because his beliefs seemed so uncertain.
The great novelist, Fyodor Dostoevsky, wrote: “It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born in a furnace of doubt”
Billy Graham tells of a time of desperate prayer in which he wrestled with his doubts about the truth of the Bible.
Philip Yancy, the author of such Christian classics as “Where is God When it Hurts?” and “What’s So Amazing about Grace?” was asked to sign Christianity Today magazine’s statement of faith “without doubt or equivocation.” He refused, writing “I can barely sign my own name without doubt or equivocation.”
Feeling better about yourself yet?
What about the Biblical examples of individuals who doubted but never-the-less remained committed to the cause: Adam, Sarah, Abraham, Jacob, Job, Jeremiah, Jonah, John the Baptist, Martha, Peter, and Thomas.
As Yancey puts it in his book on doubt, “Reaching for the Invisible God,” “God appears far less threatened by doubt than does his church.”
Before we move on to our text for this morning, I think it is imperative that we define doubt. Many believe doubt to be the opposite of faith. That is not the case. The opposite of faith is unbelief. Doubt comes from the root word that we get our English word double. James, the brother of Jesus, put it this way:
“He who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.” (James 1:6-8)
Os Guinness gives a helpful definition of doubt: “When you believe, you are in one mind and accept something as true. Unbelief is to be on one mind and reject something to be true. To doubt is to waver between the two, to believe and disbelieve at the same time…there is a Chinese proverb that says ‘Doubt is standing in two boats, with one foot in each.”
It is not a sin to doubt. Perhaps many of you thought it was. Doubt does not show an absence of faith. Listen to the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: “doubt does not indicate a lack of faith, but a state of ‘qualified faith”: it’s weakness, but not it’s absence.”
To doubt is to seek more information, to seek illumination, and recognize your limited knowledge. As Ian Johnson puts it, “Doubt is the sincere question; unbelief is the unwillingness to hear the answer.”
Doubt is a place I visit from time to time, but it definitely not a place I want to live. So what do we do with doubt?
Let me quote Yancey again: “Doubt is the skeleton in the closet of faith and I know no better way to treat a skeleton than to bring it into the open and expose it for what it is: not something to hide or fear, but a hard structure on which living tissue may grow.”