Encouragement for the Perplexed and Doubting
The disciples of John the Baptist told John about everything Jesus was doing. So John called for two of his disciples, and he sent them to the Lord to ask him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?”
I have been a Christian for almost fifty years. During this time, I have heard countless sermons and teachings about Jesus. I spent years of my life in graduate school, learning to understand the ancient language(s) spoken by Jesus and the culture in which he lived. I have dozens of sermons on Jesus and published one book focused on him. I have tried to follow Jesus in my personal life, living as his disciple in my work, my family, and my relationships. I have certainly failed in my discipleship, many times over, but this has been central to my existence for almost five decades.
You might think, in light of what I’ve just said, that I have Jesus pretty well figured out. I hope that I do truly understand him and his message, and I expect that I have some things right. Moreover, there are times when Jesus really does feel like a friend.
But then there are other times, times when I read something in the Gospels and am perplexed. Sometimes I don’t even like something Jesus says, and find myself secretly thinking, “I wish he hadn’t said that.” Then there are times when I pray for something, something that makes complete sense to me, something that I am sure Jesus will do...and he fails to act. I can easily find myself struggling, not only with anger toward the Lord, but also with doubt. When this happens, I tend to feel guilty. How can I, a Christian for almost fifty years, doubt my Lord? What’s wrong with me?
The part of me that struggles with faith is greatly encouraged by the story in Luke 7:18-30. In this passage, the disciples of John the Baptist reported to him the amazing things Jesus had been doing (healing the sick, even raising the dead). But John sent them back to Jesus with the question: “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (7:19). Yes, John asked this, John, who had so boldly proclaimed that Jesus was the Messiah, and who had witnessed the miracle of his baptism (3:15-22). John wondered if perhaps he had gotten it wrong, and Jesus was not who John had believed him to be. You see, even though Jesus was doing great miracles, he was not acting as the powerful political savior John had expected. Nor was Jesus executing God’s judgment on sinners as John had promised. So John was perplexed, filled with doubt about Jesus.
If John the Baptist experienced this sort of confusion, then perhaps I can go a bit easier on myself. After all, Jesus himself said of John, “I tell you, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John” (7:28). John shows us that there are times when even those who are exemplary in their faithfulness to God can wrestle with confusion and doubt. This doesn’t disqualify them from serving the Lord. They don’t end up on God’s naughty list. Rather, people like John press on in the journey of faith, asking questions, seeking the truth, sometimes doubting, sometimes confused, but always pursuing a deeper and more truthful relationship with the Lord. In the example of John, I find encouragement to hold on steadfastly to the Lord through faith, realizing that I will not have all the answers, and that’s okay. Like John, when I am perplexed and uncertain, I will turn to the Lord, not away from him.
QUESTIONS FOR FURTHER REFLECTION: Have you ever struggled with doubt? Do you still? What perplexes you about the Lord? How do you deal with this? Do you do as John did, taking your questions and doubts to the Lord?
PRAYER: Dear Lord, I thank you for this story in Luke. Thank you for its honesty. Thank you for allowing me to see John, not just as a great prophet, but also as a human being who struggled to understand you. His example gives me hope when I am confused by what you say and do...or do not do.
Thank you, Lord, for choosing me to follow you in spite of my failings. Thank you for holding on tight to me when I am tempted to let go of you. Thank you for making yourself known to me, for helping me to know you better because of the times I am perplexed and uncertain.
Dear Lord, today I ask you to strengthen my faith. Help me to know you more truly and trust you more fully. I pray in your powerful name. Amen.