Raise your hand if you have found the last 12 months or so to be difficult, confusing, even painful. The rest of you, raise your hands for not being truthful. Because in one way or more, 2020 and so far in 2021 (aka 2020, version 2.0), have perplexed us, confounded us, and maybe even unsettled our faith.
With chaos manifesting itself in so many forms – pandemic fears and mandates, extreme weather, political madness, the abrupt and drastic departure from “normal” – one could hardly be faulted for wrestling with periods of doubt. For non-believers, the go-to question has been, “How could a loving God allow this?” Even for believers, we’ve probably all had times when we wondered, “Lord, where are You?”
However, during less stressful, more predictable moments, doubts can emerge as well, from just about anywhere. A few days ago, a friend admitted her faith had been shaken a bit while reading a challenging section of the Old Testament, one of those portions of Scripture that make us think, “Wait! What?” What she read didn’t seem to mesh with the God of love, grace and mercy, manifested in the person of Jesus Christ, the New Testament shows to us.
Even though we’d like to deny them, doubts are actually an integral reality of the walk of faith. We see this throughout the Bible. The Israelites were a classic example. Every time circumstances got a bit difficult, they were ready to throw in the towel and trudge back to Egypt. “Hey, Moses! Yeah, we were slaves, but at least we had leeks and onions and a little bread!”
Reading the accounts today, we wonder, “Come on, Israel, after all God had done for you – being freed from Egypt, walking through the parted Red Sea, being given manna, then quail to fill your bellies – how can you doubt Him?” But they did. Repeatedly. It was an attitude of, “Yahweh, what have You done for us lately?” No wonder Moses smashed the first set of the 10 commandments in anger and frustration.
We see this over and over in the New Testament as well. By the time the man approached Jesus with the son possessed by a demon, the Lord had performed many miracles of healing and restoration. Explaining his son’s plight, the man said to Jesus, “But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” To which Jesus replied, “’If you can?’… Everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:22-23).
The list of biblical doubters could go on and on, but we can’t omit Mr. Doubter himself, doubting Thomas, the skeptical disciple. Ole Tom hadn’t been there when Jesus appeared to the other disciples following His resurrection, so when he heard the others declare, “We have seen the Lord!”, his response was in the “yeah, right” category. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it” (John 20:25). He was probably president of the Galilean Skeptics Society.
Even when Jesus appeared a second time, with Thomas in attendance, the disciple was hesitant. Jesus addressed his doubts. “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Finally, Thomas set aside his incredulity and responded, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:27-28).
We’re tempted to dismiss dubious Thomas, but aren’t we like that? There’s no need to rehash the trials and travails of the past year, but we’ve probably all wondered why God has seemed silent, even absent, when a loved one has died or suffered greatly from the virus. Or when financial woes have set in, or when an unexpected, unrelated crisis only added to our dismay.
I heard recently that studies have shown more than 70 percent of atheists lost their faith after going through difficult circumstances. That’s the case for people like Charles Darwin, Stephen Hawking and many others. But just because God doesn’t respond the way we want Him to, when we want Him to, doesn’t mean He’s not there – or that He doesn’t care.
So what are we to do as such times when nagging doubts don’t want to disperse? There are no easy answers, but for one thing, don’t deny the doubts. Going back to the story of the man with the demon-possessed son, when Jesus assurance him that everything is possible for those who believe, the father replied, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24). God isn’t threatened or befuddled by our doubts or questions.
We also need to make sure we’re listening to folks who will affirm our faith, not undermine it. As Hebrews 10:24-25 reminds us, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together…let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Faith isn’t intended or designed to be embraced and lived out in isolation.
God knows our minds and our thoughts, so we can be honest in approaching Him. “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:6-7).
And lastly, press through our doubts, reminding ourselves of what the Lord has already done in our lives and trusting He will continue to hear us and meet our needs. “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because 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). God is always at work, even when we can’t see or understand what He’s doing.