Dealing with Doubt

Dealing with Doubt

John 11:1-6

“Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?”

 

            John was troubled.  When John the Baptist came on the scene, he had a strong sense of purpose and direction for his preaching.  He came to announce the coming of the Messianic king.  With his prophetic style, John made it clear that he was not the Messiah, but he was coming to prepare the way for the Messiah.  When Jesus came to be baptized by John, John was reluctant because how could the lesser baptize the greater?  As time passed, the people's focus shifted from John the Baptist to Jesus.  Although John’s followers were disturbed by the shift in popularity, John made it clear that this was part of God’s design, for he was the forerunner who came to announce the coming of the Messiah.  Therefore, it was ordained that Jesus “would increase and John must decrease” (John 4:30).  In light of John’s confidence that he was coming to prepare the way for the arrival of the Messiah, it is surprising that we come to John 11 we find John starting to doubt and waver in his conviction that Jesus was the Messiah.   

            How. Does John go from such a stalwart of faith to a wavering one?  To understand John’s struggle, we need to understand his circumstances.  John is sitting in a prison in the fortress of Machaerus, south of Jerusalem.  Because he denunciated Harod's unlawful marriage, John was arrested and cast into prison. While Herod engages in an ongoing conversation with John regarding the coming Messiah, Herod’s wife despises him and later manipulates Herod to have John put to death (Matthew 14).  When we face adversity, it is easy to question God’s plan and direction.  Gordan Lightfoot captured the struggle of faith in the song “Wreck of the Edmond Fitzgerald” when he wrote, “Does anyone know where the love of God goes when the waves turn the minutes to hours?”  When life turns dark, we begin to question God’s plan.

            However, the struggle goes beyond just the circumstances.  John’s struggle was also in this theology.  He had come preaching that the Messiah would set prisoners free.  Yet, here he sat in a prison with no sign of any divine intervention and no sign of the immanent judgment of the wicked that he had predicted.  Jesus showed no indication throughout his ministry that he would bring the political and national liberation the Jews expected of the Messiah.  Like many Jews of Jesus’ day, Jesus’s message and actions did not conform to their expectations.

            As John sat in a dark prison, he began to have doubts.  No matter how strong our faith is, we can start to have doubts that Christ is who he says he is.  We question whether or not Jesus is truly divine and that salvation is exclusively obtained through Christ.  This message contradicts the perspective of our present age and does not fit what we perceive to be true.  Like John, because Jesus’ message does not match our expectations, we question Jesus’ claim.  This is exacerbated further when the message of Christ does not include the narrative of our perspective.

            Jesus, in response, begins by pointing to the miracles he performs as proof of his divine sonship.  The miracles demonstrated his divine power and fulfilled specific prophecies that foretold he would do so (see Isiah 29:18-19, 35:5-6).  This would culminate in the greatest gift of all—his resurrection from the dead.  

            Having pointed to the miracles, Jesus then points to the real issue: the importance and necessity of faith.  Faith trusts God entirely and remains steadfast even when confronted with questions and doubts. Faith is not the absence of doubt but remaining faithful even in the face of doubts.  Genuine faith will struggle with questions, but it remains and grows when life brings us doubts.  Doubts and fears are part of our Christian experience, but steadfastness in these struggles is the mark of genuine faith. 

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