Matthew 11:1-6 – NIV
After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee. When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus replied, “Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.”
Why . . . Why . . . Why?
“I have never known anyone so religious that he had not felt at some time a withdrawing of grace, a decreasing zeal.” ~Thomas à Kempis~
John the Baptist was in prison. He’d run afoul of a two-bit potentate who had delusions of grandeur. John had been attentive to what was inside him and spoke truth to power without hesitancy or apology.
One gets the picture of John pacing back and forth in his cell, filled with doubt. There was much mystery surrounding him—he’d surely heard the legendary stories about the birth of his cousin Jesus. John lived with the weight of God’s call on his shoulders. There had to be plenty about his life and times that he didn’t understand. He’d done everything he knew how to do to be faithful. Now in a jailhouse, he’s waiting for an answer to the question, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John’s obedience to God did not result in triumph. It got him tossed into the hoosegow where he struggled through many lonely hours wrestling with all too familiar human angst and doubt. Why, why, why has God allowed this to happen to me? How, how, how is God working all this together for his purpose? Did God really call me? Is he really in complete control of the circumstances of my life?
If you have ever struggled with doubt you are in good company—you are not alone. John the Baptist doubted—the Psalmist doubted. Most of us have known the agony of doubt. We live in an age of skepticism so doubt abounds and there are many honest doubters. We need not be ashamed of doubt—that’d be akin to being ashamed of growing pains.
A New Thing
“What we do in the crisis always depends on whether we see the difficulties in the light of God, or God in the shadow of difficulties.” ~G. Campbell Morgan~
The capacity to doubt is one of humanity’s noblest abilities—genuine doubt properly channeled produces spiritual growth. To increase our knowledge of God we have a duty to doubt and probe and test. We certainly should not suppress or deny doubt, but rather, the healthy choice is to bring it all out into the open and face it head on. In the midst of the torment of doubt is no time to jettison Scripture.
When doubt assails us is the exact time to be anchored in an excavation of God’s Word. Exploring doubt in the light of Scripture can produce deeper dedication, greater understanding, and a stronger devotion. Doubt helps us outgrow old concepts. It challenges us to dig deep to determine what we really believe, which sometimes means tearing down paradigms of our faith to trust God in a new way; to allow God to be God in our lives and do whatsoever pleases him.
Speaking through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” In my observations and understandings, it is clear that God desires to do a continual “new thing” in our hearts and lives. If we would simply allow God to be God instead of keeping him boxed into our forms, structures, and expectations on how he ought to operate.
God was doing a “new thing” in John the Baptist’s time. John didn’t quite grasp it. As he rambled around his cell, did he contemplate why he was in prison? Obedience to God’s call and purpose had got him trapped in the wrathful gears of the state. Herod Antipas, the puppet-ruler over the territories of Galilee and Perea, was living in adultery with his brother’s wife. John felt compelled by God to confront them, denounce their sin and proclaim a message of repentance. Now because of his faithfulness John was locked up. He questioned his ministry and purpose: Is Jesus the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else? Why doesn’t my cousin come and free me? Why doesn’t he come to answer my questions? How long am I going to be stuck here? Why did God call me? I’m supposed to be preparing the way for the messiah. God, this is not the way I had it all figured out.
Have you ever questioned God like that? Have there been gut-wrenching occasions when disappointment, disillusionment or discouragement grabbed hold and wouldn’t let go? Our perspective and outlook will always get badly skewed by the 3D sources of doubt—disappointment, disillusionment, and discouragement.
Disappointment with situations or circumstance that are beyond our control; disillusionment when God doesn’t do things exactly the way we figure he should; discouragement because we put too much emphasis on our emotions, feelings, wants and desires. Disappointment, disillusionment and discouragement had driven John the Baptist to the depths of doubt. In desperation he sent his disciples to find out who Jesus was and what God was doing.
Jesus was direct and forthright. He told John’s disciples to go and report what they’d witnessed: Blind people seeing, lame people walking around, lepers cleansed and cured, deaf people hearing, dead people raised to life, the good news of the gospel preached to the poor.
When John’s disciples told him this, did all the pieces of the puzzle slide into place for him? Was every one of his questions answered? Or did he now have just enough information to shake off the sludge of doubt?
Watching their imprisoned friend ruminate on what he’d been told, it is quite possible his disciples asked, “What does it all mean, John?” It’s easy to imagine John latching onto that hypothetical question as the backbone of faith stiffened his resolve—his reply would’ve been a settled matter as he said something like, “It means that Jesus is the Messiah because his works and life tell us that he is the son of God.”
John’s doubt was resolved as he waited for Christ to reveal himself. In much the same way our doubt is always resolved as we wait on the LORD to reveal his glory. If we are patient and truly seeking, in the time of his choosing God breaks through to reveal himself regardless of the prison of our circumstance.
In my sad but true experience, most people do not have the spiritual grit to persevere through the depths of doubt so they throw in the towel. When God doesn’t jump through their hoops or fix things to their liking they refuse faith and surrender to doubt.
To Defeat Doubt
Once upon a time a young boy was trying to learn how to ice skate. He had fallen so many times that his face was cut, with the blood, sweat and tears mixing together on his cheeks.
Out of sympathy someone skated over to the boy, picked him up and said, “Why don’t you quit? You’re going to hurt yourself bad.”
The boy shook himself free from his helper, brushed the moisture away from his eyes and confidently replied, “I didn’t buy these skate to learn how to quit. I bought them to learn how to skate.”
We didn’t come to faith in Jesus Christ to learn how to quit. We are here to learn how to determinedly go forward through all the disappointment, disillusionment, discouragement and doubt of life.
Paul of Tarsus admonished his friends at Philippi to “continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose.” That’s powerful advice for us to take to heart and by God’s grace, to apply—to keep trusting, keep serving, and no matter what comes along, to keep pressing on to defeat the doubt of life