First Scripture Reading: Luke7.11-28 October 8, 2017 Second Scripture Reading: John 20.24-29
What To Do About Doubt
by Rev. Bill Jennings
If anybody in the Bible should have been immune to spiritual doubt, it would be John the Baptist. This is what he said when he saw Je 08. 201sus: “Look, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world.” (John 1.29). He, himself witnessed at Jesus’ baptism when from the heavens, he heard the very voice of God saying directly to Jesus, “You are my Son whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” (Mk.1.11). Later, he said in John 1.34, “I have seen and I testify that this is God’s Chosen One.” Yet, later when he found himself in Herod’s prison, he sent his messengers to Jesus to ask him point blank, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Luke. 7.20)
In second place in the “doubtful disciple sweepstakes” would be Peter. Early in Jesus’ ministry, Jesus took Peter, James and John up to the top of the Mount of Transfiguration, and there the three disciples saw with their very own eyes Moses and Elijah, those great O.T. figures alongside Jesus talking with him. Then, just like John, he heard the very voice of God saying, “This is my son; listen to him!” And, yet, later, just like John the Baptist, when things got rough, and Jesus was under arrest, and Peter was waiting outside the High Priest’s house in the patio, a little servant girl, came up to him and said, “I know you; you are a Galilean, just like that criminal in the High Priest’s house. “Not me”, blurted out Peter, I don’t even know him!” Double-minded Peter! Just like John before him. And we haven’t even talked about Thomas yet, nor have we mentioned Gideon, who in the O.T. doubted God’s word to the point of demanding two physical proofs that God would stand behind his word.
So, just what is doubt? It is not outright disbelief or rebellion. The convinced atheist is fully committed, 100% to non-belief with no wavering in his conviction. One who doubts is as James wrote, “….like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind….he is a double-minded person, unstable in all he does.” (Jas.1.6-8). Now, James should have known all about doubt because he himself doubted that Jesus was who he said he was (John 7.3-5). Once, at the time of the Feast of Tabernacles, James and his other brothers tried to encourage Jesus to go up to Jerusalem to publicize his mission to his disciples, because they really did not believe in him. Later, James’ doubts were completely resolved, but we will talk about that later.
Doubt is the virus that attacked the Israelites in Elijah’s time. The Israelites wavered between Baal worship and the worship of Yahweh, the LORD of Israel. Elijah challenged Israel with these words, “How long will you waver (or stagger) between two opinions? If the LORD is God follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him!” (I K.18.21)
The serpent in the Garden of Eden did not demand that Adam and Eve reject the LORD totally, just to consider the option to doubt his authority, offering them the double options, to obey that authority or disobey it.
So, when we want to say there is no doubt about something, we say, “there are no two ways about it.” And James and Elijah are correct! The doubter wavers, or staggers between two opinions, or options for belief. After all, you do not need me to lecture you on what doubt is. We all know all too well what doubt is.
So, what then causes doubt? Looking at these Biblical examples of John the Baptist, Peter, and Thomas we find that it is adversity, grief, hardship and a sense of loss. John was rotting in prison, Peter was afraid; and Thomas was grieving the death of his Savior. Peter and Thomas were suffering from their fear of the Roman Government and the destruction of their dream that Jesus would somehow be their Savior.
Sometimes doubt is sown in the hearts of believers by the deception that comes from seeing other believers behaving badly! That is what happened to the father of the boy with the evil spirit in Mark 9. Here is what happened: Nine of the disciples were at the foot of the Mount of Transfiguration arguing with the Jewish teachers of the law and the father brought his son for them to heal him. They could not! When Jesus, Peter, James and John joined them, the father appealed to Jesus to heal him, “if you can ! Jesus scolded the father, saying, “’if you can’? Everything is possible for him who believes!” The man replied, (and how often have we said – or thought this?) I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief”. Here we see the double nature of the doubtful person. What caused it? The Disciples, distracted by the temptation to get involved in religious controversy, were behaving badly!!
Speaking of distraction, that is a much greater cause for doubt than just that one occasion when the disciples got distracted by the temptation to discuss theological controversy. Think of Peter as he stepped out of the boat on the Sea of Galilee, with his eye on Jesus and walking on the water. The moment that he turned his head and got distracted by the wind and the waves – and he started sinking – because he shifted his focus from the source of his trust – Jesus, and turned it on the wind and the waves! Now, what is it that distracts us today? Almost everything! Television, Dr. Phil, Oprah, Ellen Degeneres, Political debate, Pornography, Gossip. You name it. Whatever takes your focus off the source of your trust and confidence in Christ ends up being a source of Doubt, perhaps the most common cause of doubt among us!!
So, you and I also, have our own causes for our doubts, whatever they may be, but the important thing is that we are no different from the Biblical followers of Jesus, great and small.
So, then, what is the remedy for our doubts? First of all, what is not the solution? The non-solution to the problem of doubt is to condemn or criticize the doubter! That would only alienate him or her further from the solution! To my way of thinking Thomas gets a bad rap for being labeled “Doubting Thomas”. Unfortunately the name we usually slap on Thomas is just that: “Doubting Thomas”. Rather than tacking that negative label of “doubter” on Thomas, let me tell you something else about Thomas. Do you know what happened to Thomas after the New Testament was closed?
After Thomas’ doubts vanished, he traveled by land approximately 3,500 miles from Jerusalem to the province of Kerala in the southern tip of India and planted what is today known as the Mar Thoma church which still exists today in India and Syria as well as in the U.S.A., including one in Stone Mountain and Lawrenceville, GA. Thomas died the death of a martyr in the year 72, killed by a fanatic Hindu priest.
What made the difference between Thomas, the doubter and Thomas, the fearless missionary? He was simply shown the evidence for faith in Jesus. Thomas had missed the first Sunday church meeting after the Resurrection (that is what happens when you miss coming to church), so he was late in getting the Good News! But a week later, in the upper room, in the presence of the other disciples, he said he needed more evidence for the Resurrection. So, Jesus provided it for him, his wounded hands and side – and the exhortation: ”Do not doubt, just believe!”.
But that, you say, doesn’t help us. Just keep on listening: Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen me you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” That is for you and me. What is it that we have believed? What is the evidence offered to us?
It is the evidence provided by the testimony offered by more than 500 eye witnesses who saw the risen Christ all at the same time. Read about it in I Cor. 15.3-8. Where did that come from? From a letter Paul wrote to the church in Corinth not 30 years after Jesus arose from the grave. That number of eye witnesses includes two people who did not believe in Jesus in the days of his flesh, his brother James and the Apostle Paul. What turned James and Paul from doubting Jesus to believing Him? The evidence; visual evidence.
Now that evidence is found in your Bibles, in your hands this morning! The letter to the Corinthians and the Gospel of John are founded on ancient documents as far back as the Second Century. By comparison, do you know how old the documents are behind the Qu´ran ran? The first book ever written in the Arabic language was the Qu’ ran, and that was written about 100 years after Muhammed died (!), or about the year 732 A.D. That is more than 500 years after the manuscript sources behind the New Testament. So, this book you have in your hands is not only a “book”, but the result of archeological searches of the entire Mediterranean region with evidence that comes from the second century.. They are archeological evidence. And that is just the N.T. The O.T. was already being translated from the original Hebrew to Greek 150 years before Christ! And that is over 880 years before the Qur’an!
If you really want to overcome your doubts, weigh the evidence, the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments. Every time you allow yourself to be distracted by Dr. Oz, Oprah, Dr. Phil, Ellen Degeneres, Pornography, Whoopy Goldberg, your favorite sit-com, politics, the Super Bowl, the Final Four, Nascar, whatever, you run the risk of Peter, taking your focus away from Jesus. If the Lord be God, focus on Jesus and the evidence that he has given us in his Word and follow Him; if not, run the risk of sinking in your doubts.