What To Do When I Doubt God
Jul 12, 2019 · Courtney Jacob
Doubt is a natural part of our human experience. When facts don’t line up with our experience, when surreal things happen to us, or when events defy our expectations, doubt finds holes to seep into our faith. Sure, doubt touches each of us in different degrees, some of us struggle with doubt more frequently, and some of us find it more troubling than others. But each and every disciple of Jesus Christ will deal with times of questioning and doubt during their faith journey.
For several days after Easter a funny little exchange took place multiple times a day between my young boys:
Enthusiastic two-year-old: "Jesus is back alive again!"
Exasperated five-year-old: "Why does he have to keep repeating that?!"
As their mother, this amused me on many levels, but it also made me proud. Our little two-year-old is hearing the stories and receiving the faith we’re trying to teach him. He’s getting it! After a few days, I realized he’d also inspired me. Right in front of me, a child’s faith was on display, brimming with the awe and wonder of Easter in that simple, declarative belief statement.
I imagine the disciples, in shocked amazement, said similar things as the news spread about the empty tomb that first Easter. Although, theirs might have been more puzzled statements and probably less declarative than my two-year-old’s oft-repeated pronouncement.
That first Easter, the disciples encountered the risen Jesus on multiple occasions recorded in Matthew 28, Luke 24, and John 20 & 21. Even as Jesus repeatedly appeared to the disciples and showed them he wasn’t an apparition (Luke 24:36-49) or a trick, their disbelief led them to doubt. After all, a totally and completely dead person does not just come back to life!
Take Thomas, for example, dubbed doubting Thomas after the account of his disbelief in John 20:24-29. Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus appeared to them and he refused to believe them until he saw Jesus for himself, declaring, “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.” Later, when Jesus appeared to Thomas, he did just as he had with the other disciples, he showed Thomas his scars as a proof of life, saying, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Even after all these appearances and interactions, when they see Jesus on the mountain before he ascended into Heaven, Matthew records that the disciples “worshiped him; but some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). That’s what we call “Easter doubt.” Even after being face-to-face with Jesus “in the flesh,” the disciples themselves struggled to believe the reality of the resurrection.
When Doubt Clouds Our Faith
As I listened to the Groundwork episode "Easter: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ" reflecting on the disciples' post-Easter encounters with Jesus, three important things become quite apparent for me to remember when doubt starts clouding my faith:
- Doubt does not negate faith - the disciples continued to follow Jesus despite their doubts. Likewise, for us, the existence of doubt in our lives does not mean we no longer have faith.
- The Great Commission was given also to the doubters - this was one of the points Dave and Scott make in the episode that knocked my proverbial faith socks off. “WHOA, they’re right!” Jesus gives the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) to the whole group of disciples with him on the mountain, including the ones who doubted. This realization led me to a third reminder:
- God never expects us to have all the answers or be perfect first - the doubters still doubted when Jesus gave them the Great Commission; they didn’t have to first get rid of their doubts and fix their faith. The Apostle Paul affirms this in Romans 5:6-8:
“You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
What We Can Do
We need not allow doubt to overcome faith. So what can we do to support our faith in seasons of doubt?
Jesus himself said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick” (Mark 2:17). When the doubts tell us to distance ourselves from Jesus, one way we fight it is by drawing closer to him. We continue to hang out with him through his Word and in prayer, even when the doubts are not gone.
The disciples modeled another way we can keep doubt from overcoming our faith: they worshipped. Revisit Matthew 28:17: “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.” So keep going to church and joining the body of believers when you experience doubt. It’s not ingenuine or heretical. Your faith will benefit from the faith of your community. We bolster each other's faith in the songs we sing and by professing together the creeds, the Church’s statements of faith that declare what we believe.
It’s by the power of the Holy Spirit that our faith can withstand the obstacles doubt places in our paths and once we’re on the other side, we’ll probably find our faith has grown even stronger. Want to dig deeper into scripture as you wrestle with doubt and faith? Listen to Dave and Scott discuss Matthew 28 in depth in our Groundwork episode "Easter: The Resurrection of Jesus Christ."