Written by Justin Mulholland. Media by Katie Wallace.
When you engage a person about the role of doubt in faith, there are a variety of ways that the conversation could go. There are people who see doubt as wrong, people who see doubt as okay, and many people who are in between. Questions that arise when talking about doubt are: how does it affect our worship? Can we be fully devoted to God if we have lingering doubts? Does doubting limit our ability to faithfully follow Jesus? These questions that people ask have real life implications in the answers. To begin to find the answers to these questions, a great place to start is in the Gospels with the disciples and their journey with Jesus. Doubts are a part of the faith journey, the disciples found that out, but they also worshiped Jesus because they realized that they were a part of something bigger than their own doubts.
In Matthew, two passages stick out when the topic of doubt comes up. One such passage is Matthew 14:22-33. In this passage the disciples are terrified because they see someone (Jesus) walking on water, and when they realize that it is Jesus, Peter asked Jesus to command him to walk on water. Jesus said “Come” and Peter started to walk on the water. Then the author of Matthew writes, “But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, ‘Lord save me!’ Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, ‘You of little faith, why did you doubt?’ When they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, ‘Truly you are the Son of God.’” Peter became afraid, he doubted, but his doubts did not crush him, they led him to worship the “Son of God”. Jesus does not tell Peter that he should not have doubted, Jesus just ask why. Peter does not give any response but to worship because the Son of God pulled him out of his doubt; Jesus was stronger than Peter’s doubt.
The second passage is in Matthew 28:16-20. In this passage the eleven disciples are gathered with Jesus after the Resurrection and the author writes, “When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. And Jesus came and said to them, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit…” Jesus reveals Himself to the disciples after His resurrection, and some are doubting, yet they worship. They worship even not knowing how this can happen. And Jesus does not reprimand their doubts; He sends them off, doubts and all, to make disciples of all nations in His authority. Doubts will happen, but they can be held in the larger picture of doing the work that Christ commissioned us to do.
It is encouraging to know that Jesus also recognizes our doubts and gives us a chance to respond. In Luke 24:36-43, Jesus returns to His disciples and He startles them. Jesus says to them, “Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.” In v. 41 the author writes, “While in their joy they were disbelieving…” and then Jesus asks for food. Jesus knows that the disciples have doubts and He gives them a chance to respond by showing them His hands and feet. They respond in joy, and still disbelief, yet even in their further disbelief, Jesus goes no further with the doubt theme. He opens up their minds to the scriptures and promises them the Holy Spirit. The disciples respond in joy, and doubt, and Jesus opens them up to receive the Holy Spirit. The disciples still find joy in their doubting, and Jesus gives them much. They doubted, but they worshiped and were full of joy because Jesus was alive.
Doubt was very much an occurrence with the disciples, but it always seems to be juxtaposed next to worship and joy. Doubts will happen in a walk with Jesus, but as the disciples knew, we worship Jesus even in our doubting because He has authority, He will always be with us, and He is bigger than any of our doubts; He is the Son of God.