By Annie Lavi
“Doubt” is a scary word to many of us Christians. We treat it like a virus which can spread like a spiritual plague over a congregation. We don’t need to engage with doubt, we think, we just need to have more faith.
But to be transparent, my own faith journey hasn’t looked as smooth sailing as I anticipated it would over the past 10 years. I wrestle and walk on shaky ground more often than I would like. However, sometimes, this very wrestling has allowed me to stand on ground that holds more solid in the long run.
I am learning that for me (and perhaps others), to begin to “doubt” can actually be the beginning of true belief. People consistently go on mission trips to some of the most spiritually dark cities in the world, the places where doubt should reign and overtake. Yet those same people come back with greater faith than when they left — perhaps because what a doubting believer can experience in these places of deep darkness is priceless: that what they are already holding is the true message of light.
Often, whether we want it to be or not, doubt is there and lurking in most people. So the question isn’t what percentage of believers wrestle with doubt, but what percentage of believers are in churches where they actually feel able to admit it when they are.
Maybe the first step towards deep faith is some kind of push-back, some kind of resistance to what is being read in Jesus’ weighty words. I call it a “counting the cost,” or a realization that following Jesus takes something from us. If we requalify a doubter as someone who is beginning, maybe for the first time, to engage with the Word and it’s challenges to the sinful heart, then maybe we can approach them with more hope than fear, and point them to the true light once again.
The end chapters of the Gospels contain some of my favorite examples of Jesus ministering to people’s doubts. At this point, Jesus had walked with his disciples for some three years. They witnessed first-hand his miracles, tenderness and boldness, and yet they are surprisingly fickle in their belief. They doubt he could return. They doubt again when he stands in front of them, raised from the dead. Yet here’s how Jesus moves:
- Jesus shows up, again and again.
Jesus appears to Mary, then to the disciples, multiple times. Following his example, we can show up for people who doubt. As members of the church body, we can strive to make an environment where it’s okay to be honest about how we are feeling, even when it doesn’t fit the mold. We can make a place where we invite people to return even when they aren’t sure what they believe — so we can point them to the truth.
- He isn’t in a hurry.
In John 20,Thomas isall alone, the only disciple who missed Jesus’s first reveal and remains unsure. And yet after Thomas misses the big moment, it takes eight whole days for Jesus to reveal himself again. God isn’t worried about doubting Thomas, anxiously wringing his hands, hurrying to make it end for him. Instead, he lets the process take time. We too, don’t have to rush. We can let people feel the weight of their thoughts and the ultimate emptiness of their doubts, without trying to “fix” things or come to solutions too quickly.
- He understands and is patient.
A few verses later, even when standing in front of him, Thomas at first doesn’t believe. But Jesus doesn’t lash out in anger or threaten rejection. He patiently shows him his hands and his feet, the holes, as Thomas requested, the proof that he asked for. Jesus’ patience, willingness and kindness are traits we can emulate with each other.
Beyond all of these, my favorite moment comes in the book of Matthew:
And when they saw him they worshipped 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…’ (Matthew 28:17-19)
Jesus gives them the Great Commission, a glorious calling, a familiar verse to many of us. But don’t skip the sentence immediately before:
When they saw him they worshipped him, but some doubted.
Jesus comes and gives these disciples the Great Commission, the ultimate commandment to go and make disciples, even though they doubted. Jesus gives the entire calling of the church to a group of doubters.
For this, I am grateful: He never expected us to be perfect, to walk in a flawless faith, and the evidence is right here, in the beginning of the call of all of his followers. He calls us forward in our walk with him even when our doubts aren’t completely settled, certain that he can use even the most doubtful of us in all our wrestling.
My own faith has been riddled with more doubt than I want to admit, but the Lord has remained faithful and patient where I wavered. My certainty in belief comes not from my own strength, but in His perfect steadfastness — and my hope is that our churches can embrace those like me who struggle with their faith in the same way that Jesus embraced his disciples.