Have You Had Doubts? No doubt.
Have you ever been doubtful about something? Perhaps you doubted the guy you fancied would ever ask you out. Maybe you applied for a job, doubting all along that you’d get it. After a large holiday meal, I doubt my clothes will fit right.
But what about God? Have you ever doubted His love for you? Have you ever doubted that He hears your prayers? Have you ever doubted what He was doing and why some things were allowed to happen? Do you have doubts about His very existence?
Doubt has been part of the human condition since the beginning. Job, in what’s believed to be the oldest of all of the books in the Bible, was a man blessed by God with the things that made his life joyful—a loving family, prosperity, integrity, respect, and a place of honor in his community . . . until Satan, the accuser, asked God to test Job. Calamity falls, and Job’s lamentations are a testimony to his losing not just hope, but his faith. On an earthly level, his three friends doubted Job’s innocence, convinced that hidden sin in his life had brought all of his hardship upon him. But Job grew doubtful about God. While he never doubted God’s very existence, his doubts about God’s love are clear in his statements. At one point, he asks God, “Why do you hide your face and count me as your enemy?” [Job 13:24]
Likewise, King David, in many of his psalms, asks “Why . . .?” “Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” [Psalm 10: 1-2] “O Lord, rebuke me not in your anger, nor discipline me in your wrath. Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul is also greatly troubled. But you, O Lord—how long?” [Psalm 6: 1-3]
It’s safe to say that all of the Old Testament prophets had times of doubt, and yet they all heard the voice of God and some had personally seen His glory. Did Elijah doubt God when he fled Jezebel’s wrath into the wilderness and prepared to die there? Sounds like it. Jeremiah wrote, “Righteous are you, O Lord, when I complain to you; yet I would plead my case before you. Why does the way of the wicked prosper? Why do all who are treacherous thrive?” [Jeremiah 12:1] To me, those sound like questions asked in doubt, not just curiosity about the wicked. Habakkuk, too, in doubt complains to God, saying, “O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not hear? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save?” [Habakkuk 1:1]
In the New Testament, doubt is evident even in those closest to Jesus. John the Baptist, Jesus’ own cousin, had witnessed the Holy Spirit descending and remaining upon Jesus and had heard God’s voice announce the Jesus was God’s own son, in whom He was well pleased: “And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.” [John 1:34] And yet, later, John questioned Jesus’ being the Christ. From prison, he sent his followers to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” [Matthew 11:3]
By the time of John’s imprisonment, Jesus’ disciples had witnessed numerous miracles—water turned into wine, the blind given sight, the sick healed, withered limbs restored, and hearts turned to God in repentance. Shortly after John’s death by beheading, they helped Jesus feed 5,000 men (plus the women and children with them) with a handful of loaves of bread and two fish. That very night, as they rowed north on the Sea of Galilee, they witnessed Jesus walking on the water. Peter, beckoned by the Lord to join Him, begins to sink and cries for help. As Jesus grabs him, He says, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” [Matthew 14:31] These men walked with Jesus, benefited from his teaching personally, saw his miracles firsthand, and witnessed his crucifixion and resurrection. And yet one of them refused to believe in the resurrection unless he personally saw the marks of the nails in Jesus’ hands and placed his hand in Jesus’ side. He had that opportunity eight days later and became known as Doubting Thomas for posterity.
Doubt is defined as a lack of faith. Jesus addressed our lack of faith on numerous occasions, besides his question to Peter. When He first appeared to His disciples after His resurrection, they thought they were seeing a ghost. To Thomas, He said, “Do not disbelieve, but believe.” [John 20:27] After His transfiguration on Mount Hermon, He returned to the crowd below and a man came up to Him, asking that He heal his epileptic son because the disciples could not. Jesus calls them a “faithless and twisted generation” and heals the boy. When asked by the disciples why they couldn’t heal him, He says it was because of their “little faith.” [Matthew 17:17-20] In Mark’s account of that event, Jesus tells the father, “All things are possible for one who believes.” The father, in response, cries out, “I believe, help my unbelief.” [Mark 9:23-24] Isn’t this another way of saying that anything is possible for those who do not doubt.
To His disciples as a group, after witnessing the withered fig tree that Jesus had cursed, He said to them “Truly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.” [Matthew 21:21] In that episode with the epileptic son, Jesus further tells His disciples, “For truly I say to you, if you faith like the grain of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move, and nothing will be impossible for you.” [Matthew 17:20-21]
Notice that Jesus doesn’t continue to harangue the people about their doubt but instead encourages them in their faith. He twice gives them a mighty example of what faith is capable of—moving mountains. In the latter example, the mountain He’s referring to is Mount Hermon, the largest mountain in Israel at over 9,000 feet. Many will recognize the verse in Matthew 17 as saying faith the size of a mustard seed. In fact, the adverb ὡς (hōs) is appropriately translated to “like” or “in the same manner as.” It’s not so much a comparison of size as the fact that this tiniest of seeds grows into a plant that not only can be ten feet tall but also spreads quickly. I think the Lord is telling us that it’s faith that’s rapidly growing that gains the power to move mountains, not that even a tiny bit of faith can do so.
Doubt is one of the biggest obstacles in a Christian’s life. How many of us have moved a mountain lately? I know I haven’t. How many of us have laid hands on the blind and watched them gain their sight? How many of us have multiplied bread . . . or raised the dead? Not me. We hear of such accounts, but they are not common, despite Christ’s assurance that we would perform such miracles in His name. Should we blame doubt, a lack of faith, for our inability to do these things?
We often do. In fact, in the 1970s a number of prominent preachers arose in what is called the Word of Faith Movement. Familiar names such as E.W. Kenyon, Kenneth Hagin, Kenneth Copeland, Benny Hinn, Joyce Meyer, T.D. Jakes, Creflo Dollar, and more became proponents of this “name it and claim it” teaching. Also known as “the prosperity gospel” and the “health and wealth gospel,” the teachings of these people likened faith to little more than a positive confession. If you weren’t healthy, you lacked faith. If you didn’t get that fancy new car, you held too much doubt.
Yet, the Bible doesn’t teach that. If we look at Peter’s walking on water, he didn’t step out of the boat until Jesus called him. Jesus, Himself, told us that He only did those things He saw the Father doing. Following Christ doesn’t bestow “magical” powers upon us to enable us to heal the sick, raise the dead, or move mountains on our own accord. Like Christ’s following the lead of the Father, we can only do those things the Holy Spirit empowers us to do . . . at the time when He wants us to do them.
One of Christianity’s distinct differences from other religions is its ability to see reality from the viewpoint of the downtrodden. Shortly before his arrest in 1943, Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote that our suffering teaches us “to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, (and) the powerless. . .” He also wrote, “We have to learn that personal suffering is a more effective key, a more rewarding principle for exploring the world in thought and action than personal good fortune.” [Letters, 17] So, why do we doubt God when things don’t go our way? He told us we would be those outcasts and maltreated because we carry His name.
Stuart McAllister, director of training for Ravi Zacharias International Ministries, worked for Operation Mobilization in Austria for 20 years. As an eager 21-year-old he worked to smuggle Bibles, hymnals, and Christian literature into Eastern Europe before the breakdown of the Soviet Union. On a trip into Czechoslovakia, he and his partner were arrested at the border, interrogated, taken to prison, separated, and placed in cells where the lights were on 24/7 and his cellmate spoke no English. He was only allowed to use the bunk when told and their rations were meager. He thought for sure they would be quickly released and expelled from the country. Yet, the days dragged on to the point where he no longer knew if it was night or day and questioned how long he might be held there. His mind became plagued with doubt, and those doubts focused on uncertainty about what God was doing. In his paper, “The Role of Doubt and Persecution in Spiritual Transformation,” he writes, “I can well remember a point of surrender. . . . I might not get out for a long time, so I had to make the best of what was and to rest in God. . . . I think I came to relinquish my sense and need for control (I had none anyway) and simply accept that God would be there as promised, and therefore, to rest in Him.” They were ultimately released and expelled, but he had learned a valuable lesson about doubt and resting in God.
As I write this, we’re a nation split over a presidential election. Dozens of “prophecies” by nationally known “prophets,” church leaders, and even Jewish rabbis had promised another term for Donald Trump. Now, they all have egg on their faces and their roles in prophetic ministry tarnished. Those who looked to these prophets for guidance are now mired in doubt. Even those who never heard of these teachers now have doubts about the future. Will they question God if life as we know it deteriorates and persecution of Christians increases? Will you? Are you prepared to find rest in God no matter what?
I’m going to take this opportunity to go on record and risk having egg on my own face. God has only used me in a prophetic way a handful of times. The first few times were personal prophecies for individuals I knew. All came to pass. Then, in December 2017, God gave me dream about the great falling away that He spoke of in His Olivet Discourse. In part of that dream, we—there were several of us at the feet of Christ—were told to expect a financial crisis, pestilence, and famine. Then 2020 came along. We can all recognize the financial crises and pestilence—COVID-19—aspects of this. In the West, we didn’t face much of a famine, but Africa, the Middle East, India, and China have been hit particularly hard.
More recently, at the end of May 2020, while in a time of praise and worship, the Lord’s voice came through the music loud and clear: “By this time next year, a great earthquake will occur.” At the time, I was focused on singing and following the words, so I knew without doubt that it was God’s voice. Without a doubt? Yeah, right. Of course I had doubts, mostly about my ability to hear God, not in Him. Over the course of the next two weeks, I sought Him in prayer, asking for clarity and discernment. Like Gideon, what I really wanted was a sign. His response was to show me that the physical earthquake would be preceded by a political earthquake and a financial earthquake. The sign I was to look for was that Joe Biden would steal the election from Donald Trump. Not win the election, the Lord said steal it. And that’s what we’re seeing this week.
So, what’s coming? My wife says I’m too much of a pessimist. I prefer to think I’m a realist and that the reality we’re facing is that of the tribulation foretold by the prophets and Christ Himself. I don’t say these things to bring fear, but to encourage you to be prepared. Just as God took Noah through the flood, He promises to be our refuge during these times as well. When this time in history hits us full force, will you let doubt take control and bring turmoil into your life? Or will you find rest in Him?
One of my church’s elders taught on Habakkuk this past Sunday. In his teaching, he made a point about verses 1:5-6. “Look among the nations, and see; wonder and be astounded. For I am doing a work in your days that you would not believe if told.” We often hear this verse used to introduce something positive and wonderful. But in continuing to verse 6, it says, “For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans, that bitter and hasty nation who march through the breadth of the earth, to seize dwellings not their own.” The prophecy was about tribulation that was coming. Sounds like a prophecy for today, as well.
2021 is about to begin. Keep your eyes on Christ. He is our refuge in times of trouble, and I believe it will be a time when we will indeed move mountains.