In the last post I made the case that the faith that many people are struggling with or even walking away from is not actually the faith that is described in the Bible. Instead, it tends to be a shallow, superficial version of faith that they picked up somewhere along the way.
One of the most common versions of this superficial faith comes at the expense of doubt. I can’t count how many people have confessed to me that they have doubts about their faith, and then jump to the conclusion that this means that they are too weak in their faith or maybe not even a Christian.
Every conversation like this saddens me, because they are picking up that subtle message somewhere. Someone has erroneously told them that the sign of “real faith” is the extinguishing of any lingering doubt.
But does that match up with how the Bible talks about “real” faith?
I’m certain it required a lot of faith for the disciples when they chose to leave their vocations to follow Jesus. But whatever faith was required in that moment must have paled to the faith that was necessary to place the hope of their lives in a crucified and resurrected Jesus. From that point on they would be dependent on the Spirit, much like the faith required of those of us who follow Jesus in this day and age.
The disciples had a decided advantage in the faith department over modern followers. First, they actually knew Jesus, and second, he repeatedly told them exactly what was going to happen. He was going to be executed for crimes he didn’t commit, he would voluntarily allow it to happen, he would be dead for three days, and he would be resurrected from the dead to demonstrate that he was truly lord over all. That is way more foresight than most of us ever get. That is a huge head start in the faith department, right?
So was there any doubt left with the disciples?
Absolutely!!! Faith & Doubt would live side by side in the disciples at every step of the way. The most expansive description of this combination is found in Luke 24.36-38:
36 While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them,”Peace be with you.” 37 They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost. 38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds? 39 Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself ! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have.” 40 When he had said this, he showed them his hands and feet. 41 And while they still did not believe it because of joy and amazement, he asked them, “Do you have anything here to eat?” 42 They gave him a piece of broiled fish, 43 and he took it and ate it in their presence. 44He said to them, “This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.” 45 Then he opened their minds so they could understand the Scriptures. 46 He told them, “This is what is written: The Messiah will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, 47 and repentance for the forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. 48 You are witnesses of these things.
Luke’s account in particular is amazingly honest. Jesus left no mystery when he instructed the disciples about what his purpose was, and what was to come. And yet, not a single one of his followers had enough faith to not only believe it was possible, but even go and check out the possibility. (Don’t you wish you could have been a fly on the wall during their conversations over those next 2 half days? Wouldn’t you expect at least one of them to say, “Shouldn’t we at least check?”)
Then, once Jesus appears to them in a resurrected state, they are still filled with doubt. Despite the repeated promises from Jesus as to his mission, and despite having the physical evidence directly in front of them, many of Jesus’ own followers were still plagued with doubt.
Which is such good news.
Jesus does’t respond to them by saying, “You guys totally suck! If I can’t rely on you to have great faith, then who can I actually rely on?”
Instead, he steps into the moment with them. He showed them his hands and feet, which still carried the scars of his execution. He sat down and shared a meal with them. Perhaps most importantly, he took them back to the Scriptures, and showed how what they were experiencing in that moment was the confirmation of what they had been studying and reflecting on their whole lives.
The bottom line is this. The presence of doubt did not mean the absence of faith, or vice versa. Faith and doubt can live next to each other. In fact, for most of us they usually do. They lived next to each other frequently for the disciples. And though some of them had more trouble with faith than the others, they all ended up becoming great leaders in the church.
I think we do people a disservice when we condemn them for having doubts. Instead, we should follow the model of Jesus. We should embrace the reality of the tension between faith and doubt, and then take steps towards the fortification of that growing faith.
And at the end of the day, I’m personally convinced of this: The strongest faith is not that which has no doubt – the strongest faith is the one that has been developed right alongside of doubt.