Every Christian has had doubts at some point in their Christian life. We’re all finite creatures. We don’t know everything. Sometimes we get things wrong. And this possibility can cause us to doubt our beliefs.
But this isn’t unique to Christians. Everyone has doubts. So the question isn’t really, “Can Christians have doubts?” but rather, “What should we do when doubts come?”
Doubts can be a good thing. They can cause us to look more closely at what we believe and why we believe it. For example, a Christian who is going through a period of suffering may not feel God’s presence in his or her life and may have some doubts about God’s existence. This forces that person to reflect on how he or she knows God is real. Is their belief in God only based upon emotions, or is it based upon evidence?
Our feelings about God’s immediate presence may come and go, but that doesn’t change the fact of the matter. Those who have good reasons for God—who He is and what He has done—can stand upon those bedrock convictions in times of doubt. This is because those convictions are based on firm evidence, not fickle emotions.
We see this play out in Scripture. As John the Baptist sat in prison for his faithfulness to God, he was afflicted with doubts about Jesus. In fact, John sends word to Jesus by his disciples and asks, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Remember, this is the same John who, at one time, leaped in his mother’s womb at the sound of Mary’s voice. This is the same John who confidently declared, “Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” This is the same John who baptized Jesus and heard the voice from Heaven say, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.”
But now John is sitting in a Roman prison, awaiting a probable execution, and he’s wondering if he got it all wrong. He spent his life proclaiming that the Messiah would come and burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire, but the chaff isn’t burning. They are partying. So John begins to doubt.
Now notice Jesus’s response to John’s disciples:
And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.” (Matt. 11:4–5)
Jesus doesn’t tell John to look inside his heart for some subjective feeling. He doesn’t tell John to ignore his doubts and just blindly believe. Rather, Jesus points to objective evidence to substantiate who He is. The blind are seeing. The lame are walking. The deaf are hearing. In sum, Jesus tells him to believe based on the works He is doing.
Also notice that Jesus never scolds John for doubting. He doesn’t question his spiritually or call John a “bad” Christian. On the contrary, Jesus says, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist” (Matt. 11:11). Remember, Jesus says this after John had wavered in his belief.
There are two practical takeaways for every Christian from this exchange between Jesus and John the Baptist. First, raise your doubts. Don’t suppress them; express them. Doubts that are left ignored and unanswered can drive you to despair. Instead, follow the example of John the Baptist and articulate your doubts.
Sometimes we can be ashamed to admit we have doubts, especially if we’re in positions of leadership in the church. Take heart. If the prophet John the Baptist can raise his doubts to Jesus, so can you.
Once you raise your doubts, don’t stop there.
Second, doubt your doubts. Try framing your doubts as a question, then search for good answers. More specifically, look for reasons to doubt your doubts. Not all doubts are equal. There are some doubts that stand up against tough scrutiny. As a result, these doubts require us to change our beliefs. However, there are other doubts that collapse under the weight of the evidence. This is what happened to John’s doubt. Jesus gave John good evidence—veridical miraculous deeds—to doubt his doubts.
Doubts will come. That’s a given. But this is not something Christians need to fear. Remember John and raise your doubts, then remember Jesus and doubt them.