We have been doing some renovations on our sixty-year-old house. It is challenging to fix an old building because when you open a wall, whatever you find needs to be fixed. In some houses you will find aluminum and copper wiring in the same wall. If discovered, it must be fixed. Rewiring a house is a lot of work and expensive, but if it is not fixed, the potential for a fire is great.
One thing many Christians deny having and talking about are doubts. Doubting is seen to mean, “having a lack of faith.” But is that true? Is doubt the opposite of faith?
When the eleven disciples saw Jesus after His resurrection, Matthew tells us “they worshiped him, but some doubted”. I find that amazing yet reasonable. I also find it comforting because even as a pastor, there are times when I struggle with doubt. I would entertain the thought that there are a great number of us who struggle with it as well.
In the Matthew passage (28:17), the Greek word for “doubt” often refers to a wavering, hesitant uncertainty, a general lack of confidence. What made some of the disciples waver on that Galilean mountain? Matthew does not tell us why. I can imagine each person’s doubt varied to some degree depending on their experience and personality. Although they spent years living and ministering with Jesus, what lied ahead was probably overwhelming and seemingly impossible, especially if Jesus was no longer going to be with them. Honestly, it would be strange if some did not doubt.
Now, there is a debate whether or not members of the eleven doubted or whether the doubters were those among the broader group of disciples who may have accompanied the eleven to Galilee. The text seems to point to the eleven, but it does not really matter. Doubt was present among the eleven and the broader group on and after the Resurrection.
We read in John 20 that Thomas refused to believe Jesus’s resurrection until he saw Jesus with his own eyes. We see in Luke 24 that members of the eleven along with the broader group struggled to believe even what their own eyes saw the resurrected Christ. Knowing that even those closest to Jesus had doubts is comforting to me. Even for them, they had to ask, “Is it all real?” That is why Jude’s words in Jude 22 are a prayer of honesty: “have mercy on those who doubt”.
The brief book of Jude is mostly a caution against false teachers. Like John’s epistles, Peter’s second epistle, and Hebrews, Jude wants us to feel the seriousness of shifting away from the gospel so that we will persevere in faithfulness.
But in his closing remarks, Jude says, “Have mercy on those who doubt.” The word Jude uses means a wavering uncertainty, or “being at odds with oneself.” It is a call for mercy towards those who are struggling over competing truths. We can all relate to that today. But, this means for us as Christians, if we see a brother or sister in this quandary, our role is not to condemn or crush, rather we are called to help them.
Jude was Jesus’ half-brother. We read in John 7, that Jesus’ brothers doubted Jesus’ divine claims. But, something must have happened in Jude’s life that brought him into the fold. Maybe Jesus showed mercy to him? Regardless, his doubt turned to faith. When you read the gospels, you see many times where Jesus showed mercy to those who doubted.
There are many different words used for doubt because not all doubt is the same and not all doubters are the same. In the same manner, the mercy toward doubters does not always look the same. Some call for patient, compassionate understanding and encouragement. Some cases call for an exhortation or even a rebuke. That is why we see a range of responses from Jesus toward those who doubted.
Let me share a couple examples. In Matthew 11, we see a surprising doubter: John the Baptist. John seemingly knew Jesus’ identity while in the womb as he “leapt” when Elizabeth and Mary got together. But when he was in prison, he began to experience some doubt, second-guessing what he had stood for and believed. In Matthew 11, we read that John sent his disciples to ask Jesus “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?”
Jesus’s response was merciful kindness to strengthen John’s faith in his last days. Jesus does not break him or scold him. He knows how to gently deal with doubts to those who are struggling.
In Matthew 14, Jesus deals with someone else’s doubt differently. Peter had just gotten out of the boat to walk on the water in the middle of a storm. In the midst of this miracle, the magnitude of what was happening caused Peter to have doubts and he began to sink.
As he lost faith in Jesus’s power, what did Jesus do? He let him sink. Peter begins to scream, “Lord, save me” which Jesus did. But along with saving Peter, He gave him a gentle rebuke: “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” Jesus could have let him sink and said, “O well… he doubted.” Yes, Jesus was disappointed, but He responded with mercy to show how important it was to put one’s full trust in Him. This was a teachable moment to help them and us, to keep focused in the midst of the storms of life.
Finally, we read in John 20 about the most famous doubter, Thomas. When he heard that the other ten disciples had seen the risen Jesus, while he had not, he proclaimed, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” I think many of us can related to Thomas’ thought processes and feelings here. This was different than John the Baptist and Peter. His doubt was not brought on by circumstances, rather this doubt came from within. Thomas was skeptical about Jesus’ resurrection. It did not matter what other people claimed to see or experience. He needed to experience it himself.
How did Jesus respond? He let Thomas wait. Thomas had to ponder, stew, and wrestle with his doubts. As everyone else looked forward with anticipation, Thomas probably brooded and was miserable. But, when the time was right, Jesus appeared to him, saying, “Do not disbelieve, but believe”. He gave Thomas time to realize that his own wisdom was not above God’s.
As I mentioned earlier, I too am well-acquainted with doubt. I can related with all three of these great men of faith. But like each of them, I too have received Jesus’ mercy, His rebuke and have had to dwell in silence until He revealed His truth to my heart and mind.
I think in many ways, we are all wired to doubt. When we see a magic trick, rather than be in awe, our first thought is to figure out how it was done. I, like you, am a human being who possesses a reasonable, yet fallible capacity for logical analysis. We live in a world of competing truths, uncertainty, error and deception. That is why it is natural to question what is true and what is not. Therefore fighting doubt is something we need to be actively doing.
As we grow up, we are being conditioned by everything around us. Parents, friends, culture, educators, the church, all competing for our allegiance. It is hard not to be “driven and tossed by the wind.” This is why the words of Jude are so comforting to me. “Have mercy on those who doubt”. It is a prayer to Jesus to show mercy to all doubters, including me.
I have been a Christian for over thirty-six years. In that time, I have found the fight for faith extremely hard at times. Doubt, in whatever form, is part of the hard fight. Doubt is dangerous to faith and, but to some degree, a necessary experience of believers in an age where the faith is under constant assault. Ephesians says there are “flaming darts” being shot at us. Spiritual reality is clouded by a dim mirror and there are days when the mirror seems fully covered.
So, let me be the first to say, let us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, be merciful on those who doubt. There is no command to crush nor condemn, rather following the example of Jesus, let us show mercy to them just as He has shown mercy to us in our struggles. Jude understood this calling on his readers to build “yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life.”
We all may be wired to doubt, but as we submit ourselves to God and His love, we will “be transformed by the renewal of your mind” to become the men and women of faith who will impact our communities, our country and the world for God’s kingdom. Only then will our wiring be changed from doubt to faith.