A Pastor's Word: Doubt

"The doubters are always more blessed than the mere fellow travelers in faith. For they are the only ones who fully learn that their Lord is stronger than any doubt and any hell of despair.”

- Helmut Thielicke, Life Can Begin Again

For a long time I have found bizarre comfort and encouragement from Luke 7:18-23. 

Jesus has just raised the widow's son from the dead and word is spreading that a great prophet has appeared in Israel. 

"John's disciples told him about all these things. Calling two of them, he sent them to the Lord to ask, "Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?" When the men came to Jesus, they said, "John the Baptist sent us to you to ask, 'Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?'" At that very time Jesus cured many who had diseases, sicknesses and evil spirits, and gave sight to many who were blind. So he replied to the messengers, "Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me."
I read this and I try to imagine being John. John, Jesus' cousin, the one who baptized Jesus, the one who sent his own disciples to Jesus telling them that here is the Messiah, the one who seems to know who Jesus is  before anyone else. This John is now in prison and he must fear that he will never get out. He is correct. 

In the face of that fear he doubts. Why, if I was right about Jesus being the messiah, am I still in prison? Why is he allowing me to languish here in jail? Is he really who I thought he was? 

Out of this doubt and fear he sends his disciples to ask: "Are you the one, or should we expect someone else?" 

Jesus, perceptive as ever, answers both questions: I am the one but you, John, should not expect someone else. I am the messiah; look around, report to John all that you see and hear. And blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me. Yes, John, I am the Messiah, but I am not coming to rescue you. 

Part of me rebels at this. What I want is to believe that everything is always going to be OK. But it's not. I want to believe that every bad situation has a happy ending. But they don't. I want to be able to turn to Jesus and say 'You promised!' But he doesn't. 

You may wonder how I find this encouraging or comforting. I told you it was bizarre. 

I am comforted in the knowledge that even John the Baptist doubts in the difficult time, and when he does Christ does not rebuke his doubt but answers it. 

I am encouraged in the knowledge that Jesus doesn't just answer this doubt with the evidence but he also speaks directly to the disappointment behind it. We all struggle with disappointment, expectations not met or realized, just as John does in this passage. Jesus response to this is a word of both truth and encouragement and rather than dodging the blame he acknowledges his own place at the center of our disappointment, deserved or not. 

"Blessed is the man who..."

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