Faith and doubt
Updated: Jan 30
I delivered a talk at my church last week on one of my favourite characters in the bible renowned as a person dealing with doubt. Unfortunately I think people use his story to say doubt is wrong and it shouldn't be discussed. In fact, there have been recent articles around the western Christian world regarding an inability to handle scepticism well. I think the bible deals with doubt and gives us a good way of managing it and in fact, we start to realise that the God of the bible is far bigger than anything we could ever imagine and far more personal than we might realise. If you have 30 minutes, give it a listen. I'd love to know what you think!
Click here for the audio or continue on for the script.
Over the summer we are working through a series we’ve called inspired – each speaker has picked a person from the bible who has inspired them.
Last week Alan talked about Elijah and he asked us a few questions that really stuck with me. Do we really seek the presence of God? Do we have faith for the promises that God has for us individually and those prayed over the church as it was founded?
These are questions that will come up again this morning. Do you have faith in a God who transforms lives?
I’ve grown up in the church – by church I mean multiple congregations in multiple denominations in multiple countries. I’ve been fortunate to hear people worship in different languages, different types of music and know the different ways that people hear from God and the different expressions of church that God speaks into. I’ve personally prayed with people who have said they’ve been healed and I’ve met many who have experienced God’s direct healing. Some of whom are part of this church.
Yet with all this experience, I find myself battling scepticism and doubt
When I was at uni it was scepticism that Christianity was relevant and the bible was true. I’ve always wrestled with scepticism that people are healed. Scepticism that people are hearing from God. Scepticism that we as a church have heard God correctly that when he says this will be a church of hundreds, he actually meant it.
God do you know Guildford’s building prices?
God, don’t you know that every building that holds more than 50 people probably has a church in it already?
Maybe this is too honest.
Maybe you’re a little offended that an elder of this church wrestles with doubt and being too sceptical.
Maybe you’re in agreement and struggling with this too.
Maybe doubt is blocking your worship.
How can we worship a God who is distant and silent when we need him?
This is why I love the bible. It is in crises of faith that we must dig deep into scripture because what happens when we do this is we find testimony after testimony of how God breaks into the mess of human scepticism and failure and brings hope and faith. It is because I wrestle with this scepticism that I have come to love the story of Thomas.
Thomas gets a bad rep from his most famous question in the bible which we will look at in a moment. It is often overlooked that he is the one that is recorded as saying that he will follow Jesus even if it leads to his death in John 11:16. After Jesus resurrection and ascension and Pentecost, there is a fair amount of evidence that Thomas went to India and proclaimed the gospel setting up multiple churches until is martyrdom in around 72 AD.
Thomas was committed to following Christ. We see his commitment both in his eagerness to follow Jesus even if it meant death but also in John 14. Jesus is promising that where he is going will have many rooms that he will prepare for his disciples. He then tells his disciples
‘And you know the way to where I am going’
Thomas pipes up,
“no we don’t, how can we know?”
Jesus answers his question by pointing to himself –
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the father except through me.”
Thomas has been told that it is only through Jesus that he sees life with God and he has experienced first hand the ultimate miracle, Lazarus rising from the dead. Yet, when his closest friends all tell him that they have seen Jesus alive his scepticism shines through.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus) one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29
Doubt is obviously a big part of this story. The bible doesn’t shy away from doubt. In fact, many people within the bible overtly deal with doubt:
Abraham doubts he’ll have a son, so sleeps with his wife’s servant. even doubts God’s protection so much that he lies about his wife being his sister – TWICE!
Job doubted God’s love and protection continually wishing that he had died in childbirth, that God would slay him, claimed God was oppressive whilst approving the acts of the wicked and that God had even destroyed his hope. (Job 14:19)
The Psalms have similar themes. Psalm 44 questions God’s presence for his people that despite their faithfulness to God, God had rejected them and made them a reproach to the nations. The language is strong –
‘Awake, Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever!...’ (Psalm 44:23)
John the Baptist, while in prison, sent two of his disciples to confirm that Jesus really was the messiah (Matt. 11:1-11).
Jesus, in the garden of Gethsemane clearly faced an emotional struggle when faced with crucifixion,
“Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me…” (Luke 22:42)
Doubt is a major part of the bible but it isn’t the main point. There are many points within the bible that seem hopeless and yet, we see what response is needed.
Jesus finishes his sentence –
"but not my will but yours be done."
John the Baptist remains faithful to Jesus to his death.
Psalm 44 ends calling on God’s unfailing love.
‘My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you. Therefore I despise myself and repent in dust and ashes’.
Abraham chose to believe and Paul writes about him in Romans 4 –
“he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God”
Thomas says to Jesus,
‘My Lord and my God!’
There is a way of doubting that turns into worship and worship will ultimately destroy your doubt. The middle step from doubt to worship is humility.
Thomas thought he knew how the world worked. People didn’t come back from the dead, even though he’d seen it first hand. He didn’t doubt his friends’ experience of Jesus but he was the first to suggest it was a hallucination. He wanted something he could touch and test and fortunately for us, he turns into the greatest witness for the physical resurrection of Jesus. Jesus wasn’t just a hallucination but a dead man who was resurrected. As Paul states in 1 Corinthians 15 that if Christ has not been raised then there is no hope over death.
Jesus meets Thomas in his doubt and allows him to see and touch the scars. Thomas humbles himself and worships God.
Part of my own journey in dealing with scepticism is realising that the more I learn, there is even more that I don’t know. If you feel that the amount you don’t know is getting smaller, then you’re probably not moving towards humility. Humility is recognising that your learning will never outgrow what you don’t know. Faith is putting trust in a God who is even bigger than what you don’t know.
It is commonly argued that as science explores the world around us and more and more things get explained, there is less need for God. What I’ve come to see is that the more that science explores, the more it reveals the greatness of the God who holds ALL things together and sustains them. God doesn’t fill the gaps of our knowledge; our knowledge of him expands as we explore what He has created.
Hebrews 11:1 says faith is the confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see. God has built this universe out of the void through his word. We need to trust God is bigger than what we don’t understand or don’t yet know.
Thomas, like many do today, thought death was something no one can escape. It is just a natural part of life. He hadn’t connected the dots that death wasn’t meant to be a part of this life until Jesus showed up. Thomas realised that Jesus was God, bigger than what he knew but even bigger than what he didn’t! In that moment he worships Jesus and Jesus accepts his worship.
Jesus gives him a little rebuke though,
“Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
We know more than Thomas did in that moment. We may know more theological doctrine than Thomas did. We may know more about how the natural world works than Thomas did. But what we know may well be the cause of pride that is blocking our worship.
Today may well be the day that we need to recognise who our Lord and God really is. Worship is recognising who we know.
Our God is the one who cast the stars into space and created the world with his voice
Our God is the one who has healed the sick in the past and is healing people today
Our God is the one who has forgiven us our sins and freed us from shame
Our God is the one who has defeated death and given us life
Our God is the one who has promised to build his church.
If we are so focused on our own knowledge and understanding then we are in danger of missing the God who has created all things, who sustains all things, who has saved us and promises to be with us to the end of the age and is worthy of our worship.
So as you read this, what are you doubting?
What is stopping you from worshipping God?
I want you to take a moment to think through your doubts. Over the course of this moment start making those doubts a question for God –
We don’t know the way Lord, will you tell us?
This hurts God and you seem far off. How long will you be silent?
We’re going to turn those questions into worship. Worship comes from recognising what we do know through what we have seen in the past. Worship is recognising who your Lord is by remembering your own testimony, your own experience with God.
But faith isn’t just built on your personal experience. You have the testimony of the church. Have faith in those around you when they share their stories of healing. Encourage one another, bear with one another, love one another. You also have the 2000-year history of the church to delve into with a huge variety of ways to pray and hear from God. Do not rest on your own knowledge but the knowledge of the saints before you!
If that isn’t enough, you can also know who God is through the testimony of his word. Thomas, is a man of faith. If you have doubts, he had them too, but he humbled himself to follow Jesus even to his death.
On top of everything else, we also have the testimony of the Holy Spirit. God has sent the spirit of his son into our hearts, the spirit who calls out “Abba, Father”. We can lean on God our father as the spirit works in us and gives us assurance over the things we do not see.
Some of you may need to say the prayer of the father in Mark 9, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief”. Some of you need to simply say to Jesus, “You’re my Lord and My God”, if you are saying that for the first time then I’d love to talk with you.