Our church services and our Sunday schools are not planned to co-ordinate. Every once in awhile they do anyway. One of those times was this past Easter Sunday. In Sunday School we were discussing Jesus calling Nathanael in the book of John. He doesn't just get up and follow Jesus, he has a couple of questions that he wants answered first.
In the sunrise service I preached about how Jesus and the John the Baptist were part of God's story and how each one of them fit into God's Old Testament promises. About halfway through the sermon, I began to talk about a strange story from Luke 7. John the Baptist sends some of his disciples to Jesus with a strange question, "Are you the one to come or not?" John the Baptist knew that he was sent by God to prepare the way for the "one to come." He thought it was Jesus, but he began to doubt.
Doubt was the theme that ran through both services. Do we doubt? If we do, is it wrong? James seems to suggest in James 1 that if we doubt (God's goodness), then we should not expect to receive anything from him. That verse is often use to say that those who have any doubts are not very good Christians. Is that what that passage is saying? Was Philip better than Nathanael because he followed Jesus without question, while Nathanael had some reservations? Was John wrong to doubt? I don't think so. There are just different types of people out there with different types of personalities. Some trust immediately, others trust, but it takes some time because they have questions that need answered, and still others trust, but circumstances lead them to doubt.
John doubted because he was in hot water. He was in prison, most likely facing execution for calling out Herod Antipas and his relationship with his brother's wife, Herodias. He was sinking. And in his pain, he doubted. I call this type of doubt situational doubt. He wasn't able to see beyond his own pain and look at the big picture. John, in his suffering, could only see his own personal picture and that led him doubt.
If this guy really is the Messiah and our deliverer, than why isn't he delivering me. Jesus responds by lifting up his eyes to the big picture. Look John. The blind see. The deaf hear. The lame walk. Lepers are cleansed. The dead are raised. The good news is being preached to the poor. I am the one to come. I will make all things right. You just need to wait and be patient while I work the solution into history.
I don't think there is anything wrong with situational doubt as long as we direct our questions to God, and ask him for answers (like John did). I am preaching through Habakkuk on Sunday, and Habakkuk does this very thing. He cries out to God and questions his actions and his motives, not once, but twice!
We just need to take those doubts to God, and pray for him to help us to see the big picture. Most of my doubts are also born out of of suffering. If God is so good, then why did this happen to me? In those time, i am focused on my own personal picture.
God wants us to understand that his plan is big! He has already dealt sin, death, and the devil a death blow (through his death and resurrection), and he is working toward their complete eradication (new heavens and earth). We just need to keep that big picture in our mind as we continue to struggle in a broken down world.
Doubt CAN be wrong when it busts our faith. But it doesn't have to be! As long as we let doubt drive us to look to God and to remember his past faithfulness in our lives. Thomas' doubt led to one of the greatest confessions in the Bible, "My Lord and My God!!" Often it is in moments where we are pushed down by situational doubt that we really learn the most about Jesus and his kept promises.