I was around 12 years old when I decided Christianity wasn’t for me. The reasons were numerous: I had seen the church criticise people I loved, winning Bible quizzes had gotten to my head rather than my heart and I couldn’t see enough evidence for Jesus in my life.
The reasons weren’t new, and they weren’t exceptional, but I felt them deeply as a 12-year-old. I wasn’t at all happy with the decision and I didn’t feel this sense of release; instead I felt scared. Knowing Jesus had provided me with a future, a community and the knowledge that I’d never be alone, and now . . . that was gone.
In a last-ditch effort, I decided to go tell my dad. He’s a good listener, he’s a pastor (so I thought he could add that “spiritual guidance” element), and at the very least, I thought he would have some words of comfort.
So, I told him I wasn’t sure I believed in God anymore, and waited for him to implode.
Yet his response will be something I remember for the rest of my life. My dad—known around the world for his church planting and pastoral ministry, the man who has completed innumerable baptisms and helped people out of addiction—looked me in the eye, and said: “That’s great!”
I immediately started doubting his calling as a pastor.
Great? How on earth is it great? Your only child has just revealed she’s rejecting the faith you’ve brought her up in, and you think that’s a good thing?
“Why is it great, Dad?”
He paused. “It’s great, because it means you’re wrestling. It means you’re not just accepting the faith your mother and I have, you’re searching yourself. You’re wrestling, and that’s great.”
He continued to talk to me, encouraged me and gave me some books to read which were exactly what I needed at that time. I decided to stay.
Looking back, nearly 10 years later, what made a difference to me in that moment was the fact that I had a dad who could deal with my doubts, and loved me regardless.
At the end of the book of Matthew, Jesus has just risen from the dead and is about to meet His disciples before He ascends to heaven. These people have been with Him through three years of ministry. They have seen His highs, when the dead were raised and thousands fed, and also the lows, when He sweated blood, and prayed for deliverance. And now they are about to see Him in glory, as Someone who has Himself conquered death.
Yet Matthew 28:17 does not provide the reunion we expect: “[w]hen they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.”
These people have come face-to-face with a man they watched die. To use sports terminology, Jesus’ arrival could be seen as a “comeback” of epic proportions, yet still, “some doubt”. To say it is an anticlimax is a dramatic understatement, and it leads us to wonder why doubters have been included at such a pivotal point in history.
We give doubters a hard time. Doubting Thomas gets a song, the scared disciples in the boat get a rebuke, and poor Zechariah goes mute for more than five months because he doesn’t believe John the Baptist will be born to him in his old age. We are taught that doubts are something to be avoided, and we are taught to criticise those who have them.
Yet that’s not what happens at the end of Matthew. Jesus does not rebuke His doubters, instead He commissions them. He tells them immediately afterwards: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
Jesus first counteracts His disciples’ doubts by reminding them who He is. He is Someone who has both power and authority, and therefore, He is entrusting it to them. But it’s not a matter of fixing themselves and their doubts, and then making disciples. The Greek phrase translates “Therefore go,” into “as you are going”. Jesus is telling His disciples to make other disciples as they go through life, in the midst of their doubts, in the midst of their questions and in the midst of their hurts. Jesus knew what His disciples were struggling with, He knew they had doubts and He still wanted to use them.
Pastor and author Timothy Keller, in his book Making Sense of God, views doubts in this way: “A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenceless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart sceptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.” [pullquote]
Put simply, we need to acknowledge our doubts, and not be scared of them. We need to reflect on them, wrestle with them and discuss them.
Does it mean we should seek to poke holes in our faith, and run towards criticisms and doubts just because we can? By no means! When we are seeking to build a relationship with someone, it’s hard to do when we’re constantly trying to find how the relationship isn’t going to work.
What it does mean is that when the questions and doubts do come (and they will), we have a God who can handle them. Our God isn’t scared of our doubts, and He isn’t scared of our fears. He is waiting there to empower us, and push us forward into eternity, and He has pretty broad shoulders.
If you are having questions, there are options. The best thing you can do is speak to a Christian you admire and trust. The Christian life was not meant to be done alone, and talking with someone allows you to grapple with issues in a safe, healthy way.
There is also various literature that may answer questions you have (you’ll be surprised at how many doubts you have that are not new), which your local pastor (or mentor) may be able to provide.
Also, keep in God’s Word (even if you don’t feel like it), and stay in connection with Him (even if you can’t feel it).
And finally, hang on to the last part of Matthew 28, where even in the midst of your doubts, Jesus “is with you always, even to the very end of the age”.
Jessica Krause is a student at Newcastle University who completed an internship at Adventist Record earlier this year.