Paul Tillich once said “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.” Interesting!
In reading the Psalms, I encounter such true life and even great heroes of the faith questioning God or struggling with momentary doubt about God and His plan. The Psalmist struggled with watching the wicked prosper while he, working hard to live as God directed, suffered and struggled. But then his doubt melted away when he said “Until I came into God’s Holy Place and understood their end.” Psalm 72 (LXX)
As a priest, I have folks regularly come to me struggling with doubt. Some are in great distress, thinking their momentary doubt has “offended” God, or undone all their spiritual efforts. Everyone of them are a bit shocked when I confront them with their prideful notion that they have the power to disturb God or cause Him discomfort. I then remind them that all faithful people in the scriptures have their moments of doubt. It isn’t just common, it’s a good thing to pass through. Because when you pass through doubt, you are stronger than ever.
Look at our Gospel Lesson this morning in Matthew 11:2-15:
At that time, when Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in their cities. Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, “Are you he who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And Jesus answered them, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is he who takes no offense at me.” As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to behold? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man clothed in soft raiment? Behold, those who wear soft raiment are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, ‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who shall prepare your way before you.’ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has risen no one greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has been coming violently and men of violence take it by force. For all the prophets and the law prophesied until John; and if you are willing to accept it, he is Elijah who is to come. He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”
St. John the Forerunner is jailed because of his unflinching message of moral clarity and bold declaration of timeless truths in the face of a society bent on making excuses for their own embrace of immorality. He has staked his life on the timeless truth of God’s wisdom and the identity of our Lord Jesus as the One sent by God to Israel as Messiah. And now he is going to be executed! In the face of this pressure, he wonders “Am I wrong?”
Look at how the Lord helps St. John overcome his understandable moment of doubt.
First He tells the men John sent to question the Lord “Go and Tell what you See and Hear.” You see, doubt isn’t overcome merely by thinking about it. Doubt melts in the face of active observation of God’s work in the world. Philosophy and mere intellectual pursuit is good but it will never be enough to overcome doubt if it isn’t married to action! Some of the most educated people I know are unbelievers!
Second, Jesus teaches that doubt melts when the Good News is put in action. Just as doubt melts in the face of observing the work of God, so doubt melts when real people have their lives actually transformed by the Good News. Observation is just the first step in melting doubt. The next step comes when the Good News actually affects and transforms your own life. The Orthodox faith isn’t a spectator’s sport. We are meant to PRACTICE the faith BECAUSE when you do the faith, you are transformed. And that melts doubt completely.
Finally, doubt melts in the face of knowing who you really are. Our Lord finishes this ministry to St. John at his darkest hour by reaffirming John’s true identity. He is actually the last Old Testament prophet. He is the promised Prophet that was to come to prepare the way for the Messiah. It didn’t matter that the majority of Israel didn’t believe it. His true identity melted the doubt he struggle with at this terrible moment in his life.
What do you know about your true identity? Are you struggling with doubt and fear? What are you allowing yourself to see? What are you doing to practice your faith? Doubt doesn’t become a spiritual disease until it’s allowed to make it’s home in your heart and blind you to all the evidence of God’s goodness all around you. Your faithful practice of the faith in prayer, fasting, and generosity “kill” doubt in your heart every time. All you have to do is not allow a moment to become a lifetime! Being Orthodox on Purpose will silence the doubts that try to destroy you!
P.S. On our next Faith Encouraged LIVE, my special guest will be Wesley Smith, an Orthodox Christian and a Bioethicist who writes for First Things and Christianity Today. We are going to be talking about human exceptionalism and just why God’s creation of humanity is both a glory and a responsibility. That’s this Sunday at 8 PM on AncientFaith.com.