It’s no fun when your belief system is thrown into a tailspin. It’s no fun when your theological substructure upon which you have built your life suddenly crumbles into dust. It’s no fun when you’re suddenly overwhelmed by doubts about the cardinal convictions that you have held near and dear for so long. Let me tell you: Given the choice between a crisis of faith and… say… bamboo shoots stuck up my fingernails, I’ll take the bamboo shoots every time.
Here’s how it happens: Something unexpected hits our lives. A loss. A disappointment. Mistreatment at the hands of a Christian. A personal moral failure that leaves us reeling with the realization that we just did something that we were sure we would never/could never do. A spiritual dead zone where we go through all of the motions that worked in the past — Bible reading, prayer, memorization, faithful church attendance — but no matter what we do or how hard we try to connect with God, He seems utterly disconnected — silent, indifferent, or non-existent.
It doesn’t help that we’ve had it ingrained into our thinking that such deep-down doubts are evidence of a lack of faith. Because if faith is the basis of our salvation — “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith” (Ephesians 2:8) — then perhaps, just maybe, we were never saved to begin with. Or so we fear. Like a dull headache, the question can gnaw ever so subtly at the synapses of our minds: Can a true believer in Jesus ever really falter in his or her faith, or stop believing altogether?
I’ve been thinking a lot about this because I was reminded of something just this week in our ongoing study of Jesus in HD. During my teaching preparation, I was reacquainted with an old friend. He appears in the opening act of the Gospel drama. He plays a singularly significant role in Jesus’ life and ministry at the beginning, and then just sort of fades away — by design. Yet Jesus held him in the very highest esteem, paying him the most superlative of compliments that firmly established this choice servant of God in His Hall of Faith of biblical heroes.
And yet, in his darkest hour, at that moment when his life hit rock bottom, his faith collapsed.
Yes, I am talking about John the Baptizer. A man about whom Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, of all who have ever lived, none is greater than John the Baptist” (Matthew 11:11). Pretty high praise for someone caught in the stranglehold of his own crisis of faith.
Here’s the thumbnail of his backstory (If you want to hear the full-blown account of John’s epic downward spiral, click HERE for the podcast): John the Baptizer announced to the world that Jesus was the Messiah, and that the Kingdom of Heaven was at hand (Mathew 3:2). But as so often happens, life did not turn out the way John thought it would or thought it should. This supremely faithful and uncompromisingly godly servant of the Most High ended up in prison and languished in a desert dungeon for months. No, life was not fair. Yes, bad things (a whole lot of bad things) happened to this very good person.
Matthew gave us the briefest of glimpses into John’s personal prison of anguish when he reported that in desperation, John sent a question to Jesus. A most remarkable question, the words of which unmask the depth of John’s doubts. The man who revealed Jesus the Messiah to the world actually asked Him, “Are you the Messiah we’ve been expecting, or should we keep looking for someone else?” (Matthew 11:3).
You talk about a faith in free-fall! There it was for all the world to see and hear.
Now, my point in sharing this is not to solve your crisis of faith (assuming you have had, or will have one). I can’t do that. I can tell you that like me — like John — you will work through it, and come out even stronger because of it.
My point is to tell you this: Jesus did not condemn John the Baptizer. Just the opposite. For it was in response to John’s question that Jesus heaped upon him the highest praise that Jesus gave to anyone.
Have any doubts of your own? Jesus understands. He knows how tough it is down here. He knows firsthand all of the many factors that can suddenly and unexpectedly and tragically come together in a faith-shattering constellation of catastrophes that will rock anyone’s belief system to its very core.
And He loves us just the same.
He won’t condemn us. He won’t judge us. He won’t think less of us. He will not abandon us. He will say to us exactly what He said in response to John the Baptizer: Look at all the things I am doing — “The blind see, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news proclaimed to them” (Matthew 11:5). In other words, I’m still here. I’m still in control. Even if/when it doesn’t seem like I am. AND… I am not going anywhere.
If someone of the stature of a John the Baptizer battled his own demons of doubt, please don’t be surprised and don’t despair if you do as well.