How do you deal with doubts? Is it only the unbelieving, the non-believers, who doubt God’s Word, or can those of us who truly love Jesus and belong to Him also go through times of doubt?
John is wrapping up his gospel. There are only sixty-one verses left, and with the heart of an evangelist and a pastor writing under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, he is most certainly going to use those verses to leave us with a sense of urgency concerning the entire purpose of his gospel story. Without question, his theme is BELIEVE, with this word appearing eighty-one times.
John 20:30-31 – Therefore many other signs Jesus also performed in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these have been written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing you may have life in His name.
You might think the opposite of believing is doubting, but John tells us about two events to disprove that idea. Mary Magdalene is the first to arrive at the tomb of Jesus, very early on Sunday morning while it is still dark. She sees the stone has been rolled away and immediately runs to tell Peter and John. The three of them return to the tomb together. Peter and John both enter the tomb and see the empty graveclothes, with the face cloth rolled up in a place by itself. Peter is unsure what has happened, but John saw and believed (20:8). John leaves believing; Peter walks away doubting.
Mary Magdalene, also confused and doubting, lingers at the tomb. Jesus finds her weeping, and she mistakes him for the gardener until He speaks her name. Immediately upon hearing His voice, her heart is filled with wonder and recognition, and she falls at His feet in worship. She returns to the other disciples declaring with certainty, I have seen the Lord! (2:11-18).
The second event occurs later that evening as the disciples are gathered with the doors shut, for fear of the Jews. Sometime that day, Jesus has appeared personally to Peter, as well as two others, on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24:13-35), and I imagine the room is buzzing with excited conversations. Only one person is missing; Thomas, for whatever reason, is not present when Jesus suddenly appears in their midst, affirming His physical death and resurrection by the scars that remain on His glorified body. Later, when the disciples relate this experience to Thomas, he declares he will not believe them unless he can touch the scars himself. This is the same disciple who was willing to die with Jesus (John 11:16), yet he had doubts about something Jesus had told them personally would happen (Matthew 16:21;17:23;20:19; Luke 9:22). Thomas believed, yet he doubted. Eight days later, Jesus appears to the group again, and this time, Thomas is present. Jesus gladly shows him the scars; all doubts are erased for Thomas, yet Jesus admonishes him, Do not be unbelieving, but believing.
There are two different words translated as “doubt” and “unbelieving.” Jesus often admonished the disciples for their doubt (Matthew 14:31;21:21; Mark 11:23; Luke 24:38). The word is diakrinō, and means to hesitate between two opinions, to be at variance with oneself. The word Jesus uses for “unbelieving,” is apistos, which describes a person without faith, an infidel, to disbelieve. It indicates a sense that something is so incredible it is untrustworthy, and not worthy of our confidence. Pistos is “belief” or “faith.” The prefix a makes it the opposite. It’s where we get our word “apostate” or “apostasy.”
Believing people of faith will experience times of doubt, but they will persevere until their faith is fully restored. In each encounter with the one who doubted, Jesus was so kind and gracious to meet them in their doubt and affirm their faith but there are some important observations on when and how that happened.
Thomas doubted because he wasn’t present when Jesus showed up; his doubts were settled when he was gathered with the other believers. Separating ourselves from our fellow brothers and sisters during times of doubt is unwise. Are you doubting? The last thing you need to do is pull away from your local church body! Instead, stay faithful until Jesus shows up!
Mary doubted, but she lingered near the tomb – the last place she saw Jesus. Has something happened that has shaken your faith? Don’t walk away unbelieving as Peter did; you are only delaying the opportunity for Jesus to restore your faith. Mary received the honor of being the first to see the Risen Lord because she refused to walk away. Are you doubting? Go back to the place or time when you last saw Jesus and wait for Him there.
Doubts will come. We are human, and the trials and suffering of life are difficult. Our response to times of doubting reveals whether we truly belong to Jesus, or if we have no faith at all. The unbelieving will walk away, concluding that Jesus isn’t worthy of their confidence. Those who are in the faith will remain with those who also believe and trust the Savior to affirm and strengthen our faith once more, as we walk this road toward home.