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Losing Faith in Times of Uncertainty  

Lou Phillips

Many of us forget how uncertain the future really is. In many ways, life can be predictable if we work hard, put away money, and live relatively healthy. But then pandemics hit, wars break out, cancer is found, and markets crash. Even for the most devoted believer in the Christian faith, times of crises can challenge our beliefs in the goodness of God or His existence.

As a Christian, it’s easy to say Jesus is good when things are going well. It’s another thing entirely to say He is good when we are ill, when we’ve lost our jobs, when we are grieving the loss of a loved one, or when it seems like our world is falling apart. In these times, we can be plagued with the question, “Jesus, are you actually who You say You are?”

I am grateful that we aren’t the first ones to wrestle with this doubt in times of trouble. In fact, church history is full of men and women of faith who wrestled with the same question. Even more importantly, Scripture itself gives us a model of what to do with our doubts in times of uncertainty.

John the Baptist as a Guide

John the Baptist struggled with doubts about who Jesus was. This might seem surprising, as John was the one who prophesied and prepared the way for people to know Jesus (Matthew 3:1-3). Most significantly, he was the one who baptized Jesus and saw the Holy Spirit descend on him like a dove (Matthew 3:16-17). Christ even went as far to say that there is no man greater than John (Matthew 11:11). In short, John wasn’t a pagan man with a skewed concept of God; he was the exact opposite, and he was doing this thing called life better than you or I can. Surely, if anyone were to be steadfastly confident in God, it would have been John. But that isn’t what we read in Scripture.

In the Gospel of Matthew, we discover that John was unjustly imprisoned—a situation that likely left him confused and frustrated, thinking to himself, “God, I did everything you wanted me to. Why am I suffering in prison?” While in prison, John sends a couple of his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3). In other words, he is asking Jesus, “Are you really the Messiah or was I wrong to assume so?” Recall that before John was imprisoned, he baptized Jesus and said, “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world” (John 1:29). That’s a significant change of belief and doubt!

Given the intensity and depth of John’s doubt (not to mention the source!), it makes sense to expect a rebuke from Jesus. But Jesus’s response to John wasn’t a rebuke or “How dare you ask this question! You can’t ask God such questions!” Instead, it was a bold encouragement and assurance that He was in fact who He said He was and yet so much more! Rather than giving John a direct “Yes, I am He,” Jesus quotes Isaiah and appeals to John’s prophetic sensibilities to make it abundantly clear. But in doing so Jesus is not only affirming that He is the Messiah; He is showing John that he needs a bigger definition of Messiah. In the amalgamation of Isaiah 35:4-6 and 61:1-3 Jesus, the Christ, is God Himself.[i] And then Jesus praises John for the work he has done. But why did Jesus respond in this way?

The Motive Behind the Question

John wasn’t the only person to ask Jesus if He was the Messiah. In Luke 23:39, one of the thieves hanging on the cross beside Jesus asks a similar question, yet the heart and motive were entirely different. He tells Jesus something to the effect of, “If You really are who You say You are, get me out of my circumstances—get me off this cross!” He tells Jesus to prove His identity. But John did something fundamentally different. John had no conditions for his question to Jesus; he just needed to know the truth, not how he could benefit from it. John knew that ultimately, he could trust Jesus with the outcome of his life if Jesus was in fact who He claimed to be. The thief simply wanted Jesus to do something for Him; John wanted to know what was true.

What John was saying was, “Jesus, if you really are God’s Anointed One, nothing else matters. I don’t need to be rescued from jail. You don’t need to do anything for me. You already know my pain. You already know my thoughts. All I need to know is that you are He, and then I know You will see me through this.”

Do we take our doubts to Jesus like John or the thief? What are we demanding from the Author of our lives? That He prove Himself by doing something for us? Or that He would give us the grace to believe once more that He is who He says He is? Like John, we must take our doubts directly to the One who is able to take them head-on, and we must also do so desiring the truth—not necessarily convenience or self-preservation.

The Balm of Christianity

Christianity isn’t for those who want pat answers to hard questions; it’s for those who need a solid foundation within the storm and have found that solid foundation in Jesus. More than life itself, John needed to be reminded of God’s sovereignty and love. We need the same reminder. We need to be reminded that God has provided a way for us to be reconciled back to Him through the work of His son Jesus on the cross. We need to be reminded that we are loved with a love that is not dependent on how we live our lives but rather dependent on His character and promises. More than health, more than financial security, and more than certainty, we need Jesus.

Thus, the most comforting thing we have as Christians is not that Christ will take away our current struggles, but that He will be with us as we struggle and that we will spend eternity with Him. The beautiful thing is as this truth becomes a lived reality, we can live our lives firmly planted in His promises, becoming beacons of light to those without hope. Thus, let us go to Him in times of crisis and hold fast to the words He sent back to John:

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 the one who is not offended by me.

Matthew 11:4-6

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[i] Robert M. Bowman, Jr. & J. Ed Komoszewski, Putting Jesus in His Place (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel, 2007), 203.