Spiritual Development Studying the Bible

Faith & Doubt

Author: Rachel Kidd

Part of growing up is coming to terms with big questions and what the answers mean for your life. I was raised by two faithful Christian parents, who were each raised by two faithful Christian parents of their own. I come from a legacy of people with strong convictions and rock-solid foundations of truth. I went to church every Sunday and youth group every Sunday night nearly my entire life. And yet, I doubt.

Ever since I could read, I had questions. Really, even before that- I’ve been questioning authority since I learned to talk. “Why?” I would ask my mom and dad, “why do I have to eat my broccoli?” “Why do I have to go to school?” “Why do I have two little brothers and no sisters?” My grandparents like to tell stories of my defiant personality as a toddler. Once, after playing with a new baby doll my Nana had bought to be played with at her house, I tried to take the baby home with me. She stopped me at the door and asked me to leave it there. I hugged the baby doll close and said, “share Nana, share!” I clearly understood the concept, asserting my own understanding above the authority in front of me. My grandmother of course laughed, but took the baby back anyway.

As I got older, my questions became more complex, as did the answers. Sometimes, I couldn’t even find the answer to satisfy my question, no matter how fervent my search. “Why does God let horrible things happen?” “Why do some Christians do horrible things in the name of God?” “Is there more to life than this, than what I can see?” Often, I wasn’t satisfied with the standard answers spouted at youth group or Sunday School. I asked my dad, one of the smartest people I know, who has a doctorate in theology and a seminary degree. Sometimes, even he didn’t know, or his answer wouldn’t make sense to me. I prayed for answers, read theological texts and scripture, discussed with other believers and non-believers alike. I wanted clarity, concrete answers to my big questions. To this day, it has yet to come.

Can we be faithful while still having doubt?

I have many, many unanswered questions and doubts. And yet, I can still be a believer. Faith is not dependent on having it all figured out. God doesn’t need us to be 100% sure of everything. It is impossible to fully understand why God chooses to act in the ways He does or why He allows evil to persist on earth for the time being. Yet, in choosing to worship Him and follow Him anyway, we are acting in faith.

Faith is believing despite not seeing.

Mary’s Faith

Mary asked the angel, “How can this be? I’m a virgin.”

The angel answered her, “The Holy Spirit will come to you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you. Therefore, the holy child developing inside you will be called the Son of God.

“Elizabeth, your relative, is six months pregnant with a son in her old age. People said she couldn’t have a child. But nothing is impossible for God.”

Mary answered, “I am the Lord’s servant. Let everything you’ve said happen to me.”

Luke 1:34-38

When the angel appeared to young Mary, she was a virgin. She understood it was physically impossible for her to become pregnant, even when the words came from the mouth of a heavenly angel. She asks the angel, “how can this be?” He tells her that she will conceive the Son of God through the power of the Holy Spirit, reassuring her that even what is impossible, is made possible by God.

Mary, I can imagine, was scared and confused, struggling to understand what the angel said. And yet, she chooses to act in faith anyway. Without fully understanding, Mary says yes, “I am the Lord’s servant.”

Peter and Doubt

Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus.

But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”

Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Matthew 14:28-31

We see Peter as a figure with a great deal of insecurity and fear that he grapples with throughout the Gospel. Despite being a close disciple of Jesus, he betrays Him three times the night of His death. He acts in violence in the Garden of Gethsemane. And he sinks in the Sea of Galilee.

Peter calls out to Jesus, testing him by asking him to let him walk on water too. Jesus tells him to come, allowing Peter to walk on the water’s surface. And yet, despite being a part of this miracle, Peter’s fear of the storm causes him to sink. He doubts Jesus and His power to control the very wind and waves He created. As Peter sinks and starts to drown, he calls out desperately to Jesus, asking to be saved. Jesus pulls him up, but challenges Peter’s lack of faith.

Because Peter allowed his fears, or doubts, to overcome his faith, he began to sink. Jesus reminds him, and us today, that faith keeps us afloat. Doubting God’s power causes us to stumble, leading us astray and to potential dangers. Faith causes us to experience the power and wonder of God.

The Cursed Fig Tree

Early in the morning, as Jesus was on his way back to the city, he was hungry. Seeing a fig tree by the road, he went up to it but found nothing on it except leaves. Then he said to it, “May you never bear fruit again!” Immediately the tree withered.

When the disciples saw this, they were amazed. “How did the fig tree wither so quickly?” they asked.

Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”

Matthew 21:18-22

While some may read this passage as a funny story of a hungry Jesus who becomes angry at a fig tree without any figs, we should moreover see the power of faith. Jesus tells the disciples that faith without doubt is immensely powerful. Faith can make disappointing fig trees shrivel up and die, it can make mountains throw themselves into the sea, and it can bring answered prayers.

Throughout each of these stories, we see faith in the miraculous birth of Christ, in Peter’s walk on water, and in the cursing of the fig tree. Mary may have been afraid and confused, but her faith allowed the great miracle of Jesus to be performed through her. Peter, while faithful in many other ways, fell short as he walked on the sea towards Jesus. His doubt prevented him from truly experiencing the gravity of his experience with Christ on the stormy sea. Through scripture, we see God rewarding the faithful and rebuking the doubters. Even when the faithful are frightened and don’t fully comprehend the magnitude of what God is asking them, their faith carries them through.

Abraham in Genesis 22:12-14 is another example. When God asked Abraham to sacrifice his only son that he had waited so many long years for, Abraham doesn’t understand. He is terrified of losing his beloved son. And yet, he takes Issac up the mountain to die anyway. Because of his faithfulness, God blesses Abraham.

“Do not lay a hand on the boy,” he said. “Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.” Abraham looked up and there in a thicket he saw a ram caught by its horns. He went over and took the ram and sacrificed it as a burnt offering instead of his son. So Abraham called that place The Lord Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the Lord it will be provided.”

Genesis 22:12-14

Abraham demonstrates that when we act in faith, even when we don’t understand, God provides. He takes care of His faithful followers, blessing them for their strong faith.

Today, while I may not be taking baby dolls from my Nana’s house anymore, I still hate being told what to do. I like to think that I am competent and wise, but usually, my parent’s advice is far better than my own wisdom. I am still learning to heed the advice of people wiser than me, still learning to act in faith to God’s commands, especially when I don’t understand them. I only hope to walk in the faithful legacy left for me by my parents and grandparents, and the great faith-bearers of the bible like Mary and Abraham.

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