I absolutely love Jesus’ apostles, especially ‘Doubting Thomas’. After witnessing the abundant number of miracles Jesus performed, from pulling coins from a fish’s mouth, to daringly raising Lazarus from the dead, Thomas still refused to believe Mary Magdalene and the others who claimed that Jesus had truly risen. “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”( John 20) He simply doubted Jesus’ ability to pull off the stunning feat of coming back from the dead.
When Jesus appeared again a week later, he mysteriously glided through a locked door and appeared to Thomas and the others. Without rebuking Thomas for his unbelief, Jesus patiently instructed Thomas to place his finger in the holes in his hands, and then cautioned him “do not be unbelieving, but believe”.
I find it comforting the disciples were so clueless so much of the time; it helps me to feel that I’m not so hopeless after all! After Jesus multiplied the loaves and fish and miraculously fed four thousand people, there were over seven baskets of scraps from the bountiful miracle. But the disciples forgot to bring the baskets with them when they climbed into the boat to journey to another city. (Mark 8:1-21)
When Jesus cautioned them “Watch out, guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod. They concluded among themselves that it was because they had no bread.” Jesus chastised them “Do you not yet understand or comprehend?”. The disciples were panicking over their mistake, because they only had one loaf of bread for their journey. Even though they had witnessed first hand Jesus multiplying fish and bread not just once, but two times, feeding over nine thousand people, they still doubted Jesus’ providence and started bickering among themselves. Their limited human brains could not comprehend Jesus as God, nor fully grasp his omnipotence and magnificence.
Zechariah, the father of John the Baptist, was struck dumb for Elizabeth’s entire pregnancy, because he doubted God’s ability to fulfill His promise of blessing the aging couple with a baby. Even though he had grown up with stories of God’s mighty hand parting the Red Sea and allowing the Israelites to escape, and he knew God had miraculously provided manna in the desert for his hungry ancestors, Zechariah simply couldn’t comprehend the concept of God as all powerful. He has power over all things on heaven and on earth, and can do anything, yet Zechariah doubted God’s ability to make a barren woman pregnant, questioning the angel who conveyed God’s message.
A modern day saint, Mother Teresa had her own experiences of ‘doubting God’. In her journal, which was published under the title Come Be My Light, Mother Teresa wrote “My God, I have no faith. I dare not utter the words and thoughts that crowd my heart, afraid to uncover them because of the blasphemy. If there be God, please forgive me. When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven, there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me, and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great, nothing touches my soul.”
Mother Teresa suffered excruciating doubt for years, as Fr. James Martin describes “Most of the pages of her journal reveal not the serene meditations of a Catholic sister confident in her belief, but the agonized words of a person confronting a terrifying period of darkness that lasted for decades.” Yet in spite of her prolonged anguish, she never faltered in her mission or faith. She persevered through all the years of darkness and doubt and willed herself to believe, just as Jesus advised Thomas.
To doubt is to be human, just as it is to experience anger or lust. No one is exempt from doubting God; even Jesus, when he was dying on the cross, cried out in anguish “My God, my God, why have you abandoned me?” (Matthew 27:46) The real question, do you wallow in your doubt, and allow it to fester and grow? Or do you attempt to work through it reminding yourself over and over of the many times God has brought you safely through a predicament?
Those times of severe doubt is often referred to as the ‘dark night of the soul’. St. John of the Cross, a mystic from Spain in the 16th century, wrote extensively about his experiences with the ‘dark night’. As explained in the blog When It’s Good to Doubt God, “The ‘dark night’ is a sense of painful alienation and distance from God that causes distress, anxiety, discouragement, despair, and depression. All Christians experience this sooner or later—some more intensely than others, some for longer times than others. But the feeling is the same: they lose their sense of closeness to God and conclude that they no longer have faith. And so they despair even more.” (Link below)
St. John’s viewed the dark night as a time of purification, when all our attachments and defenses are stripped away, bringing us to our knees, and enabling us to hear God’s voice more clearly. In the dark night there is only heavy desolation, bleak darkness without any glimmer of light or hope. God is so distant and his absence so complete, you feel totally abandoned, helpless and out of control. But only when you feel utterly forsaken can you truly surrender completely to Christ. When you are able to trust God in the midst of such a void, then He can take you beyond ‘belief’, to absolute trust.
So in those times when your faith is shaken and you feel as though God doesn’t care about you in any way, shape or form, just remember that God sometimes deliberately removes all sense of his presence in order to stretch you and helpyou to grow spiritually. So keep in mind James 1:6 “But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind.” Stay the course and make a conscious decision to believe, and let Jesus transform you from a ‘doubting Thomas’ into a stalwart ‘Peter’, who was steadfast even in the face of martyrdom.
- A Saint’s Dark Night http://www.nytimes.com/2007/08/29/opinion/29martin.html
- When It’s Good to Doubt God http://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2011/10/why-it%E2%80%99s-good-to-doubt-god/