I wiggled my way into a Tuesday night home group with no-bake cookies stashed in all the tupperware containers I own. I guess when you are new in town and trying to find the (horribly cliché) “place you fit in,” baked goods are never a bad idea (Let’s be honest, baked goods are always a good idea).
I added my no-bake cookies to the offerings on the coffee table and made a couple bad jokes so the small gathering knew I wasn’t trying to play it cool and the cookies really were just a shameless way to endear myself into the group.
Sometime after the awkward introductions, we got buried in a discussion over doubt. The sermon the previous week had been about the doubt of John the Baptist in Matthew 11. From prison, the most sold out of all Jesus’s followers sent messengers to ask if Jesus really was the One he had been waiting for, preaching about, and prophesying of – John the Baptist sent messengers to find out if Jesus really was the Messiah his entire existence had proclaimed He was.
What a curveball, to think about doubt in this way with this group of strangers and to arrive at the place we did. I don’t mean thinking about doubt is a curveball – especially here in hipster heavy Brooklyn where knowing anything for sure is very unhip. We all agreed that our generation doesn’t have a problem accepting/engaging/encouraging doubts. We are top heavy with them and at times paralyzed by the balancing act.
The curvy part of the doubt equation is the tension it takes to stay when doubt comes. Because doubt gives way to fear very quickly. Christians often run to the hills and stand beside pagans shouting doubts at the cold, black sky and then run away before ever an answer can be returned.
Where are you, God?
Where were you when my sister died? and when my heart got broken? and when I failed at work and life and love?
Where were you, God and why don’t you answer?
Are you even real?
And as quickly as the one-sided conversation began, it ends as we pull away with smug satisfaction that we got no reply – as if to say to the cold, black sky and everyone else, “See, I was right. He isn’t there.”
But, that’s not doubt. That’s fear.
Doubt is buried somewhere in the middle of belief. It’s a tension that trains us to believe better, stronger, and deeper in the truths we know. Thomas wasn’t the only doubter and neither was John the Baptist. David doubted too, and he doubted well… and he stayed. He wandered out (of his own volition and not) into the hills and deserts and shouted out his doubts at the cold, black sky.
And then he stayed.
He stayed until his heart preached these true words to him:
Yet you are holy.
David wrestled and John the Baptist wrestled and Thomas wrestled and now we wrestle the same and different mysteries – all those things just outside the reach of our minds and hearts. And if we stay, we will also say with David, “Yet you are holy.”
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of mygroaning?
O my God, I cry by day, but you do not answer,
and by night, but I find no rest.
Yet you are holy,
enthroned on the praises of Israel.
In you our fathers trusted;
they trusted, and you delivered them.
To you they cried and were rescued;
in you they trusted and were not put to shame.
But I am a worm and not a man,
scorned by mankind and despised by the people.
All who see me mock me;
they make mouths at me; they wag their heads;
“He trusts in the Lord; let him deliver him;
let him rescue him, for he delights in him!”
Yet you are he who took me from the womb;
you made me trust you at my mother’s breasts.
On you was I cast from my birth,
and from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Be not far from me,
for trouble is near,
and there is none to help.
(Psalm 22:1-11, ESV, emphasis mine)
When John the Baptist sent the messenger to ask Jesus if He was really the One, Jesus responded with Truth. He responded with the only thing that could come from His lips and the only thing that can come back from the cold, black sky if we stay long enough to listen: the Word.
“Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is proclaimed to the poor. Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.'” Matthew 11:4-6
Sometimes fear runs our footsteps away from the hills and the cold, black sky before Truth can set us free where we stand.
John the Baptist was locked up in prison without any hope of freedom and his doubt was mixing fear like a cocktail. He wanted some confirmation that his life had not been lived in vain and he was hoping the sign would appear in the form of loosed chains.
His belief was tenuous, his doubt building tension in between and around the solid rock foundation of his faith. But he stayed to hear Jesus say, “Look at the ways I fulfilled the prophesies. Remember?”
John the Baptist believed, but doubt was threatening to give way to fear when belief didn’t seem to be holding up inside a jail cell. And the first and best Jesus could give him to bolster his belief was the Word – Himself as the fulfillment to prophecy and evidence of His faithfulness.
Just as Jesus endured the cross and scorned its shame for the joy set before him, our duels with doubts are not without joy because we are never without God. Though he may seem far from us and far from our generation and far from our shouting, fist-shaking nights under a cold, black sky, He is never not present.
And in His presence is fullness of joy.
This, I believe, is what David and John the Baptist and Thomas experienced in the middle and on the other side of their wrestling. Because they stayed to see that God is present and in His presence is fullness of joy.
If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, we will stay and our tension will give way to greater belief that God is who He claims to be and keeps all His promises. If our doubt is not swallowed up by fear, our greater belief will meet more doubt and tension and joy because God is always the same. His claims are never untrue. His promises are always fulfilled. His Word can always speak straight into the cold questions.
And here is hope for a generation who hasn’t the courage to stay and wait to hear the word, “Yet…”
*NOTE: My mom has since pointed out the irony of my calling no-bake cookies “baked goods.” Two points for the mom team. She got me there.