3 Ways We Might React to Doubt

“‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes” (Mark 9:23).

I’m sure those words stung a little bit. Here was a hurting father who had brought his son to Jesus to be healed. He, along with his son, had suffered for a long time. There must have been years of struggle; years of financial and marital strain; years of social ostracism because of the dangerous outbursts from his boy. But the father still had one, last hope – he had heard Jesus could help people like him. People like his son. And so he brought the young man to Jesus.

But then the father blew it. Jesus asked him for more details about his son’s condition:

“How long has this been happening to him?” Jesus asked the boy’s father.

“From childhood,” he said. “And many times it has thrown him into fire or water to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.”

Jesus said to him, “‘If you can’? Everything is possible for the one who believes.”

Perhaps it was the emotion of the moment. Maybe it was the sense of desperation at the situation. But for whatever the reason, the father had bungled his words and had confessed his doubt. What had been there, below the surface, came bubbling up, and the statement was out before he knew it. This man did not believe. At least not completely. And the circumstances had brought that doubt to the surface.

We all, I think, have a new relationship with doubt. This is one of the things 2020 has brought to us – a fresh sense of what we know – and do not know – for sure. Once upon a time, we were able to live in the self-imposed kind of ignorance that failed to recognize the instability of our world and way of life. Even if we didn’t say so out loud, there were certain things in life we implicitly assumed to be solid.

But no more.

One by one, those things, be they the government, health, jobs, or lifestyle, have been exposed. And as they have been, we have been led to recognize the instability of yet other parts of our lives. For a time, we’ve all been continually expecting the other shoe to drop. The silent question in the backdrop has been, and continues to be, “What’s next?”

Yes, we have been reacquainted with doubt in a very uncomfortable fashion. Now, the doubt we have about the world, our communities, our leaders, our whole system is a constant companion. What has been below the surface is right up there on top. 

The question, then, is not whether we have doubt; the question is what to do with it. How might we respond? 

1. Deny it.

We might deny our doubt. We might take what has come up to the surface and try to push it away, acting like it’s not there. In other words, we might lie about what we are truly feeling. Surely we are accustomed to doing this especially if we have been conditioned to fight against our own perceived weakness, and we have.

We are a boot-strap kind of people, people who prize self-reliance. To admit that we are less than confident, less than absolutely certain, and have real fear and anxiety about the present and the future runs very much against it. This is, then, a viable option – we might simply choose to deny the fact that we have any questions or apprehensions at all.

2. Medicate it.

Or, we might medicate our doubt. True enough, this is really just another form of denial, but it’s worth noting that doubt can be so troublesome to us that we might need something more to help it go away. We might medicate that doubt with work and busyness. We might choose an actual substance to medicate it. Or we might even “church” it away. Whatever our means of medication, this reaction represents a refusal to acknowledge the doubt is there.

We simply cannot, because if we open that door, then it’s hard to predict exactly what is on the other side. And that prospect is just too much.

3. Bring it.

Of course, there is a third way. Rather than deny it or medicate it, we can actually speak it. And by that I don’t merely mean verbally acknowledge its existence. We can, through speaking it, bring it to Jesus. Much like this father did, although he might well have done so accidentally.

What would it take for us to bring our doubt to Jesus? Ironically, it will take faith. It will take faith to believe Jesus already knows what we are feeling. That He is loving and understanding enough to receive it. That our relationship with Him is not based on our ability to have our hearts or our conduct in perfect working order. That the essence of our relationship with Jesus is His ability to make up for what we lack. 

And doing so might sound something like this:

“I do believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).

These are days of doubt, friends. For certain. And we have a choice about what to do with that doubt. Perhaps our choice will reveal just how much – or how little – we really think of the Son of God. 

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