By: Jacob Merritt
I had the unique privilege of preaching to Albuquerque’s First Baptist Church on Sunday July 27, 2014. I knew I wanted to preach on doubt because the topic kept coming up in my mind. But, I did not really know where I was going with my sermon or how I was going to address doubt until I found myself pulled into the story of John the Baptist questioning Jesus about being the Messiah. Matthew 11:2-6 became my central passage.
Trying to let my sermon reflect my content and passage, I made my points questions. My main question was: Why do we doubt? The following questions completed my outline.
What kinds of doubt are there?
How do doubts affect us?
What do we do with our doubts?
These were questions that challenged me, so I hoped they would touch a few others in the audience. I explored each of them and found an answer in the writings of Josef Pieper.
Josef Pieper wrote a meditation on the virtues which I read for a class in seminary. He considered the various virtues of temperance, justice, fortitude, and prudence. How they connect and interact and grow within us and can be vital to a person as a human being and a Christian. In this work he had a section on anger where he turned the typically negative aspect of anger into a positive almost-virtue. Anger, if controlled and directed, could become the force which drives us to live better lives. I wondered if the same could not be done with doubt. Could the negative and terrible existence of doubt be a positive force that could drive us to better lives or closer to God? I realized through my own struggles with doubting my calling and God’s plan for my life that as I answered my doubts my faith and calling to ministry was deepened and strengthened.
I feel I am often taught to ignore my doubts for one reason or another. But, I wonder now if maybe our doubts can be used to call us and push us somewhere? Maybe we are supposed to attack them head-on and ask questions of our doubts seeking the answers like John does by asking Jesus. In the passage, John is told by Jesus to look for the truth to his question in the good things happening. Our doubts might be pushing us to find an answer that we need to find, answers to questions about our own abilities or God’s nature. Or, perhaps when you doubt that you’re following God’s plan. You need to find the answer and confirm that you are. Finding these answers can strengthen our faith. Our doubts also might be prodding us because we have strayed from God’s purpose for our lives. Of course, there are doubts we should seek to ignore and let go. They might exist purely to hold us in place and paralyze us. An example for this kind of doubt would be one that prevents us from sharing the gospel. How do we know which doubts are which? I don’t know. It’s the same as wondering if the voice we hear is God’s or our own. We have to make this determination based on what we know from Scripture and our own reasoning and the wisdom of those around us.
I haven’t found the answer to my main question of why we doubt. But, I have found another answer that comforts me.
Doubt can weaken and destroy us if we let the doubts pile up. They pile up when we ignore doubts which we should explore finding the answer to or we listen too much to doubts we should not. However, if considered with wisdom and prudence doubts might be able to empower us. They can drive us to God’s plan and lead us into deeper faith and understanding.
It’s difficult and challenging, yes, but it can be done as it has been for years by many great leaders of the church. They drive forward despite and sometimes because of their doubts changing themselves and those around them and always chasing God and the Truth.
Listen to the full sermon here.