A topic that often isn't dealt with in churches, is the topic of doubt. No one in the Bible, outside of Jesus, has received higher praise than John the Baptist -and yet John the Baptist struggled, questioned and doubted. And maybe if God affirmed him in his struggle, maybe today God has something to say to you!
John the Baptist had had an amazing effective ministry preaching the coming of the Messiah out in the wilderness, and people had flocked from Jerusalem to hear this prophet speak the truth of God. And for speaking the truth, John was arrested by Herod and thrown into prison and John knew that his day of death was near. Matthew 11:1-3 "After Jesus had finished instructing his twelve disciples, he went on from there to teach and preach in the towns of Galilee." So John sent his disciples when he saw that Christ was near to ask him "Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?"
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.”
This is an important detail to the conversation at this point because Jesus has something to say about John that He says intentionally after John's disciples have left so that this message does not get back immediately to John. As John’s disciples were leaving, Jesus began to speak to the crowd about John:
“What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear fine clothes are in kings’ palaces. Then what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is the one about whom it is written:
“‘I will send my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way before you.’ Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet whoever is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he." (Matthew 11:7-11)
What I want to share with you today is 'what it means to trust' and how we deal with doubt and fear and questions. The truth is, that I believe with all of my heart, that struggling through doubt is the heart of trusting! It's the heart of what it means to trust God! Not that we live in the absence of, but in the presence of doubt and questions, struggling through those toward Jesus Christ, we are expressing the highest heart of faith!
Believers throughout the centuries, from the early church fathers have talked about something called 'The Dark Night of the Soul.' - The Dark Night of the Soul is that time when God seems to be in eclipse! When the promises of God seem so far away from the realities of the moment. When God seems so distance and so absent, it is as though you were living in a God eclipse and in that dark, it is cold and it is death dealing and you feel alone and you feel flawed and you're wondering is it God? Is there a God? Is it you? What's wrong with me? But certainly this can't be right!
I want to share with you that everyone experiences a 'Dark night of the Soul'. Hear me, all you who are committed followers of Christ, you need to know that doubt is a normal part of the Christian life! It's an inevitable part of broken people discovering and entering into eternal life while passing through a very broken world!
Sometimes the experiences in life just seem so much more real than the promises of Jesus and in cultural Christianity, we learn to be dishonest and pretty unreal quickly in our lives but the God of scripture is a God that never leads us to pretend! One of the things that just makes me convinced of the reality of the scripture is just how the people in scripture are revealed.
I mean Noah after landing in the ark, gets drunk and is lying naked in his tent - well my hero is not like that! King David is committing adultery with a woman and then murders her husband! Well if I'm writing the Bible, I'm kind of editing those parts! And Jesus, my superhero, when He's on the cross, He's not gonna ask any questions! He's God, He has all the answers, He's not gonna cry out "My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?" The very fact that the Bible is so real and so raw and so human and so true, is one of the things that convinces me that this is the revelation of God - this is truth!
So how is it that we've become 'plastic' in gathering as a church? We have this idea that to be a real Christian means that I've got it all together! That I'm not hurting, that I have answers and that life is good because God loving me means that everything is OK - it's not a struggle!
Guys, I just want to be honest with you and tell you that I've been in many seasons where my soul felt in total eclipse of God.
Chuck DeGroat talks about 'Dark Nights' and he says "Dark nights provoke deep questions." Guys, as followers of Christ in the example of scripture, don't walk away from your questions! Read the book of Job if you want to see how questioning is handled with God...God can handle your questions and He will answer!
Deep questions deserve deep answers and so often we throw shallow answers into the face of the deep. Don't give shallow answers to deep pain! I know we all want to do that, we all want to fill in the pain, but sometimes the deepest answers are found in a holy silence - in seasons of brokenness and just listening in the presence of God!
Dark nights are both spiritual and psychological. They are spiritual and you have an enemy who is out to destroy you! He feeds off your pain, your tears are his drink! He is intelligent, he is strategic, he watches. He is not all powerful so there's no reason to be afraid of him, I'm just saying let's not be naive, we have an enemy who is actively at work to trip us up, bring us down, to literally destroy us and laugh at us!
Have you ever been tempted to do something and then after you do it...what's the voice that comes back in? "You idiot! How dumb can you be? You worthless person!" And you're like "you just told me that this would be great and awesome and it's not!" That's your enemy- that's who he is.
There is a profound spiritual basis for the 'Dark Nights of the Soul' for those seasons of struggling and times for questioning where we don't have all the perfect evidence and we're looking through the glass darkly and there is a very spiritual game being played out here. The reality is there are also psychological elements to that and you can't deny that!
The simple truth is, that you will come to a place, or have been in a place, or are in a place where the pain and the dark and the apparent distance of God are so deep that you will struggle and you will question and you will doubt - God does not condemn you for that!
Jesus said "Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist..." John the Baptist was mature, he knew and yet he still said "are you the one?"
Faith is letting Jesus be bigger than your pain. Jesus being more real than the darkness that you feel. It's allowing Jesus Christ to be the light in your darkness! We think sometimes faith means having no darkness, having no struggle, having no pain. No, real faith is struggling through doubt toward Jesus; that is the heart of trusting! You just gotta keep going! Keep moving towards Jesus, because the reality is there is a doubting that is a dialing back and turning away from Jesus and then there is a doubt that is a coming alive and fighting forward and struggling to see Jesus and to move toward him!
You see the goal of God is maturity - a faith that leans on the infinite glory of Jesus and Jesus Christ alone! That's God's goal for your life - that you trust in Jesus alone! That the issue of your life is not your spouse, it is not your child, not your finances or your health or your past, it is not the fear of your future, the issue of your life is Jesus! Turning to Him, He becomes your foundation, He becomes your trust and though you struggle, you struggle forward in faith successfully - that is the heart of trusting! -Dr. Drew Shofner