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Doubting Thomas gets most of the press, but for me, John the Baptist is a more compelling New Testament example of a doubter.
He was a godly man whom Scripture identifies as “the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord’” (John 1:23; cf. Isa. 40:3), because he was the precursor to the Messiah.
At one point, John directed his own disciples to stop following him and instead follow Christ, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
He obviously believed, right? I mean, he made it clear to those who asked: he was not the Messiah (John 1:20) and Jesus was.
As an unborn baby, John the Baptist leaped inside his mother’s womb at the presence of Christ (Luke 1:41). He even got to hear the voice of God the Father and see the heavens opened as the Holy Spirit descended on Jesus after John baptized him in the Jordan River (Matt. 3:13–17).
That’s right—John heard God’s voice thunder, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matt. 3:17). Pretty compelling proof that Jesus was, in fact, the long-awaited Messiah.
In light of all this evidence, you’d think John would’ve never doubted that Jesus was who he claimed to be.
But John had his doubts.
Even John Wasn’t Sure
Near the end of his life, John was in prison facing imminent death. He called two of his disciples and requested that they go to Jesus and ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Luke 7:19). John was essentially saying, “I think I believe you’re the Messiah, but in this moment, I’m not 100 percent sure.”
Really? After all John had seen and testified about? After calling Jesus the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world? After hearing the Father’s audible voice identifying Jesus as his Son? After all that, the precursor to the Savior himself doubts that Jesus is the actual Savior?
Now, such facts about John the Baptist might make someone scoff at his lack of faith. If I’m honest, though, I’m comforted by his doubt. Why? Because if he could doubt and admit it plainly—to the point that it’s recorded in Holy Scripture—surely I have liberty to doubt and be candid about it, too.
John’s doubt means I’m free from the shame of admitting my own. I’m free to honestly stumble along in faith, knowing God is big enough to handle it when I quake.
John’s doubt means I’m free from the shame of admitting my own.
And let’s not forget how Jesus responded to John’s questions: he was patient and gracious. He wasn’t turned off by John’s sudden doubt. He calmly answered the question and gave assurance that he was the Messiah (Luke 7:21–23).
Normal as a Houseguest
Doubt can be a normal part of the Christian experience, but not in the way you might think. “Normal” in the sense of, say, having someone stay over at your place.
Here’s what I mean. We can view doubt like a sporadic visitor in the home of our heart. Guests can come in and shake things up a bit in your place as they sleep on your couch, use your bathroom, and leave dishes in the sink. Before long, though, they’re meant to pack up and leave.
It should be the same with doubt. Your doubts should never take up permanent residence in your heart. If a houseguest pitched a tent in your living room, declaring no expiration date to his exit, that would be odd. Why, then, are we often content to allow doubts to overstay their welcome?
Let’s not celebrate doubts and allow them to loiter in our hearts—but let’s not be afraid of them either. John the Baptist was bold enough to dispatch his disciples to pose a pointed, doubt-filled question to the second person of the Trinity. His question is an example of someone who took the fight to his doubt instead of allowing it to quietly linger and consume him.
God’s Word helps us see that doubt is common in God’s people, and it also grants us the grace to walk consistently with him through the ups and downs of our faith.