Have you ever harbored doubts about your faith? At some point in their life, almost everyone has asked nagging questions about their faith—doubts about the God, the Bible, or key elements of the Christianity. While it isn’t necessarily a thing to be celebrated, doubt is part of the human condition. So much so, in fact, that the Bible contains many portraits of people who doubted—some of them great heroes of the faith!
Below are three prominent Bible heroes who experienced doubt. As you read each account, take note of God’s response to doubt.
1. Thomas Doubts the Resurrection
One of Jesus’ own disciples—someone who had perhaps spent years witnessing miracles, traveling with Christ, and learning at Jesus’ feet—famously doubted that his master had been raised from the dead. Note that an entire week went by before he saw Jesus—plenty of time for questions and doubt to gnaw at his mind. But when Thomas finally saw the risen Christ, his doubt fled:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” — John 20:24-29 (NIV)
2. Gideon Shies Away From God’s Call
Could God use one man to turn the tide against Israel’s oppressors? Perhaps, but Gideon doubted that God could use him to do it. He tested God twice (challenging God to provide proof of his reliability through a series of miracles) before he would believe. God humored him—and through Gideon, God lead the Israelites to victory.
Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.
Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. — Judges 6:36ff (NIV)
3. Sarah and Abraham Laugh at God’s Promise
Abraham and his wife Sarah are two of the most important figures in the Old Testament. Both followed God faithfully through a lifetime of challenges and trials. But they couldn’t quite bring themselves to believe one promise God made to them: that they would give birth to a son in their old age. In fact, they both laughed at the prospect. Once their son Isaac was born, however, Abraham’s trust in God had grown so great that he was willing even to sacrifice that promised son if God asked.
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him. […]
Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.” — Genesis 17:17-22, 18:10-15
Far from bringing about apostasy and despair, those experiences of doubt usually lead to a deeper faith. And in each case, God’s response is not wrath but patience; far from punishing His doubting followers, God honors those who seek after Him with earnest questions and doubt. Let us proclaim along with Mark 9:15: “I believe; help my unbelief!”
Editors’ note: On Sunday, June 14, 1981, John Piper preached on 1 Corinthians 7:17–24, which begins, “Only let each person lead the life that the Lord has assigned to him, and to which God has called him” (1 Cor. 7:17). The point of Piper’s message, he said, could be stated as a declaration and as a prayer:
As a declaration it would be: How you fulfill the demands of your vocation is an essential part of Christian discipleship. Or to put it another way: How you do your job is a big part of your obedience to Jesus. Stated as a prayer, the main point today is: Father, grant to us all the grace to be conscious of your presence at our work and to obey your commands in all our vocational relationships.
He then explained how that declaration and prayer related to Paul’s letter to the churches in Corinth. He concluded his sermon by offering four helpful and practical implications for our work. [To read and/or listen to the sermon in its entirety, click here.]
First, God is much more concerned with the way you do the job you now have than he is with whether you get a new job. We have in this congregation nurses, teachers, carpenters, artists, secretaries, bookkeepers, lawyers, receptionists, accountants, social workers, repairmen of various sorts, engineers, office managers, waitresses, plumbers, salesmen, security guards, doctors, military personnel, counselors, bankers, police officers, decorators, musicians, architects, painters, house cleaners, school administrators, housewives, missionaries, pastors, cabinet makers, and many more. And we all need to hear that what lies most on the heart of God is not whether we move from one to the other, but whether in our present work we are enjoying God's promised presence and obeying his commands in the way we do our work.
Second, as we have seen, the command to stay in the calling in which you were when converted is not absolute. It does not condemn all job changes. We know this not only because of the exceptions Paul allowed to his principle here in 1 Corinthians 7 (cf. verse 15), but also because Scripture depicts and approves such changes. There is provision for freeing slaves in the Old Testament, and we are familiar with a tax collector who became a preacher and fishermen who became missionaries. Besides this, we know that there are some jobs in which you could not stay and obey God's commands: for example, prostitution, numerous forms of indecent and corrupting entertainment, and others in which you may be forced to exploit people.
Paul is not saying that professional thieves or Corinthian cult prostitutes should stay in the calling in which they were called. The question at Corinth was: When we come to Christ, what should we abandon? And Paul's answer is: You don't need to abandon your vocation if you can stay in it with God. His concern is not to condemn job changes, but to teach that you can have fulfillment in Christ whatever your job is. This is unfashionable teaching in contemporary Western society, because it cuts the nerve of worldly ambition. We need to think long and hard about whether what we communicate to our children about success is biblical or just American. The word of God for all us “success seekers” is this: Take all that ambition and drive that you are pouring into your upward mobility and pour it instead into a spiritual zeal to cultivate an enjoyment of God's presence and obedience to his revealed will in Scripture.
Third, for you younger people who have not yet entered a profession, the implication of our text is this: When you ask yourself the question, What is God's will for my life? you should give the resounding answer: His will is that I maintain close fellowship with him and devote myself to obeying his commandments. God's revealed will for you (the only will you are responsible to obey) is your sanctification (1 Thessalonians 4:3), not your vocation. Devote yourself to that with all your heart, and take whatever job you want. I have no doubt that, if all our young people are bending every effort to stay close to God and to obey the commands of Scripture, God will distribute them in the world exactly where he wants their influence for him.
Fourth, and finally, this text implies that the job you now have, as long as you are there, is God's assignment to you. Verse 17 says, “Let everyone lead the life which the Lord has assigned to him.” God is sovereign. It is no accident that you are where you are. “A man's mind plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps” (Proverbs 16:9). “Many are the plans in the mind of a man, but it is the purpose of the Lord that will be established” (Proverbs 19:21). “The lot is cast in the lap, but the decision is wholly from the Lord” (Proverbs 16:33).
You are where you are by divine assignment, even if you got there by fraud. Your job is your ministerial assignment, just as much as mine is. How you fulfill the demands of that job is just as essential in life as what you do here on Sunday. For many of us that may mean turning over a new leaf tomorrow morning. Let's all pray before we set out to work: “God, go with me today and keep me conscious of your presence. Encourage my heart when I tend to despair, and humble me when I tend to boast. O God, give me the grace to obey your commandments, which I know are all summed up in this, to love my neighbor as myself. Amen.”
This excerpt is adapted from “Your Job as Ministry” by John Piper. Copyright © 1981. Used by permission of Desiring God, www.desiringgod.org.
Editors' note: TBT (Throwback Thursday) with Every Square Inch: Reading the Classics is a weekly column that publishes some of the best writings on vocation from the past. Our hope is to introduce you to thoughtful literature that you may not have yet discovered and, as always, to encourage you to know and love Christ more in all spheres of your life.