Wilderness Time: “A Time of Doubt”
Rev. Sandy Johnson
March 6, 2016
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We are journeying through a time in the wilderness together as we approach resurrection Sunday. In the wilderness we have found ourselves challenged and forced to learn through or in spite of the challenges that we face. We’ve come to discover that being pushed beyond our limits is when we likely learn the most. Today we will consider an emotion that is likely to creep up when we are alone in the wilderness. That emotion is doubt.
There are all kinds of doubt aren’t there? Anytime we consider something new or put ourselves out there, doubt is likely to step in, as we weight our options and consider what the best path is. Take for example our search for the perfect mate. I know that when I first began dating JJ he was the one for me. Not one day did I ever think, “Gee, I’m not sure if this one is a keeper?” I knew. I can’t tell you how I knew, but I did. In fact I was at peace with the timing of it all, because I knew I had found my man! It didn’t matter to me if we married in 6 months or 6 years. I had no doubt that one day we would be married. Of course I didn’t know we would be married twice, but that’s another story and we don’t have time for that today. They say that if you have any doubts about the one you are going to marry, if you have any question whether the person is “the one,” if you can’t wholeheartedly say “I do”, then they aren’t the one.
We may also doubt decisions that we have made. Think of a time when you made a decision and you have second guessed whether it was the right one. You may be thinking, “Gee I shouldn’t have moved to Boulder City, or I shouldn’t have left that job or I should have! Maybe you doubt your hair cut or color?! Some of us may doubt business decisions we have made or relationships we have had. Some of us today doubt our faith, we doubt whether God really exists or if the Bible is really the Word of God.
Doubt is a healthy part of our lives and without doubt we are likely not living. Doubt is a tool through which we will learn and grow and sharpen, not only our intellect, but also our belief system. “Doubt characterizes a status in which the mind remains suspended between two contradictory positions and is unable to accept either of them. Doubt on an emotional level is indecision between belief and disbelief. Doubt involves uncertainty, distrust or lack of sureness of an alleged fact, an action, a motive, or a decision.” Doubting something may cause us to delay making a decision or reject relevant actions out of a fear of failure. “Doubt sometimes tends to call on reason. Doubt may encourage people to hesitate before acting, or to apply more rigorous investigative methods.”
Time in the wilderness may fill us with doubt. When we are feeling lost we may question our path, question the decisions we have made, question our very existence. These questions, these doubts will propel us forward out of the wilderness and into, as Moses says, “The Promised Land.”
In our scripture this morning, Jesus has harsh words for the disciples who seem to doubt their ability to affect a healing miracle. He also pushes the boy’s father to exhibit faith, and he does so when he states that he believes and then begs Jesus to help his unbelief. It is a fine line between belief and unbelief, between conviction and doubt.
Today’s story begins as Jesus with Peter, James, John, return from their time on the mountain where they had been in the company of Elijah and Moses. There was a crowd surrounding the other disciples and there seemed to be something going on, there was a lot of talking and arguing taking place. Not knowing what was going on, Jesus questioned the crowd, “What are you arguing about?” One of the men who was in the crowd told Jesus that he had brought his son for healing. This man’s son was thought to be possessed by a spirit that makes him mute and it throws his body around in a seizure. The father was afraid for his son’s life because often the spirit would dash him into the fire, or throw him into the water. The father was sure the spirit meant to kill the boy.
The man came to the disciples because he had heard about the healings they were performing. Jesus had sent them out to do just that, but this boy, this poor child was not able to receive a healing, the spirit was not listening to the disciple’s commands. Had Jesus not shown up when he did, they would have gone away, disappointed and rejected.
Jesus can’t believe what he is hearing. He had sent his disciples out with full authority to cast out demons, to heal the sick and to preach the Good News. But they had failed. They had doubted themselves in their inability and Jesus says, “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.”
Is anyone besides me squirming in their seat? “You faithless generation, how much longer must I put up with you?” I think disappointing Jesus must be about the worst thing I can imagine. Don’t we all long to hear the words “well done, good and faithful servant?” But that was not the message this day.
I can just hear Jesus, “Bring him over here, let me do it!” And they did, they brought the boy over. Immediately the boy began convulsing as the spirit recognized Jesus and put up a valiant fight. The boy’s father pleaded with Jesus, “If you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.”
Jesus said to him, “If you are able!—All things can be done for the one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out, “I believe; help my unbelief!” 
Now we have to be a little careful here. I don’t want anyone thinking that if only you have a little more faith then the healing will come. That is a dangerous thought process. If I only will believe a little greater, then my loved one will be healed, the cancer will be eliminated and they will be brought back from the brink of death; all I have to do is believe a little harder. And for those who have passed on, it must be because I didn’t have enough faith. That’s not what Jesus is saying. Healing as we know it comes in many forms and not all of us are healed in the manner we think we should. Our loved ones are not at the mercy of our belief or lack thereof.
We can’t talk about doubt from a biblical perspective without talking about Thomas. You all know that story, right? After Jesus was resurrected he appeared before several of the disciples. But not Thomas. When he heard that the others had seen the Lord he doubted what they said, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in his hands, and put my finger in the mark of the nails and my hand in his side, I will not believe.”
Do you know that if you look up doubting in the dictionary there is an entry for “Doubting Thomas?” “A doubting Thomas is a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience.”
There are a few things we need to remember about doubt. First, within the walls of this church it is a safe place to have doubts, to question our faith, to question what we believe and to discuss and study until we have answers. And then, guess what? There will be more doubts and more questions as we continually seek the answers to life’s difficult questions.
Second, doubt is not a destination, just a stop along the way. Doubt should not stop us but rather propel us forward. “It is not intended to be a stopping place…There is a big difference between doubting and giving up or between moving through doubt and getting stuck there and becoming a cynic. The healthy way of understanding doubt is to understand it is simply a part of our faith journey. The good news is that the doubt we experience in the wilderness can actually be beneficial to us because doubt stimulates us and spurs us on to faith. Frederick Buechner wrote, “If you don’t have any doubts you are either kidding yourself or asleep. Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving.”
The third thing we must remember about doubt is that we are in good company when we doubt. “God’s most faithful servants have usually been among the most doubtful. We tend to think of doubt as the opposite of faith, but in reality apathy or staunch disbelief is the opposite of faith…Doubt is not the opposite of faith, but a part of it.” It is only in the face of strong doubt that strong faith will develop.
“So, if doubt is part of the wilderness experience, what do we do with our doubts? First of all, we should not suppress them. Authentic faith begins with intellectual honesty, and doubt is the foundation of honesty. Ask questions and continue to search. Don’t let your doubts stop up the channels to God. Let doubts open the channels in new ways, with new insights and understandings. Pray to God, “Lord, I believe, help my unbelief.”
“Second, we should stay involved with other Christians. We could learn a lesson here from the disciple Thomas, who voiced his serious doubts and yet continued to remain in the company of the other disciples, as he worked through those doubts. Group support and sharing is a powerful way we can share our burdens and find support for moving through the periods of doubt. Third, we should continue to seek Christ and faith in Christ. The issue for us is never, therefore, one of avoiding our doubts as if that will cure us of them. Rather, it is continuing in honest relationship to God.
“The prophet Jeremiah, speaking for God, when he says, “When you search for me, you will find me” (Jeremiah 29:13). Jesus said, “Ask, and it will be given to you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matthew 7:7). When we do these things, our periods of doubts and questions will lead us to faith. In the early days of John Wesley’s ministry, when he was experiencing a particularly difficult time of doubts and uncertainties, he went to his Moravian friend Peter Boehler and laid his soul bare. Boehler told Wesley: “Preach faith until you have it, and then because you have it you will preach faith.” In other words, act as though you have already moved past doubt to faith; then, as you act in faith, faith will come.”
Let us pray: God of the Universe, thank you for giving us doubt. Let us use our own doubts to spur us forward in our faith. Amen.
 Matthew 10:1
 Mark 9:19
 Matthew 25:23
 Mark 9:22-24
 John 20:24
 Worship in a Flash for Lent & Easter. Abingdon Press. Nashville, TN