Although there are other reasons, the major reason Christians doubt God’s love or even the truth of Christianity is that they expect God to act in ways other than He promised to act. I write this now because recently I have conversed with Christians who are struggling with this. Obviously, if a Christian thinks the Lord should do this or that, but then the Lord doesn’t do this or that, then that Christian is going to lack confidence in God’s love or existence.
In my younger Christian life, I certainly struggled when God’s actions in my life, and in the lives of others, didn’t meet my expectations of how He should act. But, I’m thankful to say, this hasn’t happened to me for a long time (I’ve been a Christian now for almost fifty years).
Doubting John the Baptist
In Matthew 11:2-3, we find a clear example of a godly man who had this kind of doubt. “Now when John heard in prison about the deeds of the Christ, he sent word by his disciples and said to him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’”
Shocking! Consider the significance of John’s question! Remember that John had previously pronounced about Jesus, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Remember when Jesus approached John to be baptized, John tried to prevent Jesus saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” Then when John did baptize Jesus “the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased” (Matthew 3:14, 16-17).
But now John is sending his disciples to ask Jesus, Was I wrong about you?
Simple, John the Baptist was now in prison and he didn’t see that coming! He didn’t see prison in his future! Surely John was intimately familiar the proclamation in Isaiah 9:6-7 about the Messiah that:
the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the increase of his government and of peace there will be no end, on the throne of David and over his kingdom, to establish it and to uphold it with justice and with righteousness from this time forth and forevermore. The zeal of the Lord of hosts will do this.
The Baptist surely remembered that when David was king that he won all his battles! Thus, John the Baptist must have thought that Messiah Jesus, the “Mighty God,” who would sit “on the throne of David” and of whose “government… there will be no end,” wouldn’t allow the Baptist to be sitting in a dark, stifling dungeon! Also, as D. A. Carson is right to point out, “the Baptist had preached in terms of imminent blessing and judgment. By contrast Jesus was preaching in veiled fulfillment terms and bringing much blessing but no real judgment… and as a result the Baptist was having second thoughts.”1 Indeed, the Holy Spirit speaking through Isaiah wasn’t promising that Jesus, at His first coming, would establish an earthly kingdom, but John probably didn’t know that, and John was in prison! In fact, he was soon beheaded.
Jesus’ Answer to John the Baptist
This is one of the things I love about Christian apologetics. Listen to Jesus answer Matthew 11:4-6, “Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them. And blessed is the one who is not offended by me.” Notice that Jesus doesn’t just say, “tell John to stop doubting!” Rather Jesus says, you go and tell John what you yourselves have seen: the lame walk, the deaf hear, the blind see, the dead are raised!
Go tell John what you have personally witnessed—amazing miracles! Jesus provided evidence for who He claimed to be—the Messiah!
But that’s not all Jesus said. Jesus said something significant that we must observe: “blessed is the one who is not offended by me” (v. 6). Carson explains that blessed is the one “who does not find in him and his ministry an obstacle to belief and therefore reject him.”2 In other words, there will be some people who reject the evidence about Jesus because they don’t like things about Jesus. I’m sure John the Baptist was more than satisfied with Jesus’ answer, but many people, even many Christians, don’t like what Jesus does. They think a loving God should act differently.
This dislike of who Jesus is and what He does is the number one reason non-Christians reject the evidence about Jesus—they don’t like Him or what He stands for (what most non-Christians like least about Him is that they have to obey Him). But I’m not focusing on non-Christians here.
The Lord not acting as Christians think the Lord should act cripples their confidence in Christianity. This happens all the time and, as I said, as a younger Christian this happened to me. What offends a lot of younger or less diligent studiers of God’s word is that they think the Lord shouldn’t let them suffer in this way or that. They think if God loved them then their spouse would be nicer, or their kids wouldn’t suffer, or their health would be better. When Christians go through, or maybe see others go through, extreme hardship, they ask, Where is God?
That many Christians expect God to not let them suffer so much is largely the Christian church’s fault. What I mean is that many pastors and many Christians teach a false gospel of “come to Jesus and Jesus will heal your marriage” or “improve your finances,” or even “heal you.” In short, many churches have taught that Jesus came to give you an improved lifestyle here!
So now, let me offend some of you. Jesus didn’t die to improve your lifestyle here. The reason I say some will be offended is that almost every time I say that, some Christians get really angry. But, because many Christians equate Christianity with an improved lifestyle here, when that doesn’t happen it causes them to doubt the truth of Christianity.
Let me be clear: often a person’s lifestyle does improve when they become Christians, but that’s not always the case. For example, if one becomes a Christian in Somalia, or Iraq, or Pakistan and your family tries to kill you or your daughter is abducted, raped, and forced to sign a confession to Islam—that’s not an improved lifestyle! In 203 AD the 22-year-old mother, Vibia Perpetua, having just finished breast feeding her child, walked naked into the arena, milk dripping from her breasts, to be killed by wild beasts. That’s not an improved lifestyle.
Sadly, that your life might actually become harder after becoming a Christian is either ignored by many pastors or is treated as gospel fine print.
So let me be clear: God doesn’t promise that you won’t die slowly of heart disease or cancer. In fact, you will probably die from heart disease or cancer (that is the way most people die). Further, God doesn’t promise that you won’t be stripped naked, raped, and murdered. That has happened to many male and female Christians precisely because they were Christians. In fact, it happens almost every day! Now, in Romans 8:35-37 God does promise to be with you through those things.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.
Notice “famine,” “nakedness,” “sword.” Paul says we are conquerors in all these things, not by going around them. This lack of concern for how others might mistreat our bodies is also seen in Matthew 10:28: “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” In other words, your physical death isn’t that important. Now some of you are probably thinking, “well, my physical death is important to me!” Yeah, I get it, but, again, frankly, your physical death isn’t important compared to the death of your soul!
Now, back to why Christians doubt. Christians doubt when they are confused about what the Lord has actually promised and then they lose their confidence in Christianity. Obviously, if you think Christianity is about your physical wellbeing here. If you think Christianity is about your living the American Dream. If you think Christianity is about your having an improved lifestyle here, then you are going to question the truth of Christianity when hardship comes because the Lord doesn’t promise you those things.
Therefore, it is paramount that we have a correct understanding of what Jesus promised and didn’t promise if we are to have confidence in what Jesus is doing to and through us on planet Earth. Jesus promised to be with you through suffering; He didn’t promise that you would avoid it. I tell my classes, “God’s Plan A for your life is to take you through regular periods of suffering and there is no Plan B.” Suffering purifies us and, if we bear it while continuing to honor God, it proves to humans and angels that we really are His disciples.
Because I had already decided that this was true, when I got bone cancer, I didn’t doubt God’s love or the truth of Christianity for a moment because I had already decided that these things happen to Christians. Think about it, baring the Lord’s return, the only thing that is going to prevent you from watching every person you know die from murder, accident, or disease, will be your own death from murder, accident, or disease. It’s true the Lord sometimes miraculously heals, but He doesn’t promise it. Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, but sometime after that Lazarus died from murder, accident, or disease. But, thankfully, in Christ we have eternal life and “He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Revelation 21:4).
There is so much more to say about this and, frankly, it will probably be in my next book. Of course, my recent book also explain much of what God is doing in the universe about evil and here’s a link.
Here’s a link to Perpetua’s diary.