Jesus and doubt


I was brought up in a Christian spirituality that had little room for doubt. Faith was black and white. Salvation a matter of 4 spiritual laws and so simple that a child could understand it. Doctrine was equally clear and only had to memorised, believed and proclaimed.

Any souls who struggled to believe, who had doubts about aspects of their faith, were looked at askance and kept at the edges of the faith community.

It is interesting to see the very different way that Jesus reacted to doubt.

When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted.[1]

Now bear in mind that this is after Jesus’ death and resurrection. Jesus has risen from the dead, made several miraculous appearances, often to hundreds of people at a time, He has explained the reality of His identity, and shown how His life, death and resurrection fulfil all of the Old testament messianic prophecies.

Yet, some of those who have known Him and followed Him for the past three years are still riddled with doubt.

In many ways it is no surprise. Jesus had a special nickname for His disciples, possibly a word He made up Himself, ‘littlefaiths[2]’. This was a chiding term, something of a gentle ‘leg-pull’ reminding them of their need to go deeper in faith.

But NOW, after the resurrection, after the miracles, after the appearances and disappearances in locked rooms, after the explanation of how Jesus fulfils the Jewish peoples’ most cherished prophecies about the coming Messiah. Will Jesus still bear with their doubt NOW?

Will He not just separate the believing from the unbelieving, the sheep from the goats?

Will He not just draw a line in the sand and say, “Look if you haven’t got it by now, you never will, so I’m sorry but it’s over for you, please just walk away?”

Let’s read what Jesus did next;

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”[3]

Jesus commissions them and sends them out into mission as a community. There is no division, no separation, no condemnation. The community is accepted together as a group, those with strong faith and those who still have doubts, all together.

It reminded me of something Father Vincent Donovan wrote. He was a missionary who took the gospel to the Masai tribes in Africa. After having spent a year making regular visits to several villages and explaining the Christian faith to them, he then gave each village a week to consider what their response to the message of Christ would be.

On his return to one particular village, the community had decided to follow Christ, so Father Donovan began to start to make preparations for baptisms. As he did so he began to indicate those in the village who he felt had not attended enough of the teaching sessions, or who had not sufficiently understood the Christian message, or who had not shown enough seriousness about faith.

The old man, Ndangoya, stopped me politely but firmly, ‘Padri, why are you trying to break us up and separate us? During the whole year that you have been teaching us, we have talked about these things when you were not here, at night around the fire. Yes, there have been lazy ones in this community. But they have been helped by those with much energy. There are stupid ones in the community, but they have been helped by those who are intelligent. Yes, there are ones with little faith in this village, but they have been helped by those with much faith. Would you turn out and drive off the ones with little faith and the stupid ones? From the first day I have spoken for these people. And I speak for them now. Now, on this day one year later, I can declare for them and for all this community, that we have reached the step in our lives where we can say, ‘We believe’”[4]

We believe.

Communal faith.

In those moments when our own individual faith stumbles, it is good and important, that we can still draw together with our brothers and sisters in Christian community and say, ‘we believe’.

We believe as a community. Those with a weak faith will be helped by those with a strong faith. Those who have a weak grasp of the faith will be supported by those who have a strong grasp of the faith. Together, we believe.

Jesus affirms this communal approach to faith. Together, as a community, the disciples are strong enough to carry the weight of the doubt of some of their group.

We believe.

Anointed One,

It’s as if I can hear You,

Standing before Your disciples,

Calling them “Little-Faiths.”

There is no condemnation,

No judgment,

No reprimand in your tone…

Merely the calm assurance

Of One who sees All,

And knows better,

And unfailingly trusts the Father.

Speak thus to me.

Fill me with Your Faith

So that I may look,

Unflinchingly, ahead…[5]

[1] Matthew 28:17 NIV

[2] ὀλιγόπιστος (oligopistos) little-faith Matthew 6:40, 8:26, 14:31, 16:8

[3] Matthew 28:17-20 NIV

[4] Vincent J. Donovan, Christianity Rediscovered, London: SCM Press, 1982 (1978), p92

[5] from Blanca Velez, ‘Oligopistoi’, accessed online at on 14/08/15