Did Jesus ever experience doubt?

Pete Wehner wrote a moving meditation on suffering and the Christian life for The New York Times on Saturday titled “After Great Pain, Where Is God?” After sharing some gut-wrenching stories of suffering in the lives of his friends and loved ones, he asks the question: “So what, then, does Christianity have to offer in the midst of hardships and heartache?”

Wehner says that while Christianity doesn’t offer answers in the moment of suffering, it does offer consolation. Wehner points to C. S. Lewis and to Jesus himself as examples of sufferers who wrestled with doubt and uncertainty. Their examples offer consolation to all sufferers who find themselves plagued with doubt and uncertainty about God and his goodness. Wehner writes:

Perhaps because my own faith journey has at times been characterized by questions and uncertainty, I found the fact that the 20th-century’s greatest Christian apologist would give voice to his doubts reassuring. And Lewis was hardly alone in expressing doubts. Jesus himself, crucified and near death, gave voice to the question many people overwhelmed by pain ask: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

Jesus’ question, like ours, was not answered in the moment. Even he was forced to confront doubt. But his agonized uncertainty was not evidence of faithlessness; it was a sign of his humanity.

There is much good in what Wehner writes, and I appreciate his call for compassion and consolation for those who suffer. Certainly, the Christian faith offers comfort to those who despair and grieve. Nevertheless, offering Jesus as an example of “doubt” and “uncertainty” actually distorts the biblical depiction of Christ’s suffering. It also diminishes the consolation that Christ offers to sufferers. Christ’s suffering is a consolation to us not because he partakes of our same sinful humanity but because he remained steadfast so that he could redeem our sinful humanity. His faithfulness is our hope, not his faltering (which he never in fact did).

In the Bible, doubt and fear are sins. In fact, Jesus Himself describes doubt as the opposite of faith (Matt. 14:31; 21:21; Mark 11:23). Jesus’ half brother James agrees:

James 1:6-8 The one who doubts is like the surf of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. 7 For let not that man expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, 8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.

To say that Jesus had doubts is to make him into a transgressor. But that is not at all the biblical depiction of Jesus. Yes, Jesus can sympathize with all of our weaknesses and, yes, he was tempted in all things as we are. But He did it without sin! (Heb. 4:15)

The human condition is weak and faltering. Sometimes even the best of us experience doubt and waver in our faith. And the Bible tells us to have mercy on brothers and sisters who experience such doubt: “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22). But this does not mean that doubt is a virtue. It means that doubt is an evidence of our sinful brokenness from which we need redemption.

What was amazing and spectacular about Jesus’ suffering is that he never doubted His Father, and he never feared man. “When he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly” (1 Pet. 2:23). Not only that, the Bible says that Jesus was motivated by joy to endure the cross:

Hebrews 12:2 Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

Jesus knew how awful the crucifixion would be before it happened (Matt. 16:21). There’s a reason that He prayed, “If it is possible, let this cup pass from Me” (Matt. 26:39). The anguish of the cross was real, and He knew it. Nevertheless, the Bible teaches that Jesus’ vision never stalled-out on death. Jesus saw right through the cross to the resurrection on the other side. You and I may fear death, but Jesus never did. You and I may doubt God’s purposes in suffering, but Jesus never did. Ever! What was definitive for Jesus was the joy set before Him, not death. Not doubt.

Imagine that. Jesus knew that they would tear His skin from His body, that they would nail Him to a post, and that He would asphyxiate while enduring cruel pain. He knew that He would be betrayed and forsaken by His best friends. He even knew that the cup of God’s wrath would be poured out on Him in full (Isaiah 53:10; Matt. 27:46). Yet “for the joy set before him, he endured the cross.” He never feared man or doubted God. He was all courage and all love all the time. If you worship the Jesus of the Bible, that is the Savior that you worship.

The model that Jesus gives us is not one of doubts and fears like our own. The model that He gives us is perfection. For that reason, we should give no quarter to the doubts and fears that we experience. We should in no way valorize them. Rather, we should pray for mercy and trust in the God who raises the dead. That is what Jesus modelled for us. And that is what Jesus died to enable us to do (Titus 2:14).

So let’s be jealous for what Jesus accomplished for us. He was tempted in every way as we are, yet He was without sin! He was obedient to His Father, even to the point of death on a bloody cross (Phil. 2:8). He never gave up, never lost heart, never flagged in zeal. And neither must we. We can take heart. Where you and I have failed, Jesus has overcome. Indeed Jesus has overcome the world—even our doubts (John 16:33).



POSTSCRIPT: The main Greek verb translated as “doubt” in the New Testament is diakrino. According to the standard lexicon of New Testament Greek, the word means “to be uncertain, be at odds w. oneself, doubt, waver” (BDAG). The term has this meaning in a number of different texts including Matthew 21:21; Mark 11:23; Luke 11:38; Acts 10:20; Romans 4:20; 14:23; James 1:6; 2:4; Jude 22. It is often rendered in English translation as “doubt.”

The American Heritage Dictionary defines the verb “doubt” as follows:

v.
doubt·ed, doubt·ing, doubtsv.tr.
    1. To be undecided or skeptical about: began to doubt some accepted doctrines.
    2. To tend to disbelieve; distrust: doubts politicians when they make sweeping statements.
    3. To regard as unlikely: I doubt that we’ll arrive on time.
    4. Archaic To suspect; fear.

v.intr.
To be undecided or skeptical.

Was Jesus ever “undecided” or “skeptical” about his Father? Did Jesus ever “disbelieve” or “distrust” his Father? Did Jesus ever regard his Father’s promises as “unlikely”? To answer any one of these questions with a “yes” is to make Jesus out to be a transgressor. That is why it is very important to get this terminology correct.

When it comes to the morality of doubt, the key issue is doubt’s object. It is one thing to doubt oneself or to doubt another human being. It is quite another thing to doubt God. And it is the latter that the New Testament treats as sinful and that Jesus never experienced.

Is the religious left really a “political force”?

Reuters has a report out today about how President Trump has activated the religious left. Here’s the gist of it:

“The election of Trump has been a clarion call to progressives in the Protestant and Catholic churches in America to move out of a place of primarily professing progressive policies to really taking action,” [Reverend Serene Jones] said.

Although not as powerful as the religious right, which has been credited with helping elect Republican presidents and boasts well-known leaders such as Christian Broadcasting Network founder Pat Robertson, the “religious left” is now slowly coming together as a force in U.S. politics.

This disparate group, traditionally seen as lacking clout, has been propelled into political activism by Trump’s policies on immigration, healthcare and social welfare, according to clergy members, activists and academics. A key test will be how well it will be able to translate its mobilization into votes in the 2018 midterm congressional elections.

“It’s one of the dirty little secrets of American politics that there has been a religious left all along and it just hasn’t done a good job of organizing,” said J. Patrick Hornbeck II, chairman of the theology department at Fordham University, a Jesuit school in New York.

“It has taken a crisis, or perceived crisis, like Trump’s election to cause folks on the religious left to really own their religion in the public square,” Hornbeck said.

A couple comments here:

1. Reverend Jones says that the religious left needs to move from merely “professing” progressivism to “really taking action.” But nowhere does she or any other person in the article talk about a need for the religious left to “profess” the faith once for all given to the saints nor to act on the dictates of that faith. Nowhere in this article is Jesus, the cross, the gospel, or God even mentioned. If all I knew about the religious left were this article I’d have to ask in what sense it is “religious” at all. This article describes a very secular movement, if it even is that. And that brings me to my next point.

2. The article contends that the religious left—although not as influential as the religious right—really is beginning to gain some steam. It has been catalyzed, the article claims, by the presidency of Donald Trump. The religious left has been here all along, it just needed better organization. It is this latter point that is highly disputable. The mainline denominations are the cradle of the religious left, and the mainlines have been in a membership freefall for decades. They are declining in influence because they are declining in members. Theological liberalism eviscerates biblical Christianity. It is a form of godliness without its power (1 Timothy 3:5). Of course they are declining. Baptized secularism offers nothing more than unbaptized secularism. It is no surprise that secular people have decided that they don’t need to give up their Sunday mornings in order to have the baptized version. More “organization” is not going to fix the problem at the heart of the religious left—the fact that it is no longer Christian in any meaningful sense.

Princeton Seminary rescinds award to Tim Keller: What does it mean?

Princeton Theological Seminary was recently embroiled in controversy over its decision to give the Kuyper Award to Pastor Tim Keller. The award is supposed to go to a “scholar or community leader whose outstanding contribution to their chosen sphere reflects the ideas and values characteristic of the Neo-Calvinist vision of religious engagement in matters of social, political and cultural significance” (source).

As an accomplished pastor and missiologist, Keller certainly meets that description. So why the controversy? Members of the Princeton Seminary community and constituency believe that Keller has disqualified himself from receiving this award. So earlier today under pressure from these groups, the President of Princeton Seminary rescinded the award. Here’s how the president explained his decision: Continue Reading →

Top Ten Memories of OneDay 2000

Sarah Zylstra has a really fun piece over at The Gospel Coalition about John Piper’s famous “seashell” sermon from the 2000 Passion Conference called “OneDay.” I was at OneDay, and I had a great time recounting my memories of that event in a brief interview with Sarah several weeks ago. Of course there was a lot that we talked about that did not make it into the article. For that reason, I thought would briefly jot down some of those thoughts here. So here are my top ten memorable memories of the memorable occasion known as OneDay 2000. Continue Reading →

Are You a Scoffer?

Yesterday, we learned from Psalm 1:1-2 that “blessedness” is “happiness.” If you want to be a happy person, you have to avoid being like the wicked, the sinners, and the scoffers (v. 1). The root of blessedness—indeed of true happiness—is knowing God through His word (v. 2).

There is one other item that we need to look at from verse one—the word translated as “scoffers.” Perhaps it is not too difficult to comprehend what David means by “the wicked” and “the sinners,” for in both cases he is talking about law-breakers. But what is a scoffer, and how do we avoid sitting in his seat? We can answer both questions by looking at how the Bible describes the scoffer. Continue Reading →

Where does happiness come from?

Sometimes English translations of Psalm 1:1-2 conceal the real point of the text. I have in mind the words that are commonly translated as “blessed” and “delight.” Take the NASB for example:

1 How blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked,
Nor stand in the path of sinners,
Nor sit in the seat of scoffers!
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
And in His law he meditates day and night.

The NASB has not mistranslated these two terms. It in fact tracks right along with many other major English versions (e.g., ESV, NIV, RSV). The problem is not translation, but tradition. Continue Reading →

A remarkable display of self-unaware inconsistency

The video above is a remarkable display of self-unaware inconsistency.

These students are asked if a creative professional has the freedom to decline work that conflicts with his or her personal beliefs. All of the students said “yes” when the creative professional was the dress designer refusing to make a dress for Melania Trump or a Muslim singer refusing to sing in a Christian Church.

But when they are asked if a Christian photographer should be able to decline to work at a same-sex wedding, they all said “no.”

They favor limiting the freedom of conscientious Christians even though they wouldn’t limit the freedom of other conscientious citizens in analogous situations. The inconsistency seems totally lost on all of these students. And it exemplifies why religious freedom faces perilous challenges right now in our country.

(HT: Andrew Walker)

Cheap grace is no grace at all

In his book The Cost of Discipleship, Dietrich Bonhoeffer describes in vivid terms what he means by cheap grace:

Cheap grace is the deadly enemy of our Church…

Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins… In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin. Cheap grace therefore amounts to a denial of the living Word of God, in fact, a denial of the Incarnation of the Word of God.
Continue Reading →

“Beauty and the Beast” to feature an “exclusively gay moment”

If you and your children enjoyed Disney’s live-action version of Cinderella, perhaps you have been looking forward to the March 17 release of the live-action version of Beauty and the Beast. Unfortunately, news has leaked that might temper that enthusiasm.

The director of Beauty and the Beast, Bill Condon, has told a British publication that the new movie will contain an “exclusively gay moment.” According to Condon, Gaston’s sidekick LeFou will be involved in a subplot in which he is wrestling with his sexuality. In director Condon’s own words:

“LeFou is somebody who on one day wants to be Gaston and on another day wants to kiss Gaston… He’s confused about what he wants. It’s somebody who’s just realising that he has these feelings. And Josh [the actor who plays LeFou] makes something really subtle and delicious out of it. And that’s what has its payoff at the end, which I don’t want to give away. But it is a nice, exclusively gay moment in a Disney movie.”

Obviously, the precise depiction of this “exclusively gay moment” is not revealed in the interview. But the editor of the magazine publishing the interview says this:

“It may have been a long time coming but this is a watershed moment for Disney… By representing same-sex attraction in this short but explicitly gay scene, the studio is sending out a message that this is normal and natural – and this is a message that will be heard in every country of the world, even countries where it’s still socially unacceptable or even illegal to be gay… It’s only a first step towards creating a cinematic world that reflects the one in which many of us are now proud to live. But it’s a step in the right direction and I applaud Disney for being brave enough to make it – and in doing so hopefully helping to change attitudes and bring about real social progress.” [underline mine]

Some have suggested that perhaps this news is a publicity stunt and that the depiction may not be as explicit as the director suggests. We cannot be sure until the movie is released. Nevertheless, The Washington Post reports that “the live-action ‘Beauty and the Beast’ will bring an overt depiction of a gay man to the big screen.”

This news is not surprising for anyone familiar with Disney’s pro-gay stance in its corporate practices. Increasingly, these themes have been detected in the content of its films. But now, it looks like Disney is poised to do something more explicit than it has in the past—to introduce an “exclusively gay moment” in a film marketed to children.

Even though I’m not surprised by this, I am disappointed by it. My own children were delighted by the live-action Cinderella that came out in 2015. It was really well done. For that reason, we have been looking forward with great anticipation for another well-done production. But if these reports are true, we won’t be seeing this one.

The reason is very simple. I am not going to let a movie studio communicate to my children that sexual immorality is “normal and natural.” This movie will no doubt be packaged in a narrative and a production value designed to capture their imaginations, but it will do so in a way that conceals a false and destructive message. To let them see this material would go against everything that I am trying to teach them about the good, the beautiful, and the true. If these reports are accurate, this movie would powerfully subvert that effort.

We have to be constantly vigilant about what stories capture our children’s imaginations—even stories from places like Disney. In fact, I should stipulate, especially from sources like Disney. As one friend put it to me:

We don’t allow Disney into our house, except for the older stuff. They are wicked engineers of the imagination. The corruption of the best is the worst.

My friend’s point is a simple one. Our minds and our consciences are shaped more by the stories that frame our experience than by anything else. The story-tellers, therefore, are the “engineers of the imagination.” They can influence and shape us for the good or for ill. They can either reflect or deflect our moral imagination from the true story of the world—and there is but one true story. Virtue involves not only knowing that story but also living life within its frame of reference.

Beautiful productions with compelling stories and sympathetic characters are powerful devices for shaping worldview and imagination. If those devices are turned against the true story of the world—the one featuring a Creator who made us, loves us, and provides a way to redeem us—then they are subversive to what is best for us. And that is where we must be vigilant—not only for our children but for ourselves.

Disney has put me and many other parents like me in the position of having to explain to very small children why this movie is bad for them. But we will do it. And we will use it as a teachable moment about the true story of the world—a story in which we are strangers and aliens in a place that is not our home (1 Peter 2:11). Moments like this one bring that truth home in spades, and it is a lesson best learned early before there is more on the line than the screening of a Disney movie.

Gerson Gives away the Farm. Engagement is not acquiescence.

In his most recent editorial, Michael Gerson highlights a new film that celebrates shifting “evangelical” attitudes concerning LGBT issues. Gerson contends that evangelicals should not be confused with fundamentalists and that evangelicals are in fact changing their views on sexuality to fit in with late modernity in the wake of the sexual revolution. It’s a little hard to tell what Michael Gerson intends in this editorial. Is this a thought experiment—a pensive response to a thought-provoking film? Or is this a celebration of those “evangelicals” who believe homosexuality and Christianity are compatible? I’m trying to be generous here, but it really does sound like the latter. Continue Reading →

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