Christianity,  News

Did Jesus experience “doubt” and “fear”?

In his remarks this morning at the White House Easter Prayer Breakfast, President Obama reflected on Jesus’ suffering and said that Jesus experienced “doubt” and “fear” in the same way that we do. Of course the Bible does teach that Jesus was tempted in every way that we are and that He is therefore able to sympathize with us (Heb. 4:15). But does that mean that He himself doubted God and feared death? Here is the relevant excerpt from the transcript of the President’s remarks:

Like us, Jesus knew doubt.  Like us, Jesus knew fear.  In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.”  He fell to his knees, pleading with His Father, saying, “If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.”  And yet, in the end, He confronted His fear with words of humble surrender, saying, “If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done.” So it is only because Jesus conquered His own anguish, conquered His fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection [underlines mine]

I appreciate that the President wants to highlight the courage of Jesus. But does it not diminish Jesus’ achievement to say that He experienced “doubt” and “fear” as He approached His crucifixion? Does the Bible really teach that Christ had doubts and fears on the same order as our own? The Bible in fact never teaches such a thing, and it diminishes Christ’s achievement to suggest otherwise. Here’s why.

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). In very explicit terms, Jesus himself commands his disciples not to “fear” those who persecute them (Matt. 10:26, 28, 31). No less than seven times, Jesus himself commands his disciples not to be “anxious” about their lives (Matt. 6:25, 31, 34; Mark 10:19; 13:11; Luke 12:11, 22). And then of course, Jesus’ half brother James had this to say about doubt:

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 and fears 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)

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.

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 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 that he had doubts and fears like we do. The model that He gives us is perfection. We don’t ever have to give in to doubt and to fear. Doubt and fear have no place in those who are trusting in the promises of the God who resurrects from the dead, and they certainly never had any place in Jesus.

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! (John 16:33)


  • Don Johnson

    While I do not agree with Obama, I think your explanation as to why he is wrong is too simplistic.

    For example, we SHOULD doubt the lies of satan, so doubt is not always a sin.

    Pro_14:5 A faithful witness does not lie, but a false witness breathes out lies.

    We should be discerning and doubt someone who is a false witness. In other words, it is a credibility issue.

    Furthermore, we SHOULD fear God, but not humans, so again, fear is not always a sin.

    Luk 12:4 “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do.
    Luk 12:5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

    • Denny Burk

      Read carefully my remarks. I specified throughout that the issue is not generic “doubt” and generic “fear.” The sinful behavior that Jesus never experienced was “doubting God” and “fearing man.”

      • Don Johnson

        You wrote: “In the Bible, doubt and fear are sins.” This is what I claim is simplistic.

        Doubting a promise of God I can see as a sin, as missing the mark, because God always keeps his promises. Doubt as a general thing is not a sin. Doubt is a part of my faith, but that would not be true if doubt is always sinful.

        If someone tries to scare me and it works, again I do not see my response as a sin, as it was a startle reaction and not really a choice and for something to be a sin, there needs to be a choice involved. We are encouraged to fear only God, but I would hesitate to say that all fear besides that is a sin. Fear might be a warning reaction that allows one to escape harm, for example.

        From what I have read, for a human to sweat blood as Jesus did means he was under extreme stress, whatever one might call it. He accepted the Father’s will regardless of this extreme stress. Jesus did not want to die but accepted it for the joy set before him. In Matt 26 Jesus asks to avoid death 3 times, he did not just accept the first no or the second no from God. In other words, he did not want it so bad that he was willing to ask a second and a third time. In Hebrew thought, one does or says something 3 times to show it is a deliberate act.

        • Daryl Little

          Context Don, context.

          I trust that when, in the middle of the night, you child awakes from the sound of thunder, that you don’t tell him not to be afraid “unless of course, the house were to catch fire from the lightning, then it would be OK to be afraid.”

          Did God lie when He said (in numerous locations) “Don’t be afraid”?

  • Jerry Corbaley

    There is a difference between being ‘tempted’ to doubt God and fear man and actually surrendering to the temptation.

    God knows the difference, though we may quibble. Jesus certainly knew the difference.

  • Daryl Little

    I wonder if we use the word fear to mean way too many things other than simply fear.

    Perhaps we tend to use fear when we really mean “really really not looking forward to”. In the way we might “fear” surgery and the recovery process because it will hurt a lot.

    That’s not really fear, I don’t think.

    I think fear is more of a “what will become of me” kind of a thing. Will I die in surgery? What then? Now that’s fear.

    This will really hurt and I don’t like that idea…is that fear per se?

  • Gene Scarborough

    I think you are diminishing Jesus to posit he could not fear or doubt when that is a part of being “fully human and fully divine.” It would be like saying Jesus was pretending to cry over his friend Lazrus because he was going to raise him from the dead.

    What has happened at Southern with its new conservative outlook is pure fear over being out of the loop with the force of Conservative Resurgence which cast out many from the SBC and destroyed our abilitiy to “agree to disagree” and, yet, get along over missions cooperation.

    Fear is a powerful tool of Satan to destroy us and make us forsake personal integrity for capitulation to powerful forces of the Pharisees bent on destroying Jesus. Until you have looked evil in the eye, yet proclaimed the truths of biblical integrity, you don’t know what you are talking about. Sitting in a nice air-conditioned office pontificating is far different from a church where business people who are crooked want to be stroked and patted so they keep on giving and you keep on enjoying your “success.”

  • Jeff Newton

    My problem with what the president said is his attempt to bring Jesus down to our level. While He was human, He is not like us; He is God and man. Fear and doubt become sin when it replaces faith. To be full of fear is to be absent of faith; this is why Jesus chastised the disciples in Mark 4. So to say Jesus feared and doubted like us is to say He lost faith, which is impossible. But, can a person experience fear or doubt without jeopardizing their faith? I believe so. The psalmist said, “In times I am afraid, I will trust in thee.” There is fear, but also faith.

    • Michael Henderson

      I agree with you Jeff. Christ always dealt with our faith; whether he was praising or rebuking us for our lack there of. I think that often times we find ourselves attempting to be deep in certain areas that don’t require it. Everything that I feel he has felt the only difference is he was mesmerized or stymied by it. Doubt is only a sin when we no longer believe, which is why we call it unbelief. Doubt means that we’re hesitant to believe. Well I can doubt and still believe. Remember he has given to every man a MEASURE of faith and with that measure we move from doubt to believing or disbelieving.

  • Dr. Jeff Scott

    For me, by far the more interesting thing you gloss over was the President’s phrase “as a son of God.” I am a lot more comfortable with the idea of Jesus having human emotions than I am with the gloss over the uniqueness of Christ. For me, that is by far the bigger issue here.

  • Lindsay Hirsch

    Am I incorrect in remembering that at one point, while on the cross, Jesus cried out, “My God! Whay hast thou forsaken Me?!”

    That is CLEARLY an expression of doubt in both God’s power and support…

    • Daryl Little

      Or it’s an acknowledgement of what actually happened. That Jesus really did take all our punishment, every bit. Even abandonment by the Father.

      Or an intro to Psalm 22.

      Could’ve been a lot of things, but doubting God is sin. Always.

      And Jesus never sinned. Ever.

  • Jack Wolford

    From the Seven Cries from the Cross – Try Matt . 27:46. That “possibly” expresses doubt and I don’t plan to let any person , church , country or potentate run down our President who takes a shot at understanding the Bible . Merle Haggard in Okie From Muskogee said, ” You’re Walking On The Fightin Side of Me “. SBC is driving people to President Obama’s table – and I’m glad.

  • Gene Scarborough

    Question: If this had been George Bush having his prayer time at the end of his Cabinet meetings—-would there be an issue with the same statement from him????

  • Jerry Corbaley

    As people who have sinned, we experience temptations toward doubt and fear in sinful ways. And we give in to doubting and fearing sinfully.

    Jesus would have faced the same temptations toward doubt and fear in sinful ways. He did not give in to doubting and fearing sinfully.

    Perhaps our President was referring to the holy and reverent way that American citizens experience doubt and fear. If that is the case, then perhaps Denny has erred.

    I tend to agree with Denny’s interpretation. I will be glad to apologize and change my opinion as the case for American holiness and reverence is presented.

  • Jason Hughes

    I agree with your critics here. Jesus did doubt God’s role in His crucifixion (“Why hast thou forsaken me?), and He did fear the pain of drinking the cup of wrath. Doubt, fear, and anxiety are part of the human experience Jesus shared. The verses you cite to define these human experiences as sin are each from different biblical writers speaking in different contexts and should not operate as a black/white blanket. Yes, doubt, fear, and anxiety could lead to sin, but they each have their place in the human drama. It’s why Paul can discourage the Philippians from embracing anxiety and fear in the absence of leadership but in the same epistle express his own anxiety in regard to their well-being. I commend Obama for his comments; let’s grind this axe elsewhere.

  • Jason Hughes

    “…but doubting God is sin. Always.”
    Os Guinness claims that the Bible distinguishes between 1) doubt and 2) unbelief. The person with genuine doubt, says Guinness, should not feel guilty as if sin has been committed but should take caution that this doubt does not become willful rejection, i.e., unbelief.

    God did not forsake Jesus. Jesus knew God’s plan for Him. Jesus talks about the plan. But on the cross, Jesus asks God a question, a question loaded with agonizing doubt. Had Jesus not spent so many words revealing God’s purpose for Him, we could easily plead ignorance on Jesus’ behalf.

    Yes, Jesus was not a sinner in that He, unlike Israel (God’s Disobedient Son), flawlessly obeyed the Law of Moses, and thus, as representative of Israel, served in their place, fulfilling their obligation to keep God’s covenant, an obligation they neglected. Jesus lived blamelessly according to God’s moral standard but not the Jewish hierarchy’s moral standard, for they had lost sight of their hearts, heats veiled by the letter of the Law and the legalistic hedges they’d built. These same hedges were rebuilt as Christianity spread, and I’m afraid the hedges have entrapped much of the evangelical church today. The Pharisees insidiously construed (and misconstrued) Jesus’ words and actions to make Him look guilty of violating God’s Law. Today’s evangelicals (more specifically, those in agreement with Mr. Burk’s claim in the post above) are similar, except they seem to be construing and misconstruing Jesus’ words and actions to make Him look INNOCENT of violating “God’s Law.”

    Jesus is innocent. He never violated the heart of God (the most organic, uncorrupted form of God’s moral code) as expressed in God’s Law and in
    the New Testament. But when the Pharisees add to God’s Law and the systematic theologians reestablish “God’s Law,” Jesus IS guilty.

    And if this is the case, woe to all of us journeying down this broad, postmodern, human, Christian road. But take heart, my weary companions! The road we travel is not as broad as we once feared–back in the days when our feet strayed from the chalked boundaries of the narrow road. Another has gone before us! Forced to carry His burden to the very end of a dreaded narrow path where the skull devoured Him.

    But, swathed by sword and engulfed in flames, the broader path was blazed as the King, vomited from the belly of the beast, ascended to His reign forevermore.

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