Can a believer be inoculated against doubt? If so, what would it take for someone to become immune from doubt? An angelic visit? A vivid vision of your immediate future? Hearing the audible voice of God?
Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen Me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
John the Baptist was a miracle baby. He was born to aged parents who were past the age of child-hearing. His father had an encounter with an angel who announced to him the birth of his special son. John was born and raised with a deep awareness of God and His presence. The next time we meet him is when he is around 30 years of age, has never had a haircut, and his breath smells like locusts.
¶ In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, “The voice of one crying in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord; make His paths straight.’” ¶ Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Matthew 3:1-4
It’s difficult to imagine that the John the Baptist wasn’t aware of the ancient prophecies which referred to him. His father, a priest, would have certainly told him of the prophecies which foretold of his arrival (Isaiah 40:1-11). All of this – the circumstances of his birth, his own encounters with God, the prophecies from the ancient prophets about him (Malachi 4:5), and his fruitful ministry resulting in all of Judea coming to him to be baptised – would have given him great faith in God.
Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. ¶ But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. Matthew 3:5-8
John the Baptist was faithful, courageous, and extremely godly. But, as if this was not enough, the day came when God-in-the-flesh came to him to be baptised as an example to all His future followers. John saw the Holy Spirit coming down from heaven as a dove and alighting upon Jesus, and then, he and everyone there heard the voice of God!
¶ Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to John, to be baptized by him. John would have prevented him, saying, “I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?” But Jesus answered him, “Let it be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness.” Then he consented. And when Jesus was baptized, immediately He went up from the water, and behold, 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 3:13-17
So all of the things that we may think might inoculate a person from doubting God, John the Baptist experienced in spades. But then two things happened that even someone whom Jesus described as ‘there is none greater than John’ (Matt. 11:11) had a crippling moment of doubt.
WHEN JOHN’S MISSION WAS COMPLETE
And they came to John and said to him, “Rabbi, He who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness—look, He is baptizing, and all are going to Him.” John answered, “A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before Him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:26-30
Purpose is a powerful thing. When you’ve got it there’s a point to getting up each morning. Having and knowing your purpose enables you to bounce back from setbacks. But, when a person lacks purpose, even the greatest person, life can become difficult and that person’s soul can become vulnerable to depression—especially if they encounter a King Herod.
2. ABANDONMENT AND ISOLATION
For it was Herod who had sent and seized John and bound him in prison for the sake of Herodias, his brother Philip’s wife, because he had married her. For John had been saying to Herod, “It is not lawful for you to have your brother’s wife.” And Herodias had a grudge against him and wanted to put him to death. But she could not, for Herod feared John, knowing that he was a righteous and holy man, and he kept him safe. When he heard him, he was greatly perplexed, and yet he heard him gladly. Mark 6:17-20
A feeling of abandonment is one of the cruelest emotions any person can experience. Abandonment makes a person feel like no-one cares. It leads to the unnatural state of loneliness and being deprived of the company of others. This can spiral down to negative self-pity. Loneliness has now reached epidemic proportions in our society. When we take a few moments each Sunday to greet each other with ‘handshake or a hug’ we are offering someone a temporary physical connection with another person that they may not have experienced in a week, or a month, or even longer. When I say, “There is someone here today who needs a hug”, I am not being trite.
¶ 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?” And Jesus answered them, “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.” ¶ As they went away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds concerning John: “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? What then did you go out to see? A man dressed in soft clothing? Behold, those who wear soft clothing are in kings’ houses. What then did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet. This is he of whom it is written, “‘Behold, I send my messenger before your face, who will prepare your way before you.’ ¶ Truly, I say to you, among those born of women there has arisen no one greater than John the Baptist. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he. Matthew 11:2-11
“Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?” It’s a remarkable question from someone who had so many convincing proofs from God already. But it highlights that even the greatest believers need assurance. It highlights that even the greatest human beings become susceptible to depression when they are cut-off from the community of faith. It highlights what happens when our expectations of others do not correspond to reality—after all, if Jesus was the all-powerful—all-conquering messiah to come—why hadn’t He come to rescue John out of his deep dark dungeon? Christ’s answer for John is extremely telling. Jesus doesn’t condemn John for doubting. Jesus doesn’t give John some fluffy pastorism about hanging in the there or keep the faith. Instead, Jesus validates John’s question with the kind of answer that addressed his question. Our questions of God in our moments of doubt are not moments of shame. They are moments of honesty.
John’s question may have been a heart-cry to the Christ for rescue. That rescue never came the way John may have wanted. But I do wonder if there was some mystical grace infused in the answer and report that he received from Jesus that somehow gave him the comfort and strength to endure for a little longer in the confidence that God had not abandoned him despite his dire circumstances.
¶ But an opportunity came when Herod on his birthday gave a banquet for his nobles and military commanders and the leading men of Galilee. For when Herodias’s daughter came in and danced, she pleased Herod and his guests. And the king said to the girl, “Ask me for whatever you wish, and I will give it to you.” And he vowed to her, “Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.” And she went out and said to her mother, “For what should I ask?” And she said, “The head of John the Baptist.” And she came in immediately with haste to the king and asked, saying, “I want you to give me at once the head of John the Baptist on a platter.” And the king was exceedingly sorry, but because of his oaths and his guests he did not want to break his word to her. And immediately the king sent an executioner with orders to bring John’s head. He went and beheaded him in the prison and brought his head on a platter and gave it to the girl, and the girl gave it to her mother. When his disciples heard of it, they came and took his body and laid it in a tomb. Mark 6:21-29
Christ’s response to the news of John’s death, which came at a time when His disciples excitedly reported all that had been able to do, is very touching.
¶ The apostles returned to Jesus and told Him all that they had done and taught. And He said to them, “Come away by yourselves to a desolate place and rest a while.” For many were coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat. Mark 6:30-31
Following the way of Christ does not inoculate you from doubt or the circumstances which seem to foster doubts. Questions that are spawned from moments of doubt are not signs of weakness or even lack of faith. The One who does not break bruised reeds is the One who still answers our questions and then makes the most remarkable declaration, which is worth pondering today –
¶ I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.” Luke 7:28
Earlier this year I enrolled in an Ancient Civilisations Historycourse with Global University. The textbook is a 1kg, 1200+ page tome. Each chapter takes me about 5 hours to read. As I have grumbled my way through this course, Kim has continually interjected, “But you’re enjoying it, aren’t you!” And, as usual, she’s right. I am fascinated by history and particularly the history of past empires and the lessons to be learned from why an empire arose; and, why an empire collapsed. (I sit the final exam for this course next week.) This leads me to reflect on the most common I answer I get from people when I ask them, “What was/is your least favourite subject at school?” So far, my polling sample is unanimous with their reply: History! Some schools incorporate their history subjects into Social Studies (“Sose”) which sounds to me like they are possibly trying to hide the foul-tasting medicine capsules inside a chocolate cake! Another associated question I often ask adults is in two parts: (i) Can you remember anything you learnt in school? (ii) Have you learnt more when you were at school, or since you left school? The answers I get to the first part of this two-part question are mixed, but the answer I get to the second part of the question is always the same: “I have learned way more things since I left school” This raises another question I then sometimes ask – How do you learn things? And that’s the question I’m going to ask you now.
¶ Make me to know Your ways, O LORD; teach me Your paths. Psalm 25:4
THE FRAGILE CONNECTION BETWEEN TEACHING AND LEARNING
Andrew Corbett teaching at Launceston College
Ask any teacher and they’ll tell you this frustrating truth: Just because they’ve taught something, doesn’t necessarily mean their students have learned it! Experienced and gifted teachers come to realise that learninginvolves far more than the mere broadcasting of information (“chalk and talk”). It requires creativity, retelling, demonstrating, enquiring, piquing curiosity, energy, passion, and enthusiasm. It requires persistence!
It’s not just school teachers who experience the frustration of the disconnect between teaching and learning. The apostle Paul expressed the frustration that many pastors sometimes feel when it comes to teaching the way of Christ and some people never quite grasping it. Even spiritual truths have to be learned as well as taught.
For among them are those who creep into households and capture weak women, burdened with sins and led astray by various passions, always learning and never able to arrive at a knowledge of the truth. Second Timothy 3:6-7
THE CRY OF THE LEARNER
Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God! Let Your good Spirit lead me on level ground! Psalm 143:10
In 1999 “Mr. Guitar”, the aged Chet Atkins presented the young Tommy Emmanuel the highest award in guitar playing, The ‘C.G.P.’ (Certified Guitar Player) Award. Only four guitarists have ever received this honour.
The cry of the learner is – “Teach me!” We hear this cry throughout the pages of Scripture. Sometimes a really talented person describes themself as “a self-taught” person. But this is rarely entirely accurate. What they mean is that they have not had formal lessons. Tommy Emmanuel, widely considered the world’s greatest acoustic guitarist, describes himself as a ‘self-taught guitarist’. But listen closer to his story and you soon discover that he actually had several guitar teachers along the way, including “Mr. Guitar” Chet Atkins. It’s not that Chet Atkins gave Tommy formal guitar lessons, it’s that when the very young Tommy first heard Chet play on the radio, he began to “learn from the best” [Watch]. The point to sharing this little story about Tommy Emmanuel is that a lot of the best learning does not happen in a class-room—it happens in a heart and mind hungry to learn. There is an old Oriental proverb that says, When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.
Sometimes it is a crisis that prepares a student to be ready to learn. When Augusto Odone’s son, Lorenzo, was diagnosed with the wasting and incurable disease adrenoleukodystrophy (A.L.D.) at the age of 4, Mr and Mrs Odone were told to go home and watch their son slowly die. But Augusto Odone, an economist with the World Bank, refused to accept the doctors’ verdict for his son. Despite having no medical training, he undertook to learn everything that a doctor was required to learn. Then he went beyond this and studied pharmacy. But he couldn’t wait to do all this over the usual 10 years ordinarily required for medical/pharmacy degree/s, because his 4-year-old boy did not have 10 years! The result was that he developed an oil which he called Lorenzo’s Oil, which when applied to his son added another 26 years to the life of Lorenzo. It was this crisis which gave Augusto the desire to learn as much as he could about medicine and it was his son’s prognosis of imminent death that gave him the motivation to do it quickly. It’s amazing what you can learn when you have the right motivation. (In 1992 their story was turned into a movie, Lorenzo’s Oil, starring Nick Nolte and Susan Sarandon).
And many peoples shall come, and say:“Come, let us go up to the mountain of the LORD, to the house of the God of Jacob, that He may teach us His ways and that we may walk in His paths.”For out of Zion shall go forth the law, and the word of the LORD from Jerusalem. Isaiah 2:3
WHEN WE LEARN BEST
If you’ve seen the Tom Hanks’ movie, Apollo 13, you might remember that this doomed space-craft had a problem (“Houston, we have a problem”). In order to solve the problem the astronauts have to do advanced calculus with a pencil and note-pad so that they could get the correct orbit trajectory for re-entry into earth’s atmosphere. If you did calculus back in your school days, and excluding any astronauts or engineers, how many of us could recall today how to do calculus? For the Apollo 13 astronauts, their motivation for learning and performing calculus was a matter of life and death. This was a powerful motivator for learning this otherwise irrelevant mathematics. This perhaps illustrates that we learn best at the time when we already see the need to know it.
¶ Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of His disciples said to Him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” Luke 11:1
The crises and struggles we inevitably face throughout life can become great seasons of learning. This is why, for many of us, our greatest periods of learning do not happen during our school years, but after we leave school and enter the-school-of-life.
A DISCIPLE IS A LEARNER
But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you. John 14:26
A disciple is a follower and learner. While Jesus healed many people, and performed many miracles, His main activity was teaching. When He taught, people commented that it was completely unlike anything they were used to. Jesus spoke about God as if He really knew what He was talking about. But He did more than that. He lived as if He knew God. This also clearly stunned His closest disciples. They saw an authenticity in Christ that they had never seen before. They wanted to learn from Christ. This was, and still is, the heart of a disciple—not just to learn from Christ, but to become like Christ.
¶ And when Jesus finished these sayings, the crowds were astonished at His teaching, for He was teaching them as one who had authority, and not as their scribes. Matthew 7:28-29
To grow as a disciple of Christ involves continual learning which sometimes comes from unexpected and even surprising sources and circumstances.
HOW DO YOU LEARN?
I’ve often heard people say that you can’t learn anything from a book. Whenever I hear this I think to myself, “They’re not reading the right books!” God’s Word is a book. He has ordained for us to learn an unfathomable amount from it. It would, though, be more accurate to say that books are not the only way we can learn. We also learn by watching and observing others. Some people excuse themselves from learning anything new by repeating the mythological statement, “I’m too old to anything new!” The truth often is that an older, experienced, person often makes the beststudent! We might think of the apostle Paul as a great example of this. He came to Christ later in life. So much of what he had been taught and came to believe about God, the Scriptures, and salvation was shown to be overshadowed by the full revelation of the New Covenant. He was humble enough, and hungry enough, to learn from anyone, even those younger than him. As he grew in Christ, he probably discovered what every experienced teacher comes to know: teaching is one of the best ways to learn something!
Do you want to learn more about God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit? Do you want to learn more about the Bible, the written revelation of God to the world? I do. It is one of my most oft repeated prayers – Oh God, teach me. Perhaps you could make it yours? In the meantime, let’s teach what we know to someone else—because it’s one of the best ways for us to learn something.
Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. Colossians 3:16
If it’s possible to have a favourite chapter of the Bible then Romans chapter 8 is mine. I often think of it as the ‘Treasure Chest’ of Scripture because it is almost of the culmination of God’s revelation of redemption. But it is also confronts the believer with the reality of living in a world where God at times seems distant and life seems unfair. While Romans 8:28, which is perhaps (if I’m allowed to have one) my favourite Bible verse, sounds inspirational, in the context of Romans 8 it is meant as a consolation (or comfort) for the suffering and confused believer who is dealing with disappointment, pain, hurt, mistreatment, and loneliness. If we learn anything at all from Romans 8:20, it is that we live in a world where people hurt, and long for healing. And if we look a little closer at Romans 8 we can see that there is a type of healing that requires learning.
For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of Him who subjected it, in hope Romans 8:20
All creation is subject to futility. ‘Futility’ is anything which seems “useless or pointless”. This would include: pain, disease, breakage, loss, decay, injury, malpractice, and the effects of failure (of either procedures or equipment). Futility can result from inclement weather, natural disasters, or inherited genetics. But the worst kind of futility is the kind that is completely avoidable and utterly unnecessary and which is caused by a person needlessly hurting or harming another person. While this kind of hurt may result in physical pain, it nearly always results in an invisible pain called trauma. Trauma causes someone to continually live in the moment of their emotional/soul pain. Pastor Andrew Brunson knows what trauma feels like. He was a missionary in Turkey, one of the world’s least evangelised countries, and had been serving there for over 20 years. Then the Turkish government arrested him on charges of espionage and imprisoned for two years but not before the threat of being imprisoned for life. He suffered greatly during his time in a crowded prison cell which he shared with over 20 ISIS members being held on terrorism charges. One year after his release, he still has trouble eating and sleeping. He was tested for Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder after struggling for months after his release, but was eventually diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress instead.
Even in laughter the heart may ache, and the end of joy may be grief. Proverbs 14:13
Pastor Andrew Brunson (centre of the picture), missionary to Turkey, was imprisoned by the Turkish government for 2 years and released October 2018
This invisible pain impacts how a person thinks and ends up distorting their soul – which cripples them emotionally. Someone with a distorted soul can look ‘happy’ on the outside but be aching on the inside. Because of the trauma they are suffering, their soul may have become distorted with misplaced guilt — where, despite being the victim, they are made to guilty for the abuse they have suffered by their abuser(!); or, unreasonable regret cripples them psychologically (“If only I’d…”) – which causes them to live disconnected from others and often leads them to always be disappointed in people generally. Such hurting people often become depressed and bitter and engage in unreasonable blame-shifting. These unchecked symptoms of trauma then become a downward spiral.
Pastor Rick and Kay Warren
A glad heart makes a cheerful face, but by sorrow of heart the spirit is crushed. Proverbs 15:13
The good news for anyone suffering from the pain of trauma is that there is a road to recovery and that many of the road markers toward their healing are to be found in Romans 8. Just ask Kay Warren, the wife of mega-church pastor, Rick Warren. Thirty-four years after her sexual abuse as a 6-year old girl, the effects of the trauma she had suffered for so long could no longer be denied or ignored. It crippled her and nearly ruined her marriage to Rick. She, and Rick, underwent three double therapist sessions per week for a number of years before her healing began. It was then that the statement, “It’s not your fault!” finally sunk in. It was then that the Scriptures in Romans 8 describing Christ bearing our guilt and shame finally sunk in.
He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the One who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Romans 8:32, 34
HOW JESUS HEALED
It seems that most of the people Jesus healed were miraculously healed (that is, it could not have happened naturally) and that their healing was also instantaneous.
how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power. He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him. Acts 10:38
Sometimes Jesus would heal people by touching them.
Then Jesus laid his hands on His eyes again; and He opened his eyes, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. Mark 8:25
Sometimes Jesus would heal people by speaking to them.
Then He said to the man, “Stretch out your hand.” And the man stretched it out, and it was restored, healthy like the other. Matthew 12:13
Jesus said to him, “Get up, take up your bed, and walk.” And at once the man was healed, and he took up his bed and walked. ¶ Now that day was the Sabbath. John 5:8-9
Sometimes Jesus would heal people by looking at them as they looked at Him.
When Jesus saw her, He called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” Luke 13:12
But not all of Christ’s miracles of healing were instantaneous. In the odd account of one blind man, Jesus progressively healed this man from his blindness (Mark 8:22-25). There are several possible things we learn from this account which at least includes the possibility that God sometimes deems it necessary not to heal instantaneously, but to outwork His healing grace over time.
HEALING OF A WOUNDED SOUL SOMETIMES TAKES TIME
Kay Warren describes the wound she experienced as a 6-year old being sexually molested as always being there. This is one of the traits of trauma. Unlike breaking an arm or leg, she said, where the cast comes off and the bone has been reset and healed, the wounds that inflict a person’s soul, such as the abuse she suffered, do not have a ‘cast’ that can come off to mark the time of its healing. This is a common and frustrating experience for those whose souls have been wounded. Just when they think they have “moved on”, something triggers the trauma and they spiral down again. For Kay Warren, this was very confusing and after Christian counselling and therapy she now describes her ‘healing’ as incomplete until the Resurrection. Some wounds leave painful scars.
An understanding of the insights gained from Romans 8 about the kind of pain people suffer over a lifetime reveals several important truths that can help anyone who would welcome even the kind of ‘partial’ healing that Kay Warren has now experienced.
HEALING FROM LEARNING
Misplaced and unrealistic expectations about healing can actually add to a sufferer’s pain. But from Romans 8 we can see that by learning its truths we can learn to be ‘healed’:
This world itself is wounded by sin and those afflicted by the hurt of sin will perpetuate this hurt in others (Rom. 8:20).
Christ by the Holy Spirit empathises and intercedes for those who hurt (Rom. 8:26-27).
God is able to redeem pain, hurt, and injury (Rom. 8:28).
In this life we can only ever experience partial and temporal healing—or ultimate healing will come in the Resurrection (Rom. 8:23).
We worship, serve, follow and emulate a Saviour who suffered (Rom. 8:29).
God’s love is outpoured on us even when we don’t receive the healing we long for in this life (Rom. 8:35-39).
As we continue to reach out to those in our world, we will increasingly be ministering to hurting, lost, lonely, wounded people. May God grant us the grace to minister His healing love to them.