Finding Our Questions and Questioning Our Doubts (Refiner’s Fire Pt 3)

NOTE: “Refiner’s Fire” is a mini-series within my overall series on the gospel of Matthew. It deals with the story of John the Baptist as a vehicle for navigating our own struggles with doubt, disappointment, and crisis of faith. I’m working on it daily and will release the whole thing as a book once it’s done. What you see on the blog is a work-in-progress. It may make the most sense if you start from the beginning, so if you wish to read it that way, I’d recommend visiting the gospel of Matthew index page and looking for the Refiner’s Fire section. Please note the central passage of Scripture at issue is Matthew 11:1-19.


Few things are more terrifying than truly considering that something we have believed to be true might actually be false. Especially when it is a truth we have considered foundational — one that has directed our thoughts, words, actions, relationships, and decisions.

I’m stressing this because John’s struggle wasn’t his struggle alone. If the crisis of faith is not something every believer must undergo, it’s certainly one that many will and do. John was forerunning again.

Certainly, he was laying a path that Jesus’s disciples would soon walk. If we may jump ahead in the story a little, the Triumphal Entry was right around the corner—and immediately after that, the cleansing of the temple, Gethsemane, and Jesus’s arrest, trial, and crucifixion.

John, the Forerunner of Our Doubts

Every follower of Jesus at that point would find themselves facing the same question John asked: “Are you the One who is to come, or should we expect someone else?”

With that question come many others, some intellectual, many personal. If you are not the One—where did we go wrong? How did we misread the Scriptures? Or is it the Scriptures that have failed? And personally—if you are not the One, have I wasted my life? Have I lost my closest relationships, turned down opportunities, and failed to pursue certain goals for nothing? In thinking I was doing right, have I been making a series of terrible mistakes all along?

Our questions range from the intimate and personal — “maybe God doesn’t love me” — to the comprehensive (“maybe God doesn’t exist”).

In the gospel of Matthew, “Are you the One” was about to become the question on everyone’s minds.

For John in prison, doubt was real and pressing. He needed an answer. For the disciples only a year and a half later, it would be the same. They thought they understood their place in the storyline of history, but that storyline was about to take a massive plot twist with the potential to shatter their entire paradigm.

Jesus didn’t really give John a straight answer—he just pointed him back to the Old Testament again. And the disciples had to wait three days for the resurrection to get their assurance that they hadn’t “missed it” by following Jesus.

Our answers are, quite honestly, found in the same places: in the Scriptures and in the resurrection. And in some ways our crises of faith don’t have the same urgency.

And yet they do.

Because when we come to such a “moment of truth” in our lives, so much depends on the answers.

Finding Our Questions

A few years ago I got talking to someone at a business conference. He shared with me that he had been raised by missionary parents, but as a college student he had walked away from his childhood faith. I didn’t know all the details of his journey, but—somewhat to my surprise—I found myself encouraging him in the path he had chosen.

Sometimes, I said in that conversation, in the church I think we are guilty of handing our children (or our new converts) a basketful of answers and telling them, “These are the answers. Now your job is to hold tightly to them and never, ever let go.”

The trouble is that if these young ones have not experienced the freedom to discover their own questions and seek out the truth, the “answers” we give them will lack weight, and they will have no personal ownership of them.

Jesus, who said “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7, ESV) never betrayed a fear of questions. In fact, he invited seekers and had a way of taking them continually deeper.

In the interaction laid out in Matthew 11:1–19, it’s noteworthy that Jesus didn’t rebuke John, or his disciples, for their question. Not in the least. He gave them an answer (of sorts), encouraged them to seek further, and went on to praise John to his disciples and all of their hearers.

The implication is clear: Jesus is okay with questions. God is big enough to handle our doubts, and even our complaints. Doubts are not a problem to God, but he does prefer that we bring them to him, rather than keeping them quiet and letting them fester, or only talking about them to other people.

The best place to express doubt is prayer. The second best place to express it is in honest conversation with people of good hearts and open minds. Questions are best asked.

But if Jesus is okay with questions, we must also be okay with answers. What I mean by that is, for many of us, I believe doubt and disappointment come as a result of expecting Jesus to be someone other than who he is, and/or to be doing something other than what he’s doing.

The resolution of doubt may not be discovering that we were right all along, but rather, discovering that we were (at least in part) wrong and are now being invited into a story that is bigger, or maybe just different, than what we thought.

We then have a choice: accept the story we’re being given, or cling to the old one as a basis for either doggedly hanging onto faith or rejecting it altogether.

If we ask questions, we have to accept that we may not like the answers. They may be unfamiliar, off-putting, or personally demanding in a way our old assumptions were not.

Asking questions means we will get answers. It doesn’t guarantee anything about the nature of those answers. So going forth with our doubts, actually carrying them to Jesus in the open air, putting words to them, and requesting an answer, is an enterprise fraught with peril. We are accepting that peril by choosing to seek.

When people fall away from the faith, other people rush in with a multitude of answers for why that happens. We usually point to a lack. It was lack of apologetics. Lack of personal relationship. Lack of community. Lack of personal spirituality. Lack of roots. I don’t think any one of these issues is sufficient in itself to explain why Christians leave the faith. They may all be true.

This book/series, therefore, isn’t a book of apologetics or a book of answers at all, really. It’s a story, one in which I think most of us can find ourselves.

In the specifics of John’s journey, we might recognize the universal shape of ours.

Before we go looking for specific answers, then, I think it’s wise for us to understand John’s questions more thoroughly—where they came from, what they meant, and how Jesus’s answers changed the storyline John had thought he was living.

John’s specific questions probably won’t be the same as ours. But doubt is the same in every age and for everyone who experiences it. So my hope is that in his story, we will find companionship—and direction—for ours.

[To be continued …]


This is Part 161 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.


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ALSO: I am deeply grateful to everyone who has taken time to write to me over the past several years. Unfortunately, due to life constraints, I am no longer able to read or respond to email from readers. I thank you for your thoughts and please know that I am praying for you. Comments on the blog, however, are welcome.


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One response to “Finding Our Questions and Questioning Our Doubts (Refiner’s Fire Pt 3)”

  1. […] Part 161: Finding Our Questions and Questioning Our Doubts (Refiner’s Fire Pt 3) (Matthew 11:1-19) […]

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