When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, “Are you the one who was to come or should we expect someone else?” (Matt. 11:2-3).
Perhaps he had been wrong. In his solitude he was starting to wonder.
Things had seemed so much clearer on the banks of the Jordan River. John had drawn large crowds with his fiery talk about repentance. Standing waist deep in the water he would alternate between prophetic talk and priestly baptism, warning of judgment and washing away sins. He had said all along that someone greater was yet to come. When Jesus quietly showed up at the river one day, John recognized that this ‘greater one’ had arrived. “Behold, the Lamb of God.” John said this without the slightest hesitation.
Knowing who Jesus was, John resisted when Jesus waded into the river to be baptized. It didn’t seem right. Any misgivings John might have had about that act were forgotten the moment Jesus came out of the water. The presence of the Spirit of God in that moment was so real – like a dove descending and a voice confirming. This indeed was the beloved son of God. No doubt about it.
But now, sitting in Herod’s prison, John was beginning to wonder. In his isolation he was feeling less certain. There were some things that the long-awaited Messiah would surely do. Jesus wasn’t doing them. The questions wormed their way into John’s thinking until finally he sent some of his own followers to ask Jesus, “Are you really the one? Should we expect someone else?” What had seemed so clear by the river was far less so in the prison cell. He was beginning to have his doubts.
Doubts cast shadows. They are the realm of the murky where things are harder to see. The shadow of doubt makes us tentative. We second-guess. Very often, doubts cast their shadow when trouble is close at hand – or when it surrounds us on every side.
For a few weeks we’re going to think about our doubts. Our interest is not in disproving or dismissing whatever contradicts faith. Rather, we’re trying to embrace doubt as a means of building and deepening faith.
Doubts may cast shadows, but this is the good news: Shadows are only possible where there is light. Maybe that’s why Jesus answered John’s question the way he did. “Tell John what you see: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and good news is preached to the poor.” The light of God’s presence is bright in the world.
A shadow is not utter darkness. Doubts are neither the loss nor the abandonment of faith. To ask a question is not to renounce. The shadow of a doubt means light is close at hand, and as light grows the shadows shrink. It is good to know something ‘beyond the shadow of a doubt.’ But there is also something to be learned in the shadow itself. That’s what we’ll be trying to do in the days ahead.
Merciful God, it is not an easy thing to honestly face our doubts. Rarely do we work through them as a way to find you. In these days guide us as we examine our doubts, knowing that your light is close at hand. Grant the courage we need to be both honest and faithful, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.