By Benjie Shaw
Doubt gets a bit of a bad wrap in the church today. Doubt may as well be a four-letter word in the minds of many churches, groups, and individuals. For some reason we have allowed the creation of a culture in which having a moment when we wonder what God is truly up to, how we fit in, and when He will come through for us is taboo.
Over the last few years I’ve begun to wonder how the disciples felt as the events of the week of Jesus’ Passion unfolded. This year I’ve been drawn to what they may have experienced on Saturday. After the events of Maundy Thursday in which Jesus’ washed their feet, instituted the Lord’s Supper, and then led them to Gethsemane where He was arrested to the horror of Friday as they watched His trial before the Council, His appearance before Pilate, the crowd clamor for a known insurrectionist and murderer over Him, His crucifixion, and His death, I can’t imagine that it was a great day.
Saturday was the Sabbath. But this Sabbath was unlike others. It was the Sabbath before the Passover, the commemoration of God’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt. Passover was a commemoration of national salvation and the Sabbath before the Passover was typically spent reflecting on God’s great act of deliverance. I can’t help but think that the disciples spent much of their time thinking through the events they had just witnessed and attempting to make heads and tails of their situation.
As they thought about Thursday they probably felt disorientation. They probably rehashed and questioned everything they had experienced. Is this what Jesus meant when He said He was going away? What exactly did Jesus mean when He said the bread and the wine He passed around commemorated a new covenant? Didn’t we simply observe the Passover? How did Jesus know someone would betray Him? Should we have had an idea of what Judas was up to? Could we have stopped Him? Why wouldn’t Jesus let us fight for Him when the mob came? Didn’t He just tell us that now we needed to have swords? Wouldn’t that have been the perfect time to use them? After all, what good is a Messiah if He’s arrested? How is God’s kingdom supposed to come if the king is dead? What if we had been able to stay awake and pray? Would that have prevented this?
Things probably didn’t get better as they worked through the events of Friday. Why didn’t Jesus defend Himself to Pilate? Wouldn’t it have been obvious that there was nothing to the charges against Him if He would have just said something? How could the crowd demand Barabbas, an insurrectionist and murderer, over Jesus? Wasn’t this the same crowd that just a few days ago laid down palm branches and shouted, “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!” How could Jesus take the insults and the beating that the soldiers doled out? He had the power to stop it. Why didn’t He? How could Jesus really be hanging on a cross? Was He really about to die? Why wouldn’t God save Him? Didn’t He call for Elijah? Surely, Elijah should have come to save Him. Did Jesus just die? Wasn’t He the Messiah? From all we know, Messiahs don’t die. It’s hard to be a conquering king or a reforming spiritual leader when you’re dead.
When Saturday came around I imagine that above all else the disciples wondered if it had all been a lie. Have we been deceived? Did we leave our lives behind to follow someone who led us astray? It wouldn’t have been the first time that a group had fallen for the lie that the Messiah had come only for that supposed Messiah to meet an untimely end. Seeing Jesus tried, beaten, and executed probably crushed the disciples. It just didn’t meet their expectation of how God was going to work through Jesus.
Doubt happens when our expectation of God’s activity clashes with what He is actually up to in our lives. The disciples’ understanding of what a Messiah was and what a Messiah did prevented them from hearing Jesus telling them what would happen. Since this is the only time in history that someone came back to life after dying, I’m going to give them a pass if they didn’t quite understand. Their case and our own experience shows us that sometimes we can be so close to what God is doing that we develop a case of spiritual myopia; we can’t see the forest for the tree that stands right in front of us.
At times it can feel like God is silent, distant, or that He has abandoned us. The disciples probably felt it all in the silence of that Saturday. But what if God’s silence is His preparing us to break through in a completely new, unimaginable way? Saturday wasn’t the end of the story. Sunday was coming. And because Sunday came followers of Christ have hope in this life.
Doubt isn’t a four-letter word. Doubt means that we’re willing to walk with God into the unknown and trust that He will do something that exceeds our expectations or hopes. Though it’s difficult to experience, enduring periods of silence is an opportunity to encounter God in a way we cannot fathom.
Sunday is coming, so don’t waste your doubt.
Benjie is the Interim Associate Campus Minister with Baptist Collegiate Ministries at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN. He is Jenna’s husband and Ava’s dad. He is a graduate of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary where he received his M.Div in Christian Thought (or, as he calls it, “Christian Nerdery”) and Georgia Southern University with a B.S. in Exercise Science (Hail Southern!). He loves superhero movies, good coffee, college students, catching up with friends, and the Atlanta Braves. Connect with Benjie on Twitter: @benjie_shaw.