Have you ever harbored doubts about your faith? At some point in their life, almost everyone has asked nagging questions about their faith—doubts about the God, the Bible, or key elements of the Christianity. While it isn’t necessarily a thing to be celebrated, doubt is part of the human condition. So much so, in fact, that the Bible contains many portraits of people who doubted—some of them great heroes of the faith!
Below are three prominent Bible heroes who experienced doubt. As you read each account, take note of God’s response to doubt.
1. Thomas Doubts the Resurrection
One of Jesus’ own disciples—someone who had perhaps spent years witnessing miracles, traveling with Christ, and learning at Jesus’ feet—famously doubted that his master had been raised from the dead. Note that an entire week went by before he saw Jesus—plenty of time for questions and doubt to gnaw at his mind. But when Thomas finally saw the risen Christ, his doubt fled:
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” — John 20:24-29 (NIV)
2. Gideon Shies Away From God’s Call
Could God use one man to turn the tide against Israel’s oppressors? Perhaps, but Gideon doubted that God could use him to do it. He tested God twice (challenging God to provide proof of his reliability through a series of miracles) before he would believe. God humored him—and through Gideon, God lead the Israelites to victory.
Gideon said to God, “If you will save Israel by my hand as you have promised—look, I will place a wool fleece on the threshing floor. If there is dew only on the fleece and all the ground is dry, then I will know that you will save Israel by my hand, as you said.” And that is what happened. Gideon rose early the next day; he squeezed the fleece and wrung out the dew—a bowlful of water.
Then Gideon said to God, “Do not be angry with me. Let me make just one more request. Allow me one more test with the fleece, but this time make the fleece dry and let the ground be covered with dew.” That night God did so. Only the fleece was dry; all the ground was covered with dew. — Judges 6:36ff (NIV)
3. Sarah and Abraham Laugh at God’s Promise
Abraham and his wife Sarah are two of the most important figures in the Old Testament. Both followed God faithfully through a lifetime of challenges and trials. But they couldn’t quite bring themselves to believe one promise God made to them: that they would give birth to a son in their old age. In fact, they both laughed at the prospect. Once their son Isaac was born, however, Abraham’s trust in God had grown so great that he was willing even to sacrifice that promised son if God asked.
Abraham fell facedown; he laughed and said to himself, “Will a son be born to a man a hundred years old? Will Sarah bear a child at the age of ninety?” And Abraham said to God, “If only Ishmael might live under your blessing!”
Then God said, “Yes, but your wife Sarah will bear you a son, and you will call him Isaac. I will establish my covenant with him as an everlasting covenant for his descendants after him. And as for Ishmael, I have heard you: I will surely bless him; I will make him fruitful and will greatly increase his numbers. He will be the father of twelve rulers, and I will make him into a great nation. But my covenant I will establish with Isaac, whom Sarah will bear to you by this time next year.” When he had finished speaking with Abraham, God went up from him. […]
Then one of them said, “I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son.”
Now Sarah was listening at the entrance to the tent, which was behind him. Abraham and Sarah were already very old, and Sarah was past the age of childbearing. So Sarah laughed to herself as she thought, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?”
Then the Lord said to Abraham, “Why did Sarah laugh and say, ‘Will I really have a child, now that I am old?’ Is anything too hard for the Lord? I will return to you at the appointed time next year, and Sarah will have a son.”
Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh.”
But he said, “Yes, you did laugh.” — Genesis 17:17-22, 18:10-15
Far from bringing about apostasy and despair, those experiences of doubt usually lead to a deeper faith. And in each case, God’s response is not wrath but patience; far from punishing His doubting followers, God honors those who seek after Him with earnest questions and doubt. Let us proclaim along with Mark 9:15: “I believe; help my unbelief!”