How many of you have ever had doubts about this whole Christianity thing, maybe about Jesus specifically? Even you fully-committed followers of Jesus, how many of you have ever doubted him, either in word or action? Well, good news, you’re not alone.
Throughout the Bible, we see many moments of doubt. The Israelites repeatedly doubted that God would provide for them and deliver them. When Jesus rose from the grave, Thomas doubted that it was really him and asked for proof by way of touching the holes in his body from the crucifixion. And that time Jesus walked on water? Peter had some doubts in that story, too:
After Jesus fed the five thousand, he sends his disciples out ahead of him while he goes to a mountain to pray.
Shortly before dawn Jesus went out to them, walking on the lake. When the disciples saw him walking on the lake, they were terrified. “It’s a ghost,” they said, and cried out in fear.
But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”
“Come,” he said.
Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!”
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”
And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” (Matthew 14:25-32)
We kind of assume that doubt is always a terrible thing, that our lack of faith for one minute somehow means God should just give up on us altogether. Even if we know in our head that that’s not true, that God is forever full of grace and forgiveness and patience, sometimes we still feel in our hearts like He should probably stop wasting his time on our unfaithful little selves.
Lucky for us, that’s not how God works, and this story is an excellent example of how Jesus lovingly responds to our doubt. Let’s break it down:
1) He proves himself when we ask.
Peter starts out the story doubting whether or not it’s really Jesus standing before him on the water. That’s a fair doubt; it’s dark out, it’s stormy, and there’s a human being hovering over the water rather than sinking into it. That’d be a confusing moment.
Peter doesn’t just say, “Is it really you, Jesus, like are you sure?” He asks for proof. He asks Jesus to let him walk on water, too. And guess how Jesus doesn’t respond? He doesn’t scold Peter for his unbelief or for requesting proof. He gives it to him; he tells him simply, “Come.”
How cool is that? Jesus seems to be working with Peter on this one; he doesn’t require perfect faith, but gives Peter a reason to trust him. When we’re totally honest with God about our doubts, asking him to help us grow, asking him to show himself to us, he comes through. He doesn’t get angry or impatient with us, but wants to help us work through it and learn to trust him more and more.
2) He saves first…
So Peter climbs out of the boat onto the water, and all is going well until he realizes just how intensely the wind is blowing. Once fear got into him, he started to sink. Well if that isn’t the most relatable moment… How often does that happen to us? God calls us to something big. All is going well until fear comes into the picture, and suddenly we just can’t do it anymore. We start to sink.
But look at Jesus’ response. After Peter says, “Lord, save me!” Jesus immediately reaches out to catch him. There’s no hesitation on Jesus’ part, no “let’s let him suffer just a little, after all, his faith is so small” attitude, not even a word of scolding. He just rescues him, simple as that.
3) …asks questions later.
Right after Jesus picks Peter up, we might glimpse a bit of “scolding” if you want to call it that. That’s how a lot of us initially read this part. Jesus is reprimanding Peter for not having enough faith, right?
Here’s another perspective though: What if Jesus asks this question a little more gently than we first imagine? What if instead of accusing Peter of being a bad follower, the least faithful disciple or something of that nature, he’s really just genuinely asking him the question. “Peter, why did you doubt me? After all you’ve seen me do, why did you not believe I could do this, too? You were doing so well, why did you stop trusting me?”
According to Christian philosopher and theologian, Paul Tillich, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it’s an element of faith.” It’s normal; it happens to all of us believers, and it’s okay. So often, doubt leads to questions and questions lead to growth. Let God use your doubt to grow you closer to him.
So next time you’re doubting Jesus a bit, just take that to him. Ask him to walk through that with you, and remember how he responded to Peter in this story. Imagine Jesus rescuing you first, immediately, and then gently asking you why you doubted. He’s proud of you for stepping out in faith, just wants to know why after everything he’s already done for you, you can’t trust him with this, too?