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Dealing With Doubts in College (and Beyond)

dealing with doubts

A Disciple’s Hesitation
It happened. It was done. Finished. Complete. Fulfilled. The proof had been on display with eyewitness accounts for more than 40 days (Acts 1:3). Forty days! That’s longer than a month. That’s longer than Christmas break.

Jesus’ closest friends had seen him repeatedly after the resurrection. They knew he’d been crucified, yet there he was again—alive. Put yourself in their sandals for a minute or two. Can you imagine seeing him again? You might have hugged him, shared a meal with him, laughed with him, cried with him, and heard him retell stories of events you’d seen firsthand. “Remember that storm on the lake?” he would say. “Remember the faith of Peter?”

As he spoke, you couldn’t stop staring at him. As he served you the bread on the beach (John 21:13), you couldn’t help staring at the holes in his hands. He was walking among you again. There was no reason for you to doubt the tomb was empty and Jesus was alive.

But according to Matthew, some of those closest to Jesus did doubt. Listen to his account of one of the final commissioning speeches from Jesus to his disciples:

Then the 11 disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted. (Matthew 28:16-17)

Remember, this isn’t the first time the disciples spent time with Jesus after he rose from the dead; they’d been with him before. One time it was with a crowd of 500 (1 Corinthians 15:6)! Yet Matthew tells us some doubted. Some doubted? Why? How? These men and women had been with Jesus off and on for over 40 days. Yet they still had this place deep inside that questioned, that wondered, “Could all this be true? Is Jesus really alive in front of me? Is Jesus really the Messiah?”

And what about Thomas? He’s mainly known as a doubter—a bummer of a description to have written on his tombstone. But his first reaction to hearing the news that the other disciples had seen Jesus alive was, “No way! I’ve got to see it myself.” Nothing happened for a week. A week! Thomas might’ve laid awake thinking about it every night of the week, his doubts growing deeper each dark minute.

Then, a week later, Jesus appears to the disciples again—and this time Thomas was there (John 20:24-29). Jesus set up a personal worship experience with him. I can imagine Jesus telling Thomas something like, “Tom, come over here and put your fingers in the holes in my hands. Put your fingers in my side. Feel that? That’s from the spikes and spear. What do you think, Tom?” John tells us that doubting Thomas responded, “My Lord and my God!”

Do you think Thomas ever doubted again? We don’t really know. Maybe he did. But on that day he understood the true identity of Jesus.

What to Do With Doubts
Doubts about spiritual things come in all shapes and sizes. There are big doubts that plague all of us and hang around for a while. There are smaller doubts that quickly come and go. I can imagine sometimes when you’ve prayed you’ve felt like the prayers just bounced off the ceiling. I know I’ve had that feeling. You might be questioning if you’re heading to the right college or landing the right job. Maybe you’re wondering why that terrible tragedy happened or questioning whether God even cares about the details of your life.

Doubts make their way in. You can do your best to ignore them and get past them, but they keep knocking at the door of your heart. As a believer in Jesus, you might think, I’m not supposed to doubt, right? You might feel like others look to you for answers, but you’re filled with questions of your own. You begin to beat yourself up with guilt. What’s wrong with me? Why do I doubt God? I’m a believer. What will my friends and family think of me?

If you’re struggling with doubt, I’d encourage you to relax. Take a deep breath. Doubts are a normal part of the journey with Jesus, and they’re especially common in times of transition. As you journey out the door, customizing your life into all that God would have it become, you’ll face doubts. But your identity is in Christ, and placing your faith in him will help you work through those doubts.

Remember: Doubt is not the opposite of belief. The opposite of belief is unbelief. Authentic faith says, “I doubt like the rest, and I’ll be honest with my feelings.” I think the disciples were honest about their doubts, and Jesus helped them along as they kept following him. Maybe he had to hang around for 40 days after the resurrection just so they’d be convinced he was alive! The key is to stay true to your deep belief in God and follow Jesus wholeheartedly, even when doubts creep in. Don’t run away from God when you doubt; use it as an opportunity to get closer to Jesus like Thomas did. Get close enough to touch his hands and side.

Next page: 4 steps for dealing with the doubt

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Jeff Baxter's passion for helping the next generation know and love Jesus led him to pursue his Doctorate in Youth and Family Ministry from Fuller Theological Seminary. Jeff has been a frequent speaker in various settings including the National Youth Workers Convention. Jeff lives in Littleton, Colorado, with his wife, Laurie, and their three children where he is an associate pastor at Foothills Bible Church. His most recent book is Together: Adults and Teenagers Transforming the Church (Zondervan). Jeff blogs at sacredoutfitter.blogspot.com.