Faith and Doubt
Scripture Passage (Matthew 14:22-33)
Then He [Jesus] made the disciples get into the boat and precede him to the other side, while he dismissed the crowds. After doing so, he went up on the mountain by himself to pray. When it was evening he was there alone. Meanwhile the boat, already a few miles offshore, was being tossed about by the waves, for the wind was against it. During the fourth watch of the night, he came toward them, walking on the sea.
When the disciples saw him walking on the sea they were terrified. “It is a ghost,” they said, and they cried out in fear. At once [Jesus] spoke to them, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.” Peter said to him in reply, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” Peter got out of the boat and began to walk on the water toward Jesus. But when he saw how [strong] the wind was he became frightened; and, beginning to sink, he cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus stretched out his hand and caught him, and said to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?”
After they got into the boat, the wind died down. Those who were in the boat did him homage, saying, “Truly, you are the Son of God.”
This Gospel passage is not so much about the fear experienced by the disciples, but more so about the doubt experienced by Peter even after he knew that Jesus was right there with him.
There are many different kinds of doubt and doubt can arise from many different situations. In the Bible, we see other examples of doubt which we can probably relate to:
- In the garden of Eden, the snake tempted the woman to doubt God by saying, “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) There are times when we hear someone talking, and what they are saying influence us to doubt what we believe.
- The prophet Habakkuk also had doubt as he complained to God, “How long, O LORD, must I cry for help and you do not listen? Or cry out to you, ‘Violence!’ and you do not intervene?” (Habakkuk 1:2) There are times when we are like Habakkuk; we pray for someone or something but nothing happens. So, we begin to doubt and complain to God.
- Zechariah doubted the angel who brought him good news that he and his wife were to have a son despite their being advanced in years. (Luke 1:5-20) Zechariah doubted the good news that the angel brought to him. In the same way, we sometimes hear good news, but we doubt it because we do not think it is possible, or because we do not think we are worthy.
- And the most famous example of all – Thomas who said to the other disciples, “Unless I see the mark of the nails in His hands and put my finger into the nail marks and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
What are we to do when we begin to doubt God?
- First, we mustn’t allow ourselves to obsess about it. To determine the source and to find a solution to overcome doubt is commendable, but spending far too much time and energy over it can lead to confusion and despair. Obsessing about something is like digging a deeper and deeper hole that we can fall into and which is very difficult to climb out of.
- Sometimes, doubt comes when we feel bored or stuck and don’t feel like we are making progress; what we need is a fresh outlook or a new inspiration to seek God in our lives. If our prayer life has run dry, then it is time to try out other ways to connect with God. For example:
- Do not just read the Bible; study it! Studying the bible means not only knowing the Bible stories, but to understand its context, its purpose, its teaching and how it fits in God’s plan of salvation. In this way, we can draw the correct applications from the word of God to our lives.
- Learn about the history of the Church. As the saying goes, “we learn from history!” There are so many things that we can learn from the history of the Church; it helps us to understand more fully how our faith developed, where we are now and what lies for us in the future.
- Listen to sacred music and watch religious movies. We can make use of our other senses in prayer, especially our sense of hearing. Music can help calm and soothe us; movies can help inspire us and connect us to God in a different way.
- Attend daily Mass and go to confession regularly. The Eucharist and Reconciliation are two Sacraments that we can all avail of on a regular basis. They bring so much grace into our souls.
- Turn off electronics and practice reading and meditating in silence. Choose your favorite Bible passage or verse and use it for meditation. Some suggestions are Psalm 139 and 1Kings 19:11-13a.
- Get involved in a worthy cause which can broaden your experience and understanding of faith. A great way to put our faith into action is by getting involved in a worthy cause. Meeting and interacting with real people make our prayer life complete.
Wouldn’t it be nice if each time we call out to God for help, Jesus would reach out and pull us out of our problems? But if that were the case, how are we to learn from our problems? How are we to grow in the virtues, especially the virtues of patience, fortitude, prudence and wisdom? However long it takes for our deliverance, we must learn to persevere. Meanwhile, we can take consolation in the example of Peter that Jesus Christ will never abandon those who seek Him with a humble and sincere heart!
Questions for reflection
- Share an experience you had in the past in which you called out to God.
- What have you learned from that experience? Did it help strengthen your faith?
- How would you talk to family or friends who doubt their faith?