doubting Jesus?

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Was Jesus ever troubled by doubts

This is the question that’s been nagging at me for a little while now.

Don’t get me wrong. It’s not like I’ve been gripped by it.

It’s more of an on and off thing. You know, just when my mind wanders around the possibility of marrying two of my passions: (i) helping Christians be honest about doubt (so they can deal well with it), and (ii) thinking everything through with Jesus as my starting point — particularly, the concrete stories about him from the Gospels.

But it’s not exactly a straightforward question. And I’d be keen to hear if you have ideas about where to turn in the New Testament.

Because, on the one hand, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews tells us that Jesus was tempted in every way as we are (only without tripping up into sin). And we see this explicitly in Jesus’ confrontation with Satan in the wilderness.

So it seems fair to imagine that Jesus did wrestle with doubt — at least occasionally.

And yet, on the other hand, the whole question of Jesus’ self-consciousness — and therefore of what it is that he could have had doubts about — is notoriously controversial.

For example, some scholars have pointed out that many of the categories we would usually use to frame our understanding of Jesus’ person and work weren’t available to him (or in all likelihood to his first followers). Or at least they weren’t available in the — usually creedal — form that came fully equipped with the sort of metaphysical baggage that often invites doubt for modern minds.

What I mean is, if Jesus didn’t — and possibly even couldn’t — think of himself as ‘fully God’, ‘possessing a divine nature’, or whatever, then how could he doubt that about himself?

But even though those kind of doubts (on par with some of the doubts we may harbour) weren’t really available to Jesus, perhaps others were.

In particular, I wonder what kind of thoroughly human path his developing sense of mission and vocation (and thus of identity) took throughout his life? What questions did Jesus have to wrestle with as he studied and reflected on the Scriptures, as he met with opposition and misunderstanding, even as he laboured in Joseph’s family business (as he no doubt did) while being nurtured on his mother’s stories about his supernatural origin?

If we do decide to walk down this path, then I wonder what light it might shed on moments like the temptation in the wilderness. Or Gethsemane.

On the face of it, Gethsemane isn’t easy to view in terms of doubt.

Hesitation? Definitely.

Fear? Almost certainly?

Desperation? Highly likely.

But doubt? I don’t know… Maybe?

And yet — here’s an extremely half-baked thought — as Jesus pleads with his Father, giving us a glimpse of the enormous cost of willingly walking the path of obedient sonship, maybe we’re in the presence of deep doubt. Something more existential than intellectual.

This is doubt, moreover, being confronted with honesty. Agonised and agonising honesty.

And ultimately it’s faith. For here, as often, doubt is not so much faith’s enemy as the very thing that stirs it up. As it stirred up the Lord to struggle in prayer — surrendering to his Father’s good, pleasing and perfect will and entrusting himself to him who judges justly…

And another even less well-baked thought follows hot on the heels of this one:

Could Jesus even at that moment have been wrestling titanically with the nameless doubts that also assail us? Being overwhelmed and dislocated — physically and spiritually — by them? So as to secure a blessing for us?

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