When John, who was in prison, heard about the deeds of the Messiah, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?’
Was it because of his imprisonment that John the Baptist had this crisis of faith? John apparently embraced his prophetic role with his eyes wide open – separating himself from the comfort of conventional living and denouncing sin, even when this led him into direct confrontation with Herod. John’s action was deliberate, and the consequence predictable: he ended up in Herod’s gaol.
So this was hardly enough to bring about his anguished question. Was it, rather, that Jesus was not following the script that John and other disciples had written for him? There was still no sign of his becoming the deliverer that the Jews had so long expected. So had John invested his life in a spurious cause?
It was, most likely, not the imprisonment itself that threw him. But no doubt it gave him time to brood on the awful thought that perhaps his confidence was based on a fallacy – that all that he had believed and proclaimed was in fact untrue.
Even the most steadfast Christian may be assailed by doubt. Sometimes it may be caused by suffering, though Jesus never promised his followers exemption from that. More often, perhaps, undergoing pressure or enforced inactivity – maybe through a time of unemployment or unexpected change – we may suddenly find ourselves questioning the very things on which we have built our lives.
It may be our professional work. ‘I have worked so hard all these years, and what have I achieved? What difference has it made?’ Or it may be our faith. ‘Has being a Christian made any difference to my life? Can I be certain of one answered prayer? What if it really isn’t true?’
Jesus’ answer to John was twofold. Take another look at the evidence (in our case, evidence that John could not have dreamed of). And ‘blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me’ (Matthew 11:6). The friend of sinners, the crucified deliverer, has never followed the scripts that humans have written for him. But he is still the author and finisher of our faith, the one who will bring to completion the work that he has begun.