Doubt and Confusion in the Face of Truth

Sharing the Gospel with students on campus is one of the personal highlights of ministry. The collegiate missions team is ministering to a generation that has minimal Christian background and is biblically illiterate. Reactions to the Good News are myriad: anger, indignation, rejection, acceptance. But perhaps the two common responses to the Gospel are doubt and confusion.

While they may appear similar, these reactions are integrally different. Doubt is rooted in mistrust of authority while confusion is rooted in lack of understanding. As a prime example of the differences, consider the records of Zechariah and Mary in Luke 1.

A Doubtful Response

Gabriel visits Zechariah to inform him that “your prayer has been heard, and your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you shall call his name John” (v. 13).  Zechariah responds, “How shall I know this? For I am an old man, and my wife is advanced in years” (v. 18).

Zechariah doubts.  He questions the possibility and the authority behind the word.   Make no mistake, Zechariah is a righteous man, “walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord” (v. 6). But he still doubts. He wants to minimize trust and establish his confidence on his own terms, and his actions as attested in verse 6 do give him confidence. Doubt questions the authority of God and His Word. Ultimately Zechariah is not exhibiting confidence in God.

A Confused Response

Mary has a very different reaction. Gabriel announces to her, “behold, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (v. 31).  Mary responds, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (v. 34).  Mary is not questioning authority, but is simply confused: how can this happen? Confusion misunderstands a process.

Gabriel answered both Zechariah and Mary, but he addressed their doubt and confusion in different ways. When we share the Gospel and people respond with questions, it is helpful to recognize and discern whether they are coming from a place of doubt or confusion. You can often address confusion simply by providing more information. Addressing doubt means dealing with an attitude; information is unlikely to influence doubt.

Ultimately Mary responded with faith, “Behold, I am the servant of the Lord; let it be to me according to your word” (v. 38). Confusion often precedes faith, so taking the time to answer questions and clarify Biblical concepts when sharing the Gospel bears fruit. 

May God use all of us in our confused time to speak words of truth boldly, and may confusion be turned into faith.

Andy Haynes serves as the Next Generation Co-Director of Collegiate Ministries at the Baptist Convention of New England.