In asking for ideas for writing about John the Baptist yesterday I didn't explain that I was preparing Bible study notes for 11-14 year olds. So a massive theme of doubt, as requested by some of my Facebook friends and Twitter followers, may be a bit too complex. But it was a brilliant thought. We preach certainty far too often. It's not there in the Bible as often as we think it is.
The Old Testament prophecy of a voice in the wilderness (Isaiah) and a new Elijah (Malachi) had lain dormant for four centuries. Was the Lord going to do something? People surely doubted.
John's Father Zechariah met an angel in the temple. 'You will have a son.' He doubted and was struck dumb.
The baby is born to Elizabeth in old age. How do the people greet the news? Questions, alarm and astonishment. Or doubt, to put it another way.
Some years later John starts preaching in the wilderness. He baptises Jesus and there is some heavenly vocal work with special effects to authenticate the Son. Later, in prison, John sends a message with his disciples to Jesus, 'Are you the one, or is someone else coming?' Doubt you see. Even in the face of apparently overwhelming evidence. The John who John's Gospel (a different John) told us was certain was unsure all the time.
Later Herod is tricked by his lover's daughter into having John killed. He seems to doubt the wisdom of this. But he cannot back down from a public promise. So John dies. Randomly. Cruelly.
Can we be sure of the authenticity of all these tales? Can we, who haven't seen, have the faith of those who had but still doubted?
Acting as if something is true, without proof. That's faith. If there was no doubt there would be no faith.