President Obama: ‘Jesus Knew Doubt’

April 6, 2012 - 6:15 PM
President Barack Obama

President Barack Obama addressing the Easter Prayer Breakfast at the White House on April 4, 2012. (White House photo/Pete Souza)

(CNSNews.com) - At an Easter Prayer Breakfast he hosted for Christian clergy at the White House on Wednesday, President Barack Obama said Jesus "knew doubt" and had "doubts”—a view some Christian scholars have criticized.

“For like us, Jesus knew doubt,” Obama said. “Like us, Jesus knew fear. In the garden of Gethsemane, with attackers closing in around him, Jesus told His disciples, ‘my soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death.’”

Obama went on in his speech to speak in more detail about Jesus’s experience before he was arrested.

“He fell to his knees, pleading with his Father, saying, ‘If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.’ And yet, in the end, he confronted his fear with words of humble surrender, saying, ‘If it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may your will be done,’” Obama said. “So it is only because Jesus conquered his own anguish, conquered his fear, that we’re able to celebrate the resurrection. It’s only because he endured unimaginable pain that wracked his body and bore the sins of the world that he burdened -- that burdened his soul that we are able to proclaim he is risen.”

“We all have experiences that shake our faith,” Obama said. “There are times where we have questions for God’s plan relative to us. But that’s precisely when we should remember Christ’s own doubts and eventually his own triumph”

Alan Schreck, a professor of theology at Franciscan University of Steubenville, understands why Obama would say Jesus experienced fear.

“In these accounts in the scripture, Jesus’ humanity is clear in terms of realizing fully the pain that he was about to accept freely for our salvation on the cross,” Schreck told CNSNews.com. “From that sense, to use the word ‘fear’ as a natural human revulsion against suffering physical pain--I think the accounts do show that, the mention of Jesus’s humanity.”

However, Schreck could not see a theological or biblical context in which Jesus experienced “doubt.”

“My question is what would He be doubting? Would He be doubting the Father’s care and merciful love? Is He doubting the value of his mission? I don’t think there is any real context that I could understand to say Jesus doubted,” Schreck said.

“The president doesn’t make it clear what He was doubting,” said Schreck. “He was giving a general statement. I don’t want to pretend I knew what the president intended but I would think the word ‘doubt’ would not be suitable because it doesn’t make it clear what He’s doubting. He didn’t doubt the mission he was sent on. He predicted his passion, according to the scriptures.”

Obama at the prayer breakfast spoke about the importance of Easter this Sunday, celebrating the resurrection of Jesus after his crucifixion.

“But in a few short days, all of us will experience the wonder of Easter morning. And we will know, in the words of the Apostle Paul, ‘Christ Jesus...and Him crucified,” said Obama.

“It’s an opportunity for us to reflect on the triumph of the resurrection, and to give thanks for the all-important gift of grace,” said Obama. “And for me, and I’m sure for some of you, it’s also a chance to remember the tremendous sacrifice that led up to that day, and all that Christ endured--not just as a Son of God, but as a human being.”

Denny Burk, an associate professor of biblical studies at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, believes Obama erred in ascribing both fear and doubt to Jesus.

“Does the Bible really teach that Christ had doubts and fears on the same order as our own? The Bible in fact never teaches such a thing, and it diminishes Christ’s achievement to suggest otherwise,” Burke wrote on his blog, which was later reported in Baptist Press and on Townhall.com.

“In the Bible, doubt and fear are sins. In fact, Jesus Himself describes doubt as the opposite of faith (Matt. 14:31; 21:21; Mark 11:23),” Burk wrote. “In very explicit terms, Jesus himself commands his disciples not to ‘fear’ those who persecute them (Matt. 10:26; 28, 31). No less than seven times, Jesus himself commands his disciples not to be ‘anxious’ about their lives (Matt. 6:25, 31, 34; Mark 10:19; 13:11; Luke 12:11, 22.”

Burk goes on to write, “To say that Jesus had doubts and fearsis to make him into a transgressor. But that is not at all the biblical depiction of Jesus. Yes, Jesus can sympathize with all of our weaknesses and, yes, he was tempted in all things as we are. But He did it without sin! (Heb. 4:15)”