Faith and Doubt (and how they coexist)

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Faith and doubt seem like one of those things that just can’t mix. Yet at the same time, almost everyone experiences some kind of doubt at some point in their faith journey. Despite the prevalence of doubt in our spiritual walks it’s rarely talked about or acknowledged. And when it is, often it’s talked about negatively. You shouldn’t doubt. You can’t question that. You know what the Bible says is true. We downplay this pivotal piece of doubt in our faith.

We tend to view doubt as a negative thing. But the Bible does quite the opposite, it highlights the doubters. It seems God has more of a tolerance for doubt than most churches do. We should not deny or fear our doubt but express it.

Let me clear the air. I have doubted my faith. I have doubted what is said in the Bible. I have doubted God. Not only have I doubted, but I DO doubt. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Doubt has played a pivotal role in the growth of my faith and helped make me who I am today. You can read more about the process that brought me to where I am here: My Faith Deconstruction and REconstruction

Faith is often seen as the opposite of doubt. But that perspective needs to be flipped. The opposite of faith is certainty; where there is certainty there is no room for faith.

Paul Tillich puts it this way, Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.

Anne Lamott builds on Tillich’s quote, The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

Doubt is not the enemy and not something that needs to be fought. It needs to be understood, expressed and used. That’s what I want to do in this article, I want to explore the relationship between faith and doubt.

If you are looking what to do when you find yourself doubting God, check out this article I wrote: Doubt God (the most important thing you can do)

Let’s jump in.

Doubt in the Bible

“One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment—he can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God.” – Philip Yancey

The Bible is full of stories of doubting people. Oftentimes the “heroes” of the Bible did not earn their title because they believed without doubt. Rather they earned their title because they had faith WITH doubt.

At the same time, there are also plenty of stories where doubt led to trouble. The book of James points toward doubtladen prayers not being answered and Jesus told his followers to pray with confidence. But we cannot ignore all the stories where God’s people doubted. 

Here’s a few:

  • Abraham and Sarah doubted God’s promise of a child; actually they laughed at it.
  • Job doubted God’s goodness.
  • Moses doubted God could use him to lead Israel out of Egypt.
  • Gideon doubted God could use him to turn the tide against Israel’s oppressors.
  • The Nation of Israel seemed to be in a constant state of doubt.
  • Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, doubted Jesus rose from the dead.

I could go on, but the point is the Bible is full of people that doubted. And not just people, but the main characters. If you took all the stories of doubt out of the Bible you wouldn’t have much left.

The real issue isn’t the presence of doubt, rather it’s what we do with our doubt. Doubt can keep us from following God. Or it can increase our faith. What made the stories of doubt in the Bible great was that they acted in faith despite their doubt. God isn’t scared away by doubt.

What Doubt Isn’t… A Sin

Doubt and disbelief are two separate issues. God doesn’t condemn us for asking questions. Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for wanting to see the holes in his hands. Moses wasn’t reprimanded asking why him. And Abraham and Sarah still received God’s promise despite laughing in doubt.

In contrast, doubt is often portrayed as a sin within the church. Doubt is a sign of weak faith. But the Bible doesn’t condemn doubt and neither should we.

God is interested in our hearts, not some phony relationship. Sometimes what’s going on inside of us is doubt. We cannot hide it from God, and that’s not what he wants. We shouldn’t be afraid to bring our doubts to God. He’s not wanting to condemn us for our lack of faith.

Doubt Helps Our Faith

“Through doubt we can learn more than through naive trust, truth can be trusted. Doubt is the fire through which it passes. But when it has been tried, it will come forth as gold.” – Mark Littleton

A common misconception is that doubt is damaging to our faith. However God can use our doubts to produce a more rich faith.

I once heard doubt compared to getting an immunization. In order to help your body fight off future infections/diseases a doctor will give you a small dose of the virus. That way your body can build up the antibodies that will fight off the virus. This makes your body stronger and healthier.

The same can be said of doubt. When you are infected with doubt it forces you to seek answers to your questions. It forces you to rely on God because you don’t have it all figured out. If you let it, ultimately, doubt can make you stronger because your faith has been confirmed.

Living Out Faith With Doubts

The reality we all have to come to is that we cannot be 100% sure of almost anything. We are finite beings trying to grasp at things way beyond our comprehension. And while some people are convinced that beyond a shadow of a doubt they are correct, the reality is faith is believing in things we have not seen. We cannot know, rather we trust what God has told us.

Here’s a working definition of faith for me.

Faith is willing to risk, or bank, all on the belief of the unseen world. Faith is not based on physical evidence, rather a conviction that I am willing to stake my life on.

I can’t prove my faith in quantifiable means. But I can say that the claims that Jesus made, the evidence for a resurrection, and the encounters I’ve had with God lead me to put my faith in him. Do I have doubts? You bet I do. But I’m willing to stake my life, to risk everything on the conviction on the reality of the unseen.

Sometimes I wish I could go back. Early on in my journey things were more black and white. Right and wrong. You were either in or out. Sometimes I think it would be so nice to go back to when things were so clear. But at the same time my doubt has grown and deepened my faith in a way that I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

If you are facing doubt and don’t know what steps to take check out: Doubting God (the most important thing you can do)

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Pastoral Response to Faith and Doubt

Awhile back I gave a message about faith and doubt and how we should respond. It’s a little more encouraging/pastoral than this article. You can watch it in the video below.

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