Many Christians view doubt as something that harms one’s faith. It’s something that should be avoided, faith and doubt just don’t mix. And if a Christian finds themself doubting God the solution is simply to replace the doubt with faith.
But it’s not that simple. If you’ve experienced doubt in faith you know that. The reality is 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 talked about, it’s brushed off with short answers that excuse what’s really going on. You shouldn’t doubt. You can’t question that. You know what the Bible says is true. We downplay this pivotal piece of our faith.
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’s look at what the Bible says about faith and doubt.
Flipping The Narrative On Doubt In Faith
I’ve experienced my share of doubt in my faith throughout my life. For much of my life, it was manageable, minimal. I could just kind of ignore it. Focus on my faith and not my doubt.
But a few years ago I experienced a level of doubt that was just too big to ignore. And for a while, it sent me into a faith crisis. What do I do with this doubt in faith? Those cheap answers of just have more faith didn’t work or answer the questions I had.
After floundering for a while I realized doubt isn’t the opposite of faith, it’s a part of it. And when I embraced that my doubt became something that actually helped my faith grow.
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.
Faith and Doubt In The Bible
Let’s start by looking at how doubt in faith is played out 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 doubt–laden 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. (Genesis 16-18)
- Asaph doubted because the wicked prospered and he doubted the value of serving God. (1 Chronicles 16:4-7, Psalm 73)
- Job doubted God’s goodness. (Job)
- Moses doubted God could use him to lead Israel out of Egypt. (Numbers 11:21-22)
- Gideon doubted God could use him to turn the tide against Israel’s oppressors. (Judges 6-8)
- The Nation of Israel seemed to be in a constant state of doubt.
- Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, doubted Jesus rose from the dead. (John 20:24-29)
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 doubting God, 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 our 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. He wants to restore and redeem us. But that can only happen when we open our hearts to him.
What To Do When Doubting God
“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 in us a richer 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.
The reality that we all need to understand is that we cannot be 100% sure of almost anything. Whether you’re a Christian or not, this is just true.
When you actually sit down and think about your beliefs very few are verifiably true. Sure you have reasons to believe what you believe. There’s evidence. But at some point in your beliefs you will run into a wall in which you cannot know with 100% certainty.
Listen, I’m not saying we don’t have evidence to back up Christianity. We do. Lots of it. There’s solid reasons and evidence that supports our faith. But we don’t know everything. We cannot see the whole picture.
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 yet seen. We cannot know, rather we trust what God has told us.
So where does that leave us? How can we have faith after doubt? How can we live in the tension between faith and doubt?
Here’s how I define my faith that helps me live with my doubts: Faith is willing to risk, or bank, all on the belief of the unseen world. Faith is not based solely 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. There are valid and strong reasons to believe and follow Jesus.
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. Why? Because there’s nowhere else I can find the hope and the promise that I have in Jesus.
If you are struggling with doubt I would encourage you to check out this blog post I wrote. This is how I was able to start seeing my doubt as something that could build my faith rather than destroy it. You can read it here: Doubting God (the most important thing you can do)
Early on in my faith 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.
I’ve learned to embrace the doubt in my faith. It makes it richer in a way. My doubts have actually pushed me closer to God. If you are facing doubt in your faith I would encourage you to do the same. Don’t push your doubt aside. Embrace it. Let your doubt lead you closer to Jesus.
I hope that you enjoyed this blog post on faith and doubt. And I hope that it helped you rethink parts of your life and faith. If you did would you share it with a friend or on social media? That way more people can benefit from it as you have. And if you are struggling with doubting God I would love to hear your story. You can comment below or email me here: firstname.lastname@example.org
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