Have you ever had doubts about your faith? About God’s existence? Questioned if the bible is really true? Wondered if God really cares what you do?
I’m sure those at least a few of these or other similar thoughts have entered all of our minds. Some of us may have dwelled at length on these questions and even wrestled intensely with nagging doubt. Is this kind of doubt ok to have? Is it wrong to entertain these notions?
In today’s ever popular climate of progressive Christianity, having doubt is considered virtuous. In fact, having certainty about one’s faith is not an acceptable trait in certain circles. To have a sure and confident faith is looked down upon. Alisa Childers, author of the book “Another Gospel”, has said,
“We have this culture
where doubt becomes a virtue,
a badge of honor.”
I’ve often heard people say to others, “God can handle your doubts.”.
Well of course He can handle our doubts. But is doubt acceptable for a follower of Christ? Let’s look at scripture at some instances of people having doubt and see what the Bible says.
In Matthew 14, we find the story of Jesus’ miracle of calming the turbulent sea and walking on the water to the terrified disciples in the boat.
25 And in the fourth watch of the night He came to them, walking on the sea.26 Now when the disciples saw Him walking on the sea, they were terrified, and said, “It is a ghost!” And they cried out in fear.27 But immediately Jesus spoke to them, saying, “Take courage, it is I; do not be afraid.”28 And Peter answered and said to Him, “Lord, if it is You, command me to come to You on the water.”29 And He said, “Come!” And getting out of the boat, Peter walked on the water and came toward Jesus.30 But seeing the wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, “Lord, save me!”31 And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand and took hold of him, and said to him, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?”32 And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.33 And those who were in the boat worshiped Him, saying, “You are truly God’s Son!”
In John chapter 20 we read the account of Thomas needing proof that Jesus was truly there in his presence.
24 But Thomas, one of the twelve, called Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came.25 So the other disciples were saying to him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.”26 And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors having been shut, and stood in their midst and said, “Peace be with you.”27 Then He said to Thomas, “Bring your finger here, and see My hands; and bring your hand here and put it into My side; and do not be unbelieving, but believing.”28 Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!”29 Jesus said to him, “Because you have seen Me, have you believed? Blessed are those who did not see, and yet believed.”
Another translation has Jesus telling Thomas,
“Stop doubting and believe.”.
While there are many other places the scripture speaks on doubt and faith, I will give this final example from James chapter 1:
2 Consider it all joy, my brothers, when you encounter various trials,3 knowing that the testing of your faith brings about perseverance.4 And let perseverance have its perfect work, so that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.5 But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him.6 But he must ask in faith, doubting nothing, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind.7 For that man ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord,8 being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.
I believe we can all agree that in our natural being, some form of doubting is inevitable as we navigate our way through this life. Even those who walked daily on this earth with the Savior had doubts. However, their doubts were never seen as a virtue, but rather, a state of mind that Christ rebuked in His followers. Doubt was not looked upon favorably. Rather, having faith was the virtue. Being confident in Christ is considered as righteousness. While scripture doesn’t necessarily call doubt a sin, it is never encouraged. It is always looked upon negatively, as in the James passage. We are as human as the disciples were, and Jesus, while sometimes exasperated by their lack of faith, always treated them with tenderness, even when rebuking them. He knew the persecution they would face when He left them. If they had wavered between faith and doubt, they would never have been able to stand boldly when they experienced the brutality of their eventual martyrdom. In the same way, how can we ever be useful for Christ and His Kingdom if, as James says, we are being tossed back and forth with the wind? If we are constantly in a state of doubt and questioning, when life’s difficult situations arise, we will probably succumb to despair. Jesus praised those whose faith was apparent. He rebuked those who doubted.
So while having doubt is natural, scripture certainly never views it as “ok”. It all comes down to whether or not we believe that God and His word can be trusted. There is no example in scripture of a genuine believer, indwelt with the Holy Spirit, questioning God’s existence or His word. There is no example of a follower of Christ tearing down, or deconstructing, everything they’ve ever believed. I can offer no proof that a person who claims to be a Christian, but is who is questioning God’s very existence, is truly converted. But, for those of us who ARE genuinely converted, I believe that if we are faithful to be obedient to God’s word, to read it and meditate on it, when our faith is tested, it will grow stronger and stronger. As this happens, we will find that our doubting will wane, and our faith will overcome the tendency we have to question. Will doubts still creep in from time to time? Probably. But those thoughts will be few and far between, and never be something that plagues our minds. We will have peace in KNOWING that God is who He says He is and that He keeps His promises.
As I write this, I’m reminded of Elisabeth Elliot. When her husband Jim and 4 other missionaries were speared to death in the jungles of Ecuador in 1956, I’m sure this was a huge test of faith for her. For many of us it would have meant great cause to doubt. Yet one of my favorite quotes from Elisabeth is:
Because of the work she put in to cultivate her faith, (studying, praying, worshiping) when she was put to the test, she had the determination to take her 2-year-old daughter back into that same jungle and share Christ with the same tribe who murdered her husband. And her faith was rewarded by that tribe’s conversion to Christ. She harvested what she had planted over the years.
So, even though modern Christian culture might disagree, doubt is NOT a virtue. Jesus didn’t commend His followers’ doubt. He honored their faith. We should strive to be people of faith who don’t view our doubts as a quality to be admired. Pray to Him to help you overcome feelings of doubt you may have. Stay in His word. Attend a solid church where His word is faithfully preached. I promise, if you belong to Him, He will give you the faith you long for.