“You shouldn’t doubt.”
“You must believe.”
“You must trust.”
“You should have faith.”
I’m sure you’ve heard one, some or all of those words from people when you’ve gone through seasons of uncertainty. Maybe you’ve said them to yourself.
But I think the concept of doubt being bad may be wrong.
If we look at the history of Christian thought and at Jesus’ words, you’ll see that doubt plays a vital role in faith.
Sure, there’s that doubt that dismisses real truth — the doubt that says, “I’m all good. God’s not good, now let’s just move on.” That’s the easy kind of doubt. It’s the doubt that springs up in our brokenness.
But there’s another kind of doubt that Christians should embrace.
“Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother,” said poet Khalil Gibran.
Doubt is often painful because it’s questioning a deeply held belief or hope. This kind of doubt engages the world. It takes the assertion of “God’s not good” and forms it into the question, “Is God good?”
The doubt that dismisses truth is stagnant, entrenched and, frankly, boring. The doubt of the question is interested, curious and engaging. This doubt takes humility.
“Modest doubt is called the beacon of the wise.”
— William Shakespeare
All through Scripture, you’ll see doubting people honored, from the stories of Abraham, Jacob and David to the books of Job, Psalms, and Ecclesiastes. The heroes of our faith weren’t afraid to ask God their big life questions.
Then there’s Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane: “My Father if it be possible, let this cup pass from Me...” (Matthew 26:39, English Standard Version).
The words are a question: “Father, is there any other way?” And with this question on His lips, Jesus is sweating blood (Luke 22:44).
Christian author Philip Yancey says, “When I speak to college students, I challenge them to find a single argument against God in the older agnostics (like Bertrand Russell, Voltaire and David Hume) or the newer ones (like Richard Dawkins, Christopher Hitchens and Sam Harris) that is not already included in books like Psalms, Job, Habakkuk and Lamentations. … God seems rather doubt-tolerant, actually.”
So why do so many Christians seem afraid of doubt? Perhaps they’re afraid of where the questions will lead.
Christians have fallen into the trap of thinking that faith is blind, that doubt is the enemy of belief, or that doubters will inevitably lose their faith.
“The church has sometimes chastised people who admit their weakness and failure, and our society has an aversion to suffering,” Yancey says. “So Christians naturally tend to hide behind a thin veneer of cheerfulness and health, while they secretly hurt and doubt.”
We as a church believe that doubt is a tenuous position that will only slide an individual into apostasy. And I’m here to tell you that’s a lie.
Barna Group, a Christian research company, published findings that show one of the six reasons young people are leaving the church is because it’s unfriendly to doubters.
Young people with honest doubts are being met with statements like, “Just believe more” — which is basically, “Just don’t think about it.”
But look at the biblical example of Thomas, nicknamed “Doubting Thomas” by contemporary readers. Did you know this nervous disciple was the first to call Jesus “Lord”? The writer of John recognizes Thomas’ statement as the climax of Jesus’ ministry.
Give yourself a moment to sit in your doubts right now. For me, the questions look like,
To answer those questions, I pick up my Bible. Flipping it open to 1 John, I find:
When we doubt, Jesus isn’t surprised. The gospel is supposed to be preposterously good news. He experienced preposterous pain.
“I think, when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him. It is quite time for us to begin to say, ‘Ah, poor soul, I am afraid you are not on the road at all, for if you were, you would see so many things in yourself, and so much glory in Christ more than you deserve, that you would be so much ashamed of yourself, as even to say, ‘It is too good to be true.’”
— Charles Spurgeon
So what do we do when the questions pile on when we’re trying to sleep?
Sometimes doubts can come like a torrent, and it’s impossible to address them all. Look at how King David handled times like this in Psalm 131. He realized there’s no way to attain all the answers, so he entrusted his heart to God.
If you struggle with doubt, we want to help. Keep journeying with us by reading “Why God Welcomes Your Doubt.” In this article, we show that God doesn’t fear your doubt, despise your doubt, or reject you because of your doubt. Instead, God invites you to question, to doubt and to explore the difficulties of the faith. We also offer more resources to help you do this.
writes for Cru's publications as a missionary journalist. He earned a master’s degree in Christian studies at Regent College in Vancouver, British Columbia. Philip balances family life along with bike riding, drawing and whittling toy cars. Contact him at Philip.Long@cru.org.
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