How to differentiate, embrace, question, and deal with your doubt as a believer.
Is there anything more catastrophic than doubt? It can make us uncomfortable, seemingly shipwreck our faith, and cause hours of mental vexation. As someone who consistently struggles with OCD (formerly referred to as “The Doubting Disease”), and as a former atheist, I’ve felt the full range of doubt and face it still today. Everybody, even non-Christians, doubt and second-guess what they believe and why.
Unfortunately, for Christians, doubt is often heightened by the fear that by doubting we’re doing something wrong. We often wonder, “is doubt a sin?” We don’t have to be afraid of our doubt, but we must remember that there are different types of doubt that we can differentiate, deal with, and even embrace.
Not All Doubt Is Created Equal
Doubt boils down to two categories: irrational and rational. Rational doubt is what I like to refer to as good doubt. This is doubt, that is warranted by logic and rationale and is also known as skepticism. This is the kind of doubt that is genuinely and honestly produced by convicting evidence to the contrary. We shouldn’t run from this doubt and we will discuss it more in a bit.
The other kind of doubt is the doubt that often gets people worried. This is the doubt that is often felt but rarely thought through. Irrational doubt is usually driven by fear and manipulated in our brains to be made seen as credible and actual. As an example, imagine reading Hebrews 11:6 and thinking, “Oh man! The Bible says that without faith it is impossible to please God. What if I don’t have enough faith? How do I know if I do? Do I really believe, how can I be sure?” As the doubts spiral and combine with fear, they are often viewed as credible and worth addressing.
However, these fear-driven doubts, though they appear worth hanging your hat on, are often nothing more than fears masked as genuine concerns. It’s important that when we deal with our doubt we are mindful enough to differentiate between rational doubt and fearful “what-ifs.” When we understand the importance of faith, we can often spend hours on end frantically seeking a feeling of assuredness that we have enough of it. Our response to this kind of doubt should be calm dismissal. We should realize that this “what-if” doubt is irrational and simply strive to live our life pleasing to God in accordance with His word, relying on His grace and mercy.
Embracing Your Doubt
But what about the real doubt? The rational, logic-driven, genuine doubt? Embrace it. Don’t be afraid to voice it and leave no stone unturned to quench it. Read, study, roll your sleeves up and get real about it. Don’t shy away from it or view it as a guilty secret. Often times, one of two things happen with our real doubt: 1) We get lazy and either forget about our doubt or assume our doubt is worth following and we are swept away by it without looking into it further. Or, 2) we feel guilt and shame about it and keep it secret. I encourage you to do neither.
Option three is much better. Option three is, as unbiasedly and honestly as possible, tackling our doubt head on and seeking either its resolution or our change. Though this option is difficult and takes more work, it is worth it and is more rewarding. Sometimes we are afraid of our doubt because we think that if we seek its resolution we will end up not being Christians. From my experience, this simply isn’t true. It’s easy to buy into the lie that if you are smart enough and think enough you will be an atheist. This shouldn’t discourage our honest endeavor for truth.
Doubting Your Doubt
However, it’s impossible to truly embrace your doubt without doubting it. I mean, really put your doubt through the wringer. So often, people are willing to be skeptical of everything but their skepticism, to doubt everything except their doubt. Sometimes we are easier on our own doubt than we are on the concepts we’re doubting. The culture we’re in tells us that we can not be sure of anything except for the fact that we cannot be sure of anything. Reject this lie.
In other words, if you’re going to seek to quench your doubt, do so honestly. Don’t just doubt to doubt. Don’t use seemingly rational objections to Christianity as a cop-out simply because you don’t want to be a Christian. Be honest in your endeavor. If you are a Christian who has some honest doubts, deal with those doubts in a balanced and consistent way. Sometimes our doubt needs to be doubted. Think to yourself, “Is this a genuine doubt?”, “Can I really not reconcile these two things.”, “Is this actually a valid reason to doubt God’s existence?” Though doubt isn’t bad or a sin, it isn’t always as big a threat as we think.
Dealing with Your Doubt
Even when we’ve embraced and doubted our doubt, it still needs to be dealt with. Some not-so-serious doubts may linger as long as we live. Other more serious doubts should be confronted. I think it’s good to remember that we are not opposing God or offending Him simply because we have rational doubts. But we should also remember that God has given us what is necessary to overcome those doubts. As a case study, take the account of Thomas.
After Jesus’ resurrection, He appeared to the disciples sans Thomas. When the other disciples told Thomas, he didn’t believe them. Instead, Thomas insisted, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (Jn. 20:25). Because of this, Thomas is often called “Doubting Thomas.” However, I think Thomas would more appropriately be dubbed “Reasonable Thomas.” Thomas’ friends had seen the proof and he hadn’t. All he wanted was the same proof that they had seen.
Jesus later came to where Thomas was and told him, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe” (Jn. 20:27). Notice that Jesus didn’t rebuke Thomas for seeking proof. Instead, he supplied Thomas with the same proof He had given the other disciples. Thomas wasn’t being irrational, nor did he ask for something extra or inconsistent with Jesus’ nature. The result was God supplying Thomas with the adequate proof to believe. Thomas’ response was one of faith and worship (Jn. 20:28). Jesus then said, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (Jn. 20:29). It is a blessing to believe without seeing. And though we cannot see, God still has provided us with a reliable record by which we can receive the same doubt-quenching faith as Thomas (see Rom. 10:17).
Our rational doubt doesn’t offend God because He has nothing to hide. He created our powerful minds and gave us the ability to reason and doubt in the first place. We can believe God and His claims beyond a reasonable doubt. God has supplied us with proofs to quench our honest and rational doubt. May we seek them with an open mind and an open heart.
The Church’s Response to Doubt
The church would do well to “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22). When we try to silence and forcefully oppose honest, curious doubt, we do more harm than good. The church shouldn’t have anything to hide and should even encourage the kind of reasonable doubt that longs for a refined and well-developed faith. There are those with good questions who are honestly seeking answers and we shouldn’t assume they are being antagonistic when they doubt. In fact, it is the church above all others who should embrace good doubt. After all, it is us above all else who are to be most pitied if Christianity is untrue (1 Cor. 15:19). The church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 1:15) and truth fears no inspection.
Christian, embrace your doubt. It doesn’t offend God. But be sure to differentiate between the rational and irrational, be skeptical of your skepticism, and seek the truth honestly and rigorously.