Doubt almost seems like a bad word in Christian circles. All too often it is equated with falling away — with losing your faith. We fight against doubt and we encourage those who question to just have faith.
But is doubt always a bad thing? Could questioning our faith — when properly addressed — be a useful thing for us to experience?
What Is Doubt?
As a noun, doubt is defined as “a feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.” The verb form is similar, meaning to “feel uncertain about.” We might question our ability to run a marathon. There might be questions concerning our parenting skills. And we may well be uncertain about the future of our country, job, or relationships.
Doubts are a normal part of our lives and we live with them most of the time. Sometimes they might be debilitating. Uncertainty about our physical security while walking through a city might prevent us from experiencing what the city has to offer.
On the other hand, doubt could well drive us to new heights. My concern about being able to pass a test may make me study harder. My doubt about my parenting skills could, and should, lead me to focus on being a better parent, learning as much as I can about it.
When I started hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, there were questions in my own mind about my ability to tackle it. But I studied, prepared, and then went out and did it.
Doubt is a part of our day-to-day life. It is neither good nor bad. It is our response to that uncertainty that will determine whether it was good for us or not. But what about doubt concerning our faith and relationship with God?
Doubt as a Believer
Doubt will likely come to all believers at some point in their journey of faith. And possibly more than once or twice. Things happen that cause us to question what we believe or have been taught. Or we might be challenged by another person concerning our faith and our lack of an answer might lead to questioning our faith.
Doubt is natural. But what do you do when questions creep into your faith? All too often we think of this as a bad thing for a Christian. We think of doubt as the enemy of faith and try to suppress or hide any certainty that we might have.
When we share our doubt with another believer, they may well encourage us to just have faith. But are the questions we have as a believer really our enemy?
Indeed, doubt can be destructive if we do not deal with it. Hiding or suppressing doubt can leave it to fester and eventually explode into unbelief. But doubt can also be a very productive experience if addressed properly. Doubt can help me to grow in my faith and in my understanding of that faith.
Examples of Doubters
There are a couple of examples of doubters in the pages of Scripture that I believe can help us to process our doubt. The first of these is Asaph and the second is Thomas.
Asaph was a Levite who David had appointed to be a musician in the service of the Lord (1 Chronicles 16:4-7). Several of the Psalms are attributed to Asaph, including Psalm 73. This psalm starts with Asaph stating that his feet had almost slipped because he had envied the wicked and their prosperity.
Doubt was creeping in concerning the value of serving God. Those who did not serve seemed to be in a better position than he did. But shouldn’t the servant of God be more blessed than the one who acted apart from God?
But Asaph did not let that doubt fester and cause him to fall. Instead, he went into the temple (Psalm 73:16-17), bringing his troubled thoughts before God. And, when he did, he came to understand the destiny of the wicked. Their prosperity was only temporary, and it would end with destruction. Their life might be good now, but it would not last.
In the end, Asaph was drawn nearer to God. His doubt had led him to the brink. But he had taken it to God. And the Lord had helped him to see that God was sufficient for him. And he was strengthened by that insight. His doubt actually helped him to grow in his faith.
Thomas was not with the other disciples when Jesus first appeared to them after his resurrection, so he found it hard to believe that Jesus was alive. After all, he had seen Jesus die. The thought that he was now alive was just too much to believe.
But Thomas did not leave and return home. He stayed with the other disciples. And I can see him joining in with their discussions about Jesus’ life and teachings. As well as talking about his appearance to them.
I suspect Thomas wanted to believe but just found it to be difficult. And he might not have been any different from any of the others in that respect. Except that they had already experienced the risen Jesus.
Thomas was in the midst of working out his doubt when Jesus appeared again, and this time specifically to Thomas, challenging him to believe. He is not chastened for his doubt. But he was challenged to believe. And Thomas, overcoming his doubt, made the greatest confession of Jesus found in the Scripture: “My Lord and my God!” Thomas’ uncertainty was turned into exultation of the risen Jesus.
Responding to Doubt
As mentioned above, doubt is natural. It comes to all of us periodically. Rather than run from it, use it to your advantage. Bring your doubts to God like Asaph. Seek answers to your doubts like Thomas. When you do that, doubts will lead to growth.
When you find yourself questioning some aspect of your faith or the things you believe, invest time and effort in studying what you are being challenged by. Seek to better understand it.
It may be that your study will confirm what you have believed and can remove the doubt. Or it may be that your study will show you that your belief is incorrect or too shallow. And in that case, you have the opportunity to grow.
I have found that much of my growth as a believer has come in response to doubt. Doubt drives me to study and seek resolution. Doubt also takes me to my knees in prayer, seeking assurance of God’s presence.
Use doubt in your own life to move you closer to God. Do not hide or deny it. Doing so will only cause distress and increase the potential of walking away from your faith.
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Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.