Recently a young man in my church asked the question: is it okay for Christians to have doubt? One well meaning lady told him that Christians shouldn’t experience doubt and he just needed to be more spiritual. That answer left both he and I unsatisfied.
Let’s face it—most if not all Christians, whether we want to admit it or not, experience moments where we identify very much with Thomas and you might as well dub us as “Doubting” Mike or Suzanne or Ichabod! But what do we do with our doubt?
Before anything else, we must remember to not glorify doubt. In one seminary class, we were required to attend four worship services that were outside of our “tradition”—in other words, not Southern Baptist—and then write a report about the differences. One of the churches I chose, while very liturgical and traditional looking, was anything but conservative. That Sunday the preacher talked about “Doubting Thomas” but approached it from the angle that doubt is a good thing and necessary to true faith. In other words, the only good Christian is the doubting Christian. That’s a smack in the face of everything the Bible says about faith.
While doubt might be a common experience, it is not a thing to glory in. After all, the reason we doubt stems from our sin nature. Indeed, Satan tempted Eve in part by introducing doubt over faith: “Did God actually say…?” and “You will not surely die.” Even if not a part of the wiles of demonic forces seeking to get us to taste the fruit, we doubt at times “for now we see in a mirror dimly…now I know in part” (1 Corinthians 13:12). The fall marred our view of the majestic glory of God, and as we wait for Jesus to return so we may see face to face, we live as Christ-followers in this in-between time where we set our eyes on the cross but sometimes our view gets a little hazy.
So the question is not will we doubt, but what do we do with our doubt?
At times we might say with David, “My God, my God why have you forsaken me? I cry by day but you do not answer,” but we must also say with David in the same breath, “I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you” (Psalm 22). Instead of languishing in doubt, we use those moments as opportunities to drive us closer to the God who made us and saved us.
First, moments of doubt should drive us to prayer. And it’s times like those where the simplest of prayers will do, like the father who sought help from Jesus in Mark 9 and said, “If you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” Prompting Jesus, “If you can! All things are possible for one who believes.” And immediately, the father replied, “I believe; help my unbelief!” It seems like a contradiction…I believe, help my unbelief…but it is a moment of spoken honesty. Let’s face it: even if we believe in God, and even if we have nice tidy theological answers to events in the world, we don’t always experientially get why things are the way they are or why God acts the way he does. Even when we consider the complexity and reality of the human experience and know beyond question it cannot be the result of randomness, and natural and biological mechanisms, we still sometimes question if God is there. We believe yet we need help for our unbelief. And did not even the apostles say to the Lord, “Increase our faith!”? (Luke 17:5).
Second, moments of doubt should drive us to the word. In Romans 10, Paul wrote about the events of salvation, concluding with: “So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ” (10:17). If it’s true for coming to salvation it is also true for continuing in salvation (2 Timothy 3:14-17). Doubt is a hunger for more faith, so we feed that hunger by feasting on the word. It is the word that provides milk when we are young and meat for our maturity, and through which God swears the oath of his promises and sets hope before us “as a sure and steadfast anchor of the soul” (Hebrews 5:11-6:20). The more we dwell in his word, the more he builds our faith.
Third, moments of doubt should drive us to worship. It’s not just Psalm 22, but also Psalm 10: “Why, o Lord do you stand afar off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?…but…The Lord is king forever and ever…O Lord, you hear the desire of the afflicted; you will strengthen their heart.” And Psalm 13, “How long, o Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?…but…I have trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.” Moments of question: “What is going on? Where are you Lord?” Yet they are mixed with praise. When we doubt, we should push beyond our feelings, questions, and unsureties and spend time singing praise to God.
Fourth, moments of doubt should drive us to fellowship. In Ecclesiastes, Solomon said, “Two are better than one…for if they fall, one will lift up his fellow. But woe to him who is alone when he falls and has not another to lift him up” (4:9-10). Is that not part of the brotherhood of church?—a family watching each other’s backs so when one stumbles the others are there to pick him up and carry him if need be? “But you, beloved, build yourselves up in your most holy faith…and have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 20-22). When we doubt, we should have a church family we can go to and say, “This is my struggle,” and have them respond with the mercy we need. Likewise when we see a fellow member struggling with doubt, we reach out with mercy to carry them along. And there we truly find fellowship.