A Discourse on Doubt
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 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, doubts and second-guesses what they believe and why. 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 into 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. 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. 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, one of two things happens 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
It’s impossible to truly embrace your doubt without doubting it. Put your doubt through the wringer. So often, people are willing to be skeptical of everything but their skepticism and 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 cannot be sure of anything except for the fact that we cannot be sure of anything. Reject this lie.
If you are a Christian who has some honest doubts, deal with those doubts in a balanced and consistent way. 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 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).
The Church’s Response to Doubt
The Church would do well to “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22 ESV). When we try to silence and forcefully oppose honest, curious doubt, we do more harm than good. 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 who should foremost embrace good doubt. After all, it is the Church who is to be most pitied if Christianity is untrue (1 Cor. 15:19). The church is “a pillar and buttress of the truth” (1 Tim 3:15) 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.
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