Is it okay to have doubts … and what is the antidote to doubt?

Even the most confident person will doubt at some point. We will doubt the claims of others, evidence, whether or not a project will succeed and even at some point, you may doubt yourself.

But what about when a believer doubts the truth of the Gospel?

There are two parts to this question. The first is about whether or not it is okay to have doubts. Is this a sin? Does it go against faith?   I think this question comes up because some people find the Evangelical world oppressive because of the certainty that seems to be required. This at times can seem to replace honesty. What do you do when you have questions where everyone  else appears to have quick soundbite answers? If those answers just produce further questions then what next? When do questions become doubts? When does doubt become a lack of faith? And what about the cautionary tale of Peter, walking on water, seeing the waves and sinking? Will Jesus also rebuke my lack of faith?

So here are some thoughts

1. It is okay to admit that you struggle with questions. We are finite humans, we live between the now and the not yet. We are vulnerable.  Far better to admit our vulnerabilities than to try and cover them up.

2. Part of admitting to an uncertainty is about recognising that my intellect is not invinceable. There are things that I cannot fully reason out or prove logically this side of glory.

3. Part of admitting a struggle with doubt is about admitting that my emotions are not invinceable. I have ups and downs in life.

If by doubt we mean admitting a struggle with uncertainty, incomplete knowledge and the ups and downs of emotional convictions then I think that’s okay. By that I don’t mean that doubt is a good thing: I mean that we are honest about the struggles of a faith journey.  I mean that it’s okay to admit to doubt in the same way that I can be honest about the struggle with temptation. We are not perfect yet.

But, doubt is not good because it is designed to rob us of truth and trust. It’s important to say this because there is a tendency in modern theology and spirituality to embrace doubt and uncertainty as good, to enjoy the ambiguity, to prefer unanswered questions, to scorn certain faith.

Doubt in God and the Gospel can be as much about my certain confidence in my intellectual ability and my emotions. When I assume that because I (and current scientific/historical/ philosophical wisdom) have failed to come up with the answers to a question or objection, that the objection must hold true, then I am failing to recognise that I am finite. Similarly, when I feel emotionally low and interpret this as spiritual distance from God, then I am placing far too much confidence in my emotions.

Tim  Keller helpfully talks about doubting our doubts and this is really what I’m talking about here. When I follow my doubts, I am putting them on a pedestal. Similarly, many years ago, I remember someone asking the question

“Will you hold onto your doubts and leave what you know to be true on the shelf? Or are you willing to put your doubts down  on the shelf and hold onto what you know to be true and reliable?”

This helps us then to answer the second part of the question “…what’s the antidote to doubt? I find the antidote when I start with what I know to be true. I listen to God’s revelation and I respond in belief.  I find it helpful then to think through the things I know. For example, I know that God has shown up historically in the person of Jesus, I know that this is consistent with the God who is sovereign, good, wonderful who has made a beautiful, ordered Universe. I know that the Gospel of the Saviour who steps in and takes our place bringing the forgiveness, reconciliation to God and eternal life that we cannot achieve for ourselves, is true. One of the clues that this is true is because it is so offensive that we are not likely to make it up. That’s why, as even seen in some recent articles that even the religious elite hate this Gospel and will do anything to destroy it, just as the religious elite of Jesus’ day hated him and wanted to destroy him.

A second part of the antidote is cultivating a healthy relationship with God. Take time to pray and to read the Bible. Prayer life is not just about asking God for things, it’s about praise and thanksgiving and in praise and thanksgiving, I acknowledge the truths I have learnt and remember the times in my own life when I have seen God at work.

The third antidote is fellowship. We take time to encourage and pray for each other.  We remind each other of Scripture, we talk through what we’ve learnt and we tell our testimonies to each other. 

Fourth, witness. There’s nothing like a concern for others and sharing the Gospel to refocus the mind and the heart.

Finally, with a different perspective, I am able to face those doubts I put on the shelf. It’s right to have an enquiring mind, to ask questions, to research. As we do this, we will find that God’s Word is reliable and true.