“Have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22, ESV).
When I was in my first semester of seminary and in Old Testament Survey, there were a lot of new things to me, despite being raised in church and formed in a Christian school. As we were looking into the Psalms, we had a discussion board question that rocked my world! As I opened the browser and read the question, I grew uneasy. These words were staring at me, “Is it okay for a believer to challenge or question God?”
I didn’t know how to answer. I felt that if I said yes, I would be wrong. But it also felt like a trick question. Why would they ask something that seems to have such an obvious answer? I ended up going with what I thought was the “safe” answer. I gave my 300 word response as to why I thought it was wrong to question or doubt God. Within about an hour and over the course of the next day, I discovered how wrong I was!
At first, I grew defensive. But as over the course of the next few years, I realized that these responses were actually coming to my rescue.
Is It Okay to Doubt God?
I’ve heard it said that doubt isn’t just a Christian problem, it is a human problem. We all doubt many things. When the time came to jump out of the plane when I was skydiving, I had a moment of doubt for my safety. When I would step up to the plate to hit a baseball, I would doubt my ability. When I had been a Christian for years, I would doubt God in various ways. Doubt is natural.
Consider this: The man that Jesus called the greatest prophet in Scripture (Matthew 11:11; Luke 7:28) ended up doubting God. John the Baptist was the one who baptized Jesus which commenced our Savior’s ministry. When John first saw Jesus, he passionately exclaimed, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29, CSB). At this moment, there is no doubt in John’s mind that Jesus is the Son of God.
Fast forward a little while and John finds himself in prison, potentially facing death. Confused as to why Jesus would let this happen, he sends his disciples to Jesus to ask, “Are you the one who is to come, or should we expect someone else?” (Matthew 11:3, CSB). Because of what was happening in his life, John began to question whether or not Jesus was truly who he claimed to be. Simply put, he doubted.
If John was the greatest prophet in Scripture, then I take great comfort in the fact that he doubted. It definitely makes me feel normal.
John wasn’t the only one. There is Thomas, who said he would never believe unless he had proof (John 20:24–25). There was a concerned father who cried out, “I do believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, CSB). There was Mary that asked, “How can this be” (Luke 1:34, CSB).
You see, doubt it not only a normal part of the Christian experience, but of the human experience.
Sources of Doubt
When we experience doubt, the greatest question we can ask ourselves is where it came from. Doubts—when related to God—will most often mask (or filter) themselves as an intellectual or philosophical problem. But there is typically an underlying cause for these seemingly intellectual issues that arise.
Consider Lee Strobel as he writes in the Case for Faith, “I had a lot of motivation to find faults with Christianity when I was an atheist. I know that my hard-drinking, immoral, and self-obsessed lifestyle would have to change if I ever became a follower of Jesus, and I wasn’t sure I wanted to let go of that” (Strobel, 240). He admitted that even if Christianity turned out to be true, he didn’t want to let go of his old way of life in order to follow Jesus. I applaud his honesty, because I have been there myself.
What is the underlying source of your doubt? Are you like John, asking God, “How could you let this happen?” Are you like the Rich Young Ruler (Matthew 19:16–22; Mark 10:17–27), telling Jesus that even though you know he is God, you just don’t want to let go of what you have? Are you like Mary, just wondering, “How?”
Regardless of where your doubt stems from, you’re not alone. But what will you do with your doubt?
Directions of Doubt
Doubt is not stagnant or directionless. It doesn’t take a seat on the bench. It drives you either one way or the other.
When you see a picture of a mountain climber who has reached the peak of the mountain, you see a victorious climber gazing down at the epic view from the top. As you look at the picture and marvel at its beauty, what you don’t see is the grueling journey that it took to get there.
A climber going up Pikes Peak, K2, or even Everest, might begin to question whether or not the journey is worth it when they get about halfway up. At that point, they face the question of giving up and going back down or pressing on and making it to the top.
Doubt can be compared to a mountain and the journey to the top. You experience difficulty along the journey of the Christian life and begin to ask questions. Doubt will either drive you down the mountain or up the mountain. Doubt isn’t your enemy. How you respond to doubt is what truly matters. Allow doubt to drive you up the mountain!
Doubt Your Doubts
There is a toxic doubt mentioned in Scripture (Matthew 14:31; 21:21; 28:17; Mark 11:23; Luke 24:38; Romans 14:23; James 1:6–8), but that is not the topic of this post. Toxic doubt is doubt that drives you down the mountain.
The better alternative is to doubt your doubts, and allow those doubts to propel you upwards on your journey. But you may be wondering, how? How do I doubt my doubts?
Don’t bottle up your doubts. Discuss them with someone you trust. Continue asking questions. Investigate and find answers. To many of your questions, you will find answers. However you need to be prepared to not receive answers to all of your questions and be okay with that. Since my paradigm shifting revelation in seminary, I have asked many questions and have found many answers. Yet, there have been many questions that I have not received answers to. We are not meant to know all of the answers. If we did, we would be God. But don’t let this drive cause more doubt. Allow it to increase your wonder at and awe for our mighty God!
There is no silver bullet or quick fix approach. Climbing the mountain is a marathon, not a sprint. But it will make reaching the peak such a more satisfying achievement.
Be honest about your doubts. When Lee Strobel and C.S. Lewis were honest about their doubts and asked honest questions, they realized the evidence for Christianity is absolutely astounding. They asked questions regardless of the answers they would get. Will you do the same? Ask you questions. Doubt your doubts. Find your answers.
“Faith is not the absence of doubt; it is continuing to follow Jesus in the midst of your doubt.”