What is doubt and is it sinful?

Christian Doubt, Part 1

If I had a dollar for how many times I thought those words as I wrote this blog series, I could retire now!  Just because I’ve been a Christian most of my life, have two degrees, and now pastor a church, I still don’t have all the answers.  I never will.  In fact, as many have said before, “the more I learn, the more I realize how little I actually know.”  At the end of the day, it is this lack of knowledge that forms the basis of my doubt.

Christian Doubt, Part 1

I think if we were all honest for a minute, we would ALL realize we experience some levels of doubt.  Unfortunately, the word doubt seems to have negative connotations and therefore, when we experience doubt, we either keep it locked up inside, or count ourselves as unspiritual.  As a point of introduction to this series, I’d like to help define what doubt really is and set some of the ground work for the next three parts.

  1. Doubts are unanswered questions.

Doubt is simply processing the things we don’t know for certain.1 Depending on our spiritual journey, our uncertainty could be anything from whether or not God is real, to why God doesn’t always heal those who are sick.

  1. Doubt is natural, not necessarily sinful.

I read an article recently about how some people aren’t physically healed.  Unfortunately, in years past, we have made people believe that doubt is a sort of spiritual disease that somehow blocks us from God’s healing power.2  This is simply not the case.  Doubt is a natural experience that flows out of our humanity, and causes us to think and act accordingly.  The only possible sinful activity, would be how we chose to process that doubt – we’ll explore this further in the series.

  1. Doubt is not the same as unbelief.

We tend to associate doubt with unbelief because they are closely related.  Just because we doubt, however, doesn’t necessarily mean we don’t believe.  I’m reminded of the father and son found in Mark 9:23-25.  The son needed to be healed from an unclean spirit.  Jesus said he could be healed if he believed.  The father responded honestly: “I believe, help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). John Ortberg wrote it this way: “I believe and I doubt.  I hope and I fear. I pray and I waver.  I ask and I worry.  I believe; help my unbelief.”3  The father both believed and doubted, and Jesus still answered them by healing the son.  Our doubt and belief is much more encouraging and complicated than we might think.

Depending on where we are on our journey of faith, we all experience both belief and doubt.  For example, a new Christian may believe in Jesus and His redemptive work in his/her life, but may doubt the idea of the Trinity.  It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in the one and only God, it simply means they have not yet understood how one God can simultaneously exist in three relational ways.  Likewise, a Christian may know for certain that God CAN heal; however, may be uncertain of why their loved one (a faithful Christian) was not healed, while their neighbour (an unbeliever) was healed.  It doesn’t mean they don’t believe in God’s ability; rather, they are processing their doubt (uncertainty) regarding God’s activity. It’s a spiritual journey.

  1. We tend to associate our doubt with failure and not growth.

At the end of the day, our doubt will propel us to choose between two directions.  We can either allow our doubt to push us further away from God, or we can allow ourselves, and others, the space we need, to process our doubt, and to bring us closer to God.  If we choose the latter, we choose discipleship.  As a result, our doubt leads us on our journey of growth, rather than describing our failure.

I spent a long time trying to figure out the best way to approach such an important discussion.  While examples, stories and ideas play a major part in our Christian journey, the next three posts will focus first and foremost on four biblical examples of how we should process our doubt:

Part Two: “When We Doubt God’s Truth” (Exploring “Doubting” Thomas’ journey of faith).
Part Three: “When We Doubt God’s Voice” (Gideon’s uncertainty of God’s voice).
Part Four: “When We Doubt God’s Plan” (How John the Baptist and Paul questioned God’s plan).

Your turn…

How have you viewed your doubt?

My prayer for this series is that it will help us process our doubt so we can grow spirituality and become more mature in the faith.  Along the way, I would love to hear from you!  Feel free to comment, or send me an email (andrewholm@gmail.com).

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