I have often encouraged people to consider their doubts and not allow those doubts to prevent them from having faith. I have had conversations with people who could not yet make a decision to follow Jesus because they still had doubts about some aspect of Christian doctrine or their experience of God. I have been transparent and shared that I too have doubts but that I have enough faith to carry me over the fences of doubt that might otherwise keep me from Jesus. I appreciate what Philip Yancey has to say about doubt.
Doubt is something almost every person experiences at some point, yet something that the church does not always handle well. I’m an advocate of doubt, because that’s why I became a Christian in the first place. I started doubting some [of] the crazy things my church taught me when I was growing up! (This was a most unhealthy church, I must say.)
I’m also impressed that the Bible includes so many examples of doubt. Evidently God has more tolerance of doubt than most churches. I want to encourage those who doubt, and also encourage the church to be a place that rewards rather than punishes honesty.”1
Yet, I also want us to consider that, it does seem that God desires that we deal with our doubts. There are passages in the Bible where we find Jesus speaking out against doubt. His words are not harsh yet he speaks with authority and challenges people to release their doubt and have faith. Here are two examples.
“Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” Matthew 14:29-31 (NIV)
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” John 20:27 (NIV)
The book of James also speaks out against doubt. There we read.
But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. James 1:6 (NIV)
The book of Jude seems to be more patient with those who doubt; yet I am still caught up short by the words about snatching some from the fire.
. . . keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life. Be merciful to those who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; to others show mercy, mixed with fear—hating even the clothing stained by corrupted flesh. Jude 1:21-23 (NIV)
Lately, I have been asking myself and my Lord if I have misled some by telling them not to worry about their doubts. Perhaps, in some cases, I have taken doubts too lightly. I am not sure I have the complete answer but I do have some things to share from recent experience.
Recently, I went away for two days of quiet retreat. I wanted to hear from God about some decisions I needed to make. As I went off to the retreat I was aware of the doubts that were in my mind. Could I really expect to hear from God? Would God speak to a sinner like me? Did I even know for sure that God existed? I heard a voice inside my head that said, “Why don’t you leave the doubts at home for the time you are away at this retreat?” I realized that I could make a conscious decision to set aside my doubts for a time. I could choose to behave as if I did not have any doubts. At the end of the retreat I could choose to once again pick up my doubts. So I did let go of the doubts for a while. The whole time I was at the retreat centre I acted like I had absolute faith in God and not a single doubt about his love, his actions, or his existence. I have found this to be a helpful tool in my spiritual journey. The doubts are like little banners to other philosophies that I hold onto. They can be put down or taken up.
During the time I was away at the retreat I found that my faith grew significantly. God gave me impressions and ideas that helped me sort out the decisions I needed to make. God spoke to me through the Bible, through my understanding, and through the circumstances of this world. I went home and again checked what I had heard with the Bible and confirmed these words through conversations with trusted fellow travelers in the journey of faith. I found a great benefit in laying down my doubts for a time. The experience was so strong that upon returning from the retreat I found myself hesitant to take up the doubts that had been my constant companion for many years. I found myself wanting to stay in this doubt-free zone for a little while longer. That “little while longer” stretched into a little more time until I realized that it was somewhat permanent. I suspect that I will find other times in the future when I will take up some of my doubts again and that it may even be healthy for me to take up some of my doubts. As Philip Yancey reminds us, it is doubts that allow us to question unhealthy churches and question my own incorrect dogmas. Some doubt is necessary to allow us to break out of the religious blinders which keep us from seeing the true God. Perhaps I need to have special “fast days” when I fast from doubt; and special “doubt days” when I purposely choose to question all of the things I believe. Hey, I like that; I think I will put these special days on my calendar. Still, I will be certain to ensure that the “fasting from doubt days” outnumber the “doubt days.” The Bible has a bias of faith over doubt and so I too will choose the same predisposition. Would you like to try this with me?
1 (Yancey 2009)
Yancey, Philip. PhilipYancey.com. 2009. http://www.philipyancey.com/q-and-a-topics/faith-and-doubt (accessed June 22, 2013).