A man once said to Jesus: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). I resonate with that. I do believe, I really do, but I still have doubts and there are moments when I struggle to believe.
I used to think that having doubts was a sign of a weak and unravelling faith – now I’m not so sure. Not only am I finding that overcoming doubts enriches and strengthens my faith, I’m increasingly aware that the doubt can be an indicator of a strong faith.
Doubt often scares me, but it seems that Jesus is able to cope with it. Take the Great Commission, for example (Matthew 28:16-20). Here is Jesus giving his followers a world-changing mission with eternal implications and we discover that some of them doubted. We don’t know the nature of their doubt, but whatever it was Jesus took it all in his stride; so I’m confident he’ll do the same with us.
The author and theologian George MacDonald once said: “Doubt can be a tool in God’s hand wielded, in the lives of those who allow it, for the strengthening, not the destruction of faith.” That certainly rings true in my experience. I have doubted many things, including the existence of God, the resurrection of Jesus, and God’s willingness to forgive me (even after I did that). Through each of these periods of doubts my faith only narrowly survived, but in overcoming them, I found that my faith had become a much stronger and more deeply-rooted faith.
However, doubt is not just something in the past for me, it’s a present reality. I’ve been wrestling with my current doubt for several years now. It is this – I have no doubts whatsoever concerning the existence of God, but as I read the Old Testament, I do doubt the goodness of God. This one has, and still is, tying me up in knots.
For me, the Bible is both the source of the majority of my doubts about God and the majority of my reassurances about God. When I read the Bible, simultaneously, the doubts I have about God are multiplied and appeased! My faith is weakened and strengthened. It’s a tension I struggle to deal with.
This however doesn’t demonstrate a weak faith; quite the opposite in fact. If I didn’t believe that God existed, I wouldn’t have these doubts. If I didn’t want to take the Bible seriously I wouldn’t have these doubts. If I didn’t believe that God was good and loving I wouldn’t have these doubts. Having doubts about God is not necessarily a sign of a weak faith. I have these doubts because of my deep-rooted faith in God.
But there is a negative side to doubt. James describes a person who doubts as “unstable” and “a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind”. And although it’s true to say that my faith has been strengthened, by doubt more than anything else, doubt – particularly ongoing doubt – isn’t always constructive.
The question I’m wrestling with is this: is God a moral monster? Given the nature of my doubt, I had originally put it down as an academic question – a matter of the head, one which I could leave on the sidelines and explore in more detail when I had the time. But of course, it’s not just a matter of the head, is it? I now realise that this doubt deeply affects my relationship with God.
That’s unsurprising; if I have a little doubt-creature jumping up and down in my head whispering that God is a moral monster, that’s going to have an impact. As a result my ability to worship God in corporate gatherings has suffered and my prayer life has floundered. The head cannot be separated from the heart. Complex theological questions cannot be isolated from a living (hopefully) transformative day-to-day relationship with God.
So, although I’m learning that doubt can be good, I’m also learning that I must not let it fester. I’ve discovered that there isn’t a five-step approach to dealing with doubt; sometimes reading books helps, sometimes talking with friends, sometimes a revelation from God as I walk by the sea. I’ve run out of space, but I hope, in the comments below, you and others will share your experiences. Not only on the doubts you’ve had, but also on how you’ve overcome them and woven doubt into you faith-narrative.
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(Photo via Creation Swap)