To Have Faith and Never Doubt?

That title is a phrase I heard on the radio this weekend as joyously and peppily proclaimed by a Dixie gospel group.  The song lyrics posited that to have faith and never doubt are essential to walk with Christ (and just for good measure, they sampled “Victory in Jesus” as a bridge between the second and third verses).  The message was somewhat oversimplified, but I would venture to say that this thought is widely accepted as doctrine: doubt is not only counter to faith, but also sinful in nature and naturally excluded by the presence of faith.  I beg to differ.  Faith that has never been questioned or doubted is not a very strong or deep faith.  It is faith that has never walked.

Before semantics become an issue, I am using the words “doubt” and “question” as essentially the same.  According to www.dictionary.com, doubt is “to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe” or “to be uncertain about something; be undecided in opinion or belief.”  Question is not only a sentence in interrogative form, but also “a matter of some uncertainty or difficulty” or “to make a question of; doubt.”  Doubt and question are synonyms with some obvious shades in meaning, but synonyms all the same.  I have heard people say that it’s okay to question your faith but not to doubt it.  I think that’s asking a bit much of syntax.

Where does questioning become doubt, and why are we so afraid of doubt?  The bottom line seems to be that we are afraid to find out we might be wrong and that our faith has been for naught.  We hope for irrevocable proof that our God is both real and right, and we are right to follow him.  Guess what, Thomas?  We won’t get that kind of tangible evidence this side of heaven.  We can hear echoes and glimpse flashes of Truth, but we will not know God the way that he knows us until we are standing in his presence.  Until that time, we are left here on earth to wrestle with faith and doubt.

The church tends to condition us not to express doubt.  When was the last time you heard anyone in a Sunday School class say there were days when they questioned the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus?  Can you hear the collective gasp and cry of blasphemy?  But, if you are a Christian, haven’t you had moments where you wondered if you’d missed the boat?  What is gained by hiding those moments from each other?  After two years of constant doubt, I felt embarrassed to go to church.  It was pretty easy to slip in late for the morning service or only show up at night with the smaller crowd, but I dreaded being in a small group like Sunday School because I didn’t want to answer any direct questions about my faith.  For two years, I defaulted to answering questions with some variation of, “Well, Paul says fill in the blank in Romans.”  I didn’t speak of my own thoughts or beliefs to anyone but my very, very best friends (maybe only two of them, actually) for almost two years.

I was in fact terrified to talk to anyone except my best friend about matters of faith.  What if they discovered that I had no idea what I believed anymore?  What if I couldn’t figure out what I believed at all?  At that point in my life, I had been a Christian for twenty years.  It shattered my world to have no idea which end was up.  If you are an ocean swimmer, imagine the worst rip tide you have ever experienced; you are caught underwater, being swirled and pummeled and forcibly moved by water that you can’t see through or control, and you have no idea which way the surface is or when you will next breathe.  At some point, you will either drown in the current or you will find your way back to the top and open air.

My foundations were solid, and I knew I wouldn’t drown, but it made for a terrifying few years.  Every time I attended church or read the Bible, I was confronted with some doubt that had to be wrestled into submission.  It was exhausting to think of doing all of that work by myself.  I have no doubt that it was unnecessary for me to be or feel alone – now.  I have no doubt that there are saints capable of never doubting, but I doubt that I have ever met one.  I do feel comforted to find myself in good company as an occasional doubter: the disciple Thomas, John the Baptist, and Mother Theresa all doubted.  I still wonder, if we don’t see those examples as sinful, why do we condemn ourselves as such for expressing a question?

Sometimes setting may be the issue.  It isn’t always appropriate to express every doubt to everyone.  For instance, if my questions are more in line with a specific doctrine about women’s roles in the church, I really shouldn’t espouse those questions to someone who struggling with the very idea of God’s existence or his goodness.  But I shouldn’t dismiss the doubts of someone who is struggling with something I may already have come to grips with.  I guess I’m going back to the shoeless man example, but we’ve got to help each other with what really matters without condemning the doubter as a heretic.  If our faith is never questioned, it is never tested or proven.  Would you rather go diving into the ocean with scuba gear that has been quality tested, or would you rather try your luck with second-hand gear that hasn’t seen light or water in decades?  I think of doubt as the quality test or the annual inspection my air tanks have to pass.  Questions allow us to test for weak spots and fix them before they become life-threatening issues.  That singing group can proudly claim to never doubt, but I have faith, and sometimes I doubt.

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4 thoughts on “To Have Faith and Never Doubt?

  1. What you say resonates with me. I do not believe very many people go through life without having to question the existence of God, or whether or not there is an afterlife, or various other things.

    What is your opinion on the meaning of the first 8 verses of James? It is odd that v. 5 makes it clear that knowledge may be lacking… i.e. a question needs to be answered… but then it is states that in order to receive an answer one must not doubt.

    Seems to be a catch 22.

    I suppose the “not doubting” part is having confidence that God will answer (in his way). Indeed, recognizing doubts and then actively seeking God’s help (or “questioning” him) could even be seen as an act of faith in and of itself. Almost paradoxical.

    My head hurts.

    1. My head hurts a lot like that. 🙂 Okay, so the first 8 verses of James… I was lucky enough to have The Message closest to me when I read your comment. Here’s how verses 2 through 8 read in that version:
      Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and he will give it to you. He will not rebuke you for asking. But when you ask him, be sure that your faith is in God alone. Do not waver, for a person with a divided loyalty is as unsettled as a wave of the sea that is blown and tossed by the wind. Such people should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Their loyalty is divided between God and the world, and they are unstable in everything they do.
      I know that some people have issues with The Message since it is a paraphrased version of the Bible. I like to read it to gain a different perspective or a plain language interpretation of difficult verses. The great thing in the case of these verses is that my study Bible commentary completely agrees. 🙂 The original word that was tranlsated into doubt here is intended to mean “double-minded.” Rather than interpreting this word as questioning-doubting, I think James is trying to tell us that we should only put our faith in God even when we are questioning. As in, don’t ask God to answer your questions and then turn to something else to answer them – another faith, another god, or something physical like drugs or material things. Our loyalty should be only to God, and so turning to him to answer our questions is definitely an act of faith. At least that’s my interpretation- my two cents, for whatever that’s worth.

  2. OMGoodness, it’s like you are living a life parallel to mine!! I still can’t get over how very much we think alike! And all these years I’ve never know it! What a lousy cousin I am!! 🙂

    I read an interesting article on this very subject a couple of months ago. Basically, it was theorizing(sp?) that doubt can be used of God to lead us deeper into Him. I, having grown up in church, heard some of the same gasps as you referred to regarding doubt, and, being married to a man who refers to himself as “doubting Thomas” on occasion, I didn’t look too kindly upon doubt myself. When I read the above mentioned article, I stopped and looked over my life and the times when I doubted and what the result was and, lo and behold, it was just as the article stated—I ended up in a deeper, more trusting place than before!!

    There have been two, what I would call “majorly doubting” times in my life (1)-when I doubted God’s very existence-about 22yrs. into my Christian walk!:/ and 2)-when I doubted whether He really gave a crap about me and my troubles–about 18 yrs. into it); there have been other doubting times, but I consider them to be minor–you know, what does God really mean by such and so, some ppl say this others say that, etc.

    What I found was that these “major doubting” times caused me to start searching for answers, which ultimately led me back to an even greater faith in God–both times!! If I had denied my doubt, pretended that it didn’t exist or whatever, I would never had ventured off on my search, and then wound up throwing what didn’t help out the window and sticking to what did help—God Himself!! This is what I believe to be “God causing all things to work together for good..” Yes, even causing our doubt to work for our good.

    And…if I recall correctly, Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for his doubt, He simply commended those that He knew were coming down the road who would believe in His death and resurrection WITHOUT seeing His nail-scarred hands, feet, and side!!! Btw, that is US!!

    Truth be told, He is just so AMAZINGLY GOOD, that even our doubt can’t get in His way!!! 😀

    Anne, I just love you! I love the way you write, the way you think, and your awesome, God-given sense of humor! We may not get to spend a lot of time together on this planet, but, Darlin’, you just plan on spending time with me in eternity–cause I can’t wait to sit and talk for hours with you!!! 😀

    1. That sounds like a fabulous way to spend eternity. 🙂 And you can’t be a lousy cousin – you have encouraged me in great ways, and you have given me excellent advice when I needed it. I appreciate having a parallel cousin, even if we don’t see each other often. And just so you know, you made my heart smile today!!

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