Doubt can be frustrating or even frightening to some of us, and if we’re truly honest with ourselves, most of us have experienced doubt at least once before. Those feelings can be magnified when we read passages of Scripture like these:
But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. —James 1:6 KJV
And he that doubteth is damned if he eat, because he eateth not of faith: for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. —Romans 14:23 KJV
Yikes! Not only are we struggling with doubt, frustration and fear, but now we have the guilt of sin to contend with. Being weighed down with so many unpleasant feelings can certainly hinder spiritual growth.
What we must first understand is that doubt is normal — and maybe even necessary — for spiritual growth. Paul Tillich once said, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” John Ortberg, author of Know Doubt, even describes uncertainty as a gift. Most importantly, we must remember that we will always, always be forgiven. Even the Disciples, who knew Jesus in the flesh, struggled with doubt:
And as they thus spake, Jesus himself stood in the midst of them, and saith unto them, Peace be unto you. But they were terrified and affrighted, and supposed that they had seen a spirit. And he said unto them, Why are ye troubled? and why do thoughts arise in your hearts? Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have. —Luke 24:36-39 KJV
The Disciples knew Jesus. They heard, from His own lips, His promises to return. And yet they still doubted. Far from being angry or even hurt, Jesus just seemed to give them a “Seriously, guys?” type of response and then sat down to break bread with them. Before He departed, He even blessed them. Jesus knows human nature because He was human. He knows it’s in our nature to doubt.
Once you make peace with yourself for being human, figure out where your doubts are stemming from. Just as faith is a very personal experience, so, too, is doubt.
However, a quick Google search and a foray into Christian discussion forums seems to reveal that numerous people have doubts, if not abandon their faith entirely, because they have experienced great suffering or they simply can’t rationalize their faith in the face of scientific inquiry. If this is what is troubling you, you are not alone, and there are boatloads of resources you can explore to nurture your faith as you continue to grow spiritually and intellectually.
Suffering is a topic that everyone wrestles with. The philosopher Epicurous wrote, approximately 250 years before Jesus was born, “Is God willing to prevent evil, but not able? Then he is impotent. Is he able, but not willing? Then he is malevolent. Is he both able and willing? Whence then is evil?”
St. Augustine, C.S. Lewis, Philip Yancey and countless other Christians have tried to break this extraordinarily difficult question down and answer it in a way the average person can understand. While it is impossible to sum up dozens of books in a few short sentences, the most important thing to remember is that God does not want us to suffer. He doesn’t point and laugh when tragedy befalls us.
Whether we are victims of someone else’s actions or we have brought it upon ourselves, He is there to lift us up. Consider reading Where Is God When It Hurts? by Philip Yancey or The Problem of Pain by C.S. Lewis. They may provide some answers you are looking for.
If it’s your intellect that’s putting up the roadblock, try to further define it. For example, plenty of people have difficulty believing God exists at all because they were brought up in an all-or-nothing type of faith: either we take Genesis literally and believe the Earth was created in exactly seven days, or we don’t believe God exists. This ultimatum can actually cause people more harm than good, especially if they study biology or medicine.
Fortunately, there are shelves upon shelves of resources you can choose from. Consider reading The Language of God by Francis Collins and checking out the BioLogos Foundation, a community dedicated to the integration of science and Christian faith.
Doubt is inevitable, but there’s no reason you can’t use doubt as a tool to strengthen your faith. Expand your mind and lift up your heart, and be prepared for an enormous spiritual growth spurt.