Summary: When it comes to doubt, we need to see that: 1. Doubts can build faith. 2. We will never have all the answers. 3. A cynical spirit leads us away from God.
Philip Yancey in his book, Disappointment with God, tells of a letter he received from a woman who was struggling with life and her faith in God. He says, “A young mother wrote that her joy had turned to bitterness and grief when she delivered a daughter with spina bifida, a birth defect that leaves the spinal cord exposed. In page after page of tiny, spidery script she recounted how medical bills had soaked up the family savings and how her marriage had cracked apart as her husband came to resent all the time she devoted to their sick child. As her life crumbled around her, she was beginning to doubt what she had once believed about a loving God.” She wanted to know, “Did I have any advice?”
This young woman is not alone in her doubts. The writer of the biblical book of Psalms often struggled with doubt that came from God’s apparent silence and inactivity. He began to wonder if God really did care about him. He cried out: “Awake, O Lord! Why do you sleep? Rouse yourself! Do not reject us forever. Why do you hide your face and forget our misery and oppression?” (Psalm 44:23-24). There are many times when we are tempted to doubt God, but there is no more common experience than when life comes crashing down around us and things continue to get worse rather than better. We ask what it is that we have done wrong. We question whether we are really a Christian or not. We blame ourselves, and we even blame God. We begin to wonder if God cares, and then we begin to wonder if he is there. Fears begin to approach us that this whole God thing is some kind of hoax. The pain takes over our lives and we don’t seem to have the emotional energy for faith anymore. The pain of life can sometimes harden us. As Rich Mullins sings: “You who live in heaven / Hear the prayers of those of us who live on earth / Who are afraid of being left by those we love / And who get hardened by the hurt.” I know many people who seem to suffer more than their fair share of the pain of this world, and when that happens questions begin to arise. No wonder the Bible says, “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22).
Doubting is a common experience among Christians. If you have never doubted anything, it may mean that you have never thought seriously about anything. The only way to never doubt is to never use your mind to question and try to figure anything out. So, not only can you be a Christian and still have some doubts, but you can hardly be a Christian without doubting at times. After all, if doubting was not possible, faith would not possible either. The only way there can be no doubt is for there to be no alternatives or choices. Doubting does not mean that your faith stops, it means you are trying to understand your faith at a deeper level. Rather than being afraid of doubts, we should allow them to take us to deeper experiences of faith and understanding.
So the first thing we need to understand is that: Doubt can lead to faith. Honest doubt means that we are thinking and seeking to understand. The simple answers do not satisfy us any longer and we want to understand at a new level. Honest doubt seeks to know and understand. Dishonest doubt seeks to find reasons to stay at its present level of unbelief. Honest doubt wants to know more about God and experience him in new ways. Dishonest doubt seeks to question God at the most basic level in order to avoid coming closer. Honest doubt is seeking to come to a place of trust and rest in God. Dishonest doubt seeks to find excuses for not trusting God and excluding him from one’s life.
I believe that God honors our struggles to understand. I’m not sure God is very excited about someone who just passively believes because someone told them what they should believe. Better to fight with God than not engage him at all. Passiveness is not a spiritual attribute. In fact, all through the Bible it seems that it is those who struggle with God who receive his blessing.
I reached a crisis of faith recently when I realized once again that I did not have God all figured out. I actually became afraid of God and what he would do, because of a fresh realization that he was outside of my control. As much as I have attempted to know him, he is still unpredictable. He overwhelms and overpowers me. He is still God, and I cannot make him do what I want. He is wild and untamed, but this is also what makes him so exciting. Just when I think I know what he will do and how he will respond, he breaks out of the box in which I have put him. He is too big for any box. None of us have God all figured out. None of us have a corner on the truth. We can get into heaven without having all the right beliefs, but we cannot get into heaven without a heart for God. Make no mistake, the basic tenets of our faith are unchangeable and essential, but believing all the right things will not get you into heaven. There is a place for questions, but people who are after the heart of God ask those questions because they want to know, not because they want an excuse for not believing. They struggle with God.