The Role of Doubt in Faith

“For most people who reject Christianity, their reasons for doing so are not usually intellectual, they’re personal.”

The book of the Bible called “The Letter to the Hebrews” was written to people who were discouraged, to the point of giving up. The reason? Because they didn’t see anything happening. They had put their faith in a God who loved them and cared about them, in a God whom they had been assured would hear their prayers when they called out to him, and yet their lives were characterized by frustration and difficulty.

Probably they knew that the promised salvation didn’t guarantee them a problem-free life – but they wondered: If God is good and loves me, then why are these bad things happening to me? They were struggling with doubt. They were weary and discouraged. And because of this, some of them were thinking of backing off of Christianity, or even turning their backs on it completely.

I’ve heard it said before that for most people who reject Christianity, their reasons for doing so are not intellectual (like not believing in the supernatural), they are personal. Something happened in their life which deeply hurt them or which they are frustrated with and can’t understand, and they wonder: Why? If there’s a supposedly a God who loves and cares about me, then why doesn’t he do more to make my life better?

There is a powerful statement found in the short New Testament letter of Jude:

“Have mercy on those who doubt.” – Jude 1:22

You can see that this is how God treats people who doubt as well. Think of Gideon, whom God called to do something, but then Gideon asked for a sign. Once he got the sign, he still wasn’t satisfied, so he asked for another sign! Rather than being a good practice that we should follow, Gideon’s requests for signs was essentially a lack of faith in God and his word, and yet – God was merciful towards Gideon.

Doubt is an inherent part of faith. If we could see everything, there would be no need for faith, but because we don’t see, we must have faith, and implicit to faith is doubt. Doubt is not necessarily the enemy of faith, it can actually be something that strengthens faith – but, there are different kinds of doubt: there is an honest form of doubt, which wants to believe but honestly struggles with some questions, and there is a cynical kind of doubt which says, “Don’t bother me with the facts, I’ve already made up my mind not to believe.”

In Timothy Keller’s book The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism, he writes:

A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own, but their friends’ and neighbors’.

But even as believers should learn to look for reasons behind their faith, skeptics must learn to look for a type of faith hidden within their reasoning. All doubts, however skeptical and cynical they may seem, are really a set of alternative beliefs. You cannot doubt Belief A from a position of faith in Belief B. For example, if you doubt Christianity because ‘There can’t be just one true religion,’ you must recognize that this statement is itself an act of faith. No one can prove it empirically, and it is not a universal truth that everyone accepts. If you went to the Middle East and said, ‘There can’t be just one true religion,’ nearly everyone would say, ‘Why not?’ The reason you doubt Christianity’s Belief A is because you hold unprovable Belief B. Every doubt, therefore, is based on a leap of faith.

So, not only is doubt normal and even healthy (if handled properly), but all forms of doubt are based on faith and belief in something. May we be those who not only wrestle with questions and come to a stronger, more robust faith – but may we be those who doubt our doubts, and help others to do the same!