Seeing the “Benefit” of the Doubt

What is a biblical approach to faith versus doubt? We often think that doubt is the complete opposite of faith.

Perhaps you’ve heard some of the following popular sayings in our culture today:

  • “Your faith has to be stronger than doubt!”
  • “Doubt your doubts before doubting your faith.”
  • “Feed your faith and your doubts will starve.”
  • “Cast out doubt, cultivate faith.”
  • “Faith moves mountains while doubt creates them.”

I’m not so sure that telling ourselves these kinds of proverbs is all that helpful. Whether it be the death of a loved one, a broken relationship, feeling lonely or isolated, or not knowing how to handle a new season of life, there are many ways in which we have all doubted about God’s presence in our lives. Doubt seems to just come naturally to us, and I don’t think that’s always a bad thing.

On Sunday we explored the infamous story about good old doubting Thomas. We often give Thomas a hard time for the doubt he expressed when faced with Jesus’ resurrection. The church usually has a complicated relationship with issues of doubt. We almost always assume that doubt is the complete opposite of faith. We view doubt as a sign of weakness and a troublesome sort of thing. In the past, I’ve hear well-intentioned Christians simply tell others experiencing uncertainty to just believe and ignore any hesitations. Is doubt truly a sin, as so many people assume?

Based off of my experience and examination of scripture, it is not a sin to doubt. We all face uncertainty. Not everyday we live is filled with 100% confidence in experiencing God. Oftentimes throughout our lives, we actually walk through spiritual deserts, where we don’t hear from, feel, or encounter God in our day-to-day life. Characters in the bible also struggled with doubt, too, including Jesus himself. For any faithful follower of God, doubt is usually a part of his or her journey.

In fact, there might actually be benefits to doubting–a literal “benefit of the doubt” so to speak! Doubting in our walk with Christ means that we are living an active faith. In other words, we develop a lively relationship with God instead of being passive. Praying to God during times of doubt and sharing those concerns allows us to become closer to God simply because we are honest and don’t hold anything back.

After preaching on Sunday morning, I reread some accounts of Mother Theresa’s life. Many people do not realize that this famous Christian from the 20th century often felt spiritually dry and distant from God during her ministry to the poor in India. Sister Sheila McGrath reflects on Theresa’s encounters with doubt: “We aren’t wrong or bad for having questions and doubts. It’s helpful to have doubts–they can strengthen our faith. Think of how much we appreciate the sun after a spate of overcast days. Hope helps us get through. And remember, saints from John of the Cross to Teresa of Avila had profound doubts. So when we doubt, we are in good company.”

Nevertheless, Theresa continued to serve and love her neighbors, despite feeling distant from God at times. She didn’t view doubt as a stumbling block to faith, but instead as a normal part of life.

Keep that in mind as you love and serve God this week. Continue to follow in the steps of Christ, even if you don’t feel the warmth of God’s presence.

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