Do Christians Experience Doubt?
"Doubting does not prove that a man has no faith, but only that his faith is small. And even when our faith is small, the Lord is ready to help us." - J. C. Ryle
Before we dig in too deep on the main topic of doubt, we need to first explore what faith is and is not.
What is Faith?
Faith is not some blind allegiance to a concept or idea divested from reality and evidence; at least not the Christian faith. On the contrary, the Gospel means Good News and speaks of ultimate reality.
Christianity is a belief rooted in both fact and experience. This is a living faith and it doesn't ask that someone set reason and logic aside, but rather invites them to use these God given abilities to consider the evidence set before them,... and then taking this one step further it implores them to experience ultimate truth for themselves.
How can one ensure they are in the truth if they are afraid to question and to test it? Scripture certainly makes no such admonishment, but rather praises it and encourages such discernment.
“Now these Jews were more noble than those in Thessalonica; they received the word with all eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see if these things were so.” Acts 17:11
And this handling of skepticism is not merely relegated to studying the Scriptures for doctrine. No, on the contrary we see with Thomas a man experiencing real doubt based on real reasons. When Jesus stood before him, He did not rebuke him, but rather called him to come and test these things and see first hand the truth for himself.
“Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Didymus, was not with them when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord.” But he said to them, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.” Eight days later, his disciples were inside again, and Thomas was with them. Although the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you.” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and see my hands; and put out your hand, and place it in my side. Do not disbelieve, but believe.” Thomas answered him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:24-29
Indeed, all of Scripture and Christian witness is intended to offer reasons for believing in not only God, but the incarnation of Christ and God's Redemption of man. Moreover, we are directed to consider the handiwork of God in Creation itself as it is said to speak of its Creator.
What is Doubt?
Doubt is often seen as the antithesis or opposite of faith, however this is not correct.
Consider you're driving down the road in your car - you trust this car will deliver you safely to your intended destination as it has so many times previously. However, you look down and notice the gas gauge is showing low fuel and so you begin to doubt you will make it without having to stop and refuel. At no point here did you not have faith in your car or your driving skills, the road or your destination. Rather, you took stock of the evidence before you in light of all those things you do have faith in and began questioning information through that prism. Doubt in this scenario caused you to question the steps you needed to take along your journey - not the journey itself.
Unbelief is the opposite of faith, not doubt. Unbelief is like believing the destination doesn't exist, the car is faulty and there's not enough gas in the world to get you to some place that isn't real.
Doubt is something every Christian will encounter, it is how we face it that matters.
This world is full of beauty and joy, but pain and sorrow are ever present. When our joy is abundant it is all too easy to forget heartache exists and turn a blind eye to the suffering all around us. Yet, when we experience a loss or go through a season of trials it becomes just as easy to focus on our suffering to such an extent that we no longer see the beauty this world has to offer – worse yet, we become indifferent to it.
When a Christian experiences pain and suffering, trials and tribulations, these things should not come as a shock to us. We were told to expect them.
Yes, suffering and doubt are real, but for the Christian we meet our doubts head on and unflinching. We know that we can trust God who laid down His life for us so that we might live, and we are prepared to suffer through this broken world for Him until He returns to set all things right.
So when a Christian encounters doubt they should stop, cry out to the Father for guidance and plant their feet firmly on the Sure Foundation, Jesus Christ – and then take one step at a time.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul. He leads me in paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me. You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Psalm 23
Still, some experience doubt not as a result of experiencing pain or a loss, but from being so blessed by worldly things, being so terribly comfortable that they forget their first love and grow cold and indifferent to God.
“I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false. I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name's sake, and you have not grown weary. But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. Yet this you have: you hate the works of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To the one who conquers I will grant to eat of the tree of life, which is in the paradise of God.’ Revelation 2:2-7
Those experiencing such a loss of fervor and love for the Lord are called to simply return to Him and do those things which make them conquerors.
Then there are those who are assaulted by challenges to their beliefs, either from secular sources or even by other Christians. For those going through such challenges do not rush into battle unarmed and ill-equipped. Instead, hold fast to Scripture and spend time in prayer, relying on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
“But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you.” John 14:26
A Common Mistake
A mistake people often make is confusing questioning an aspect of doctrine or your walk with doubting God altogether, a rejection of the Faith. Yet, as believers we are called to test the spirits, rightly divide the word and ensure we are holding fast to the truth given by God to man. It is impossible to do so if we are afraid to question such things.
In fact, one of the signs of a mature Christian is their ability to consider challenges to their doctrines and faith and answer them.
If you are experiencing doubt, do not go at it alone. Find a mature believer, one who has walked through what you’re facing or something similar and can point you in the right direction, praying for you and assisting you as needed.
Yes, Christians experience doubt. The primary difference between a Christian and an unbeliever is that we know where Truth resides, so we know where to find the answers. Doubt is the engine that should spur our spiritual growth, sending us deeper into Scripture and the arms of the Father.