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Opposite of Faith is Unbelief not Doubt
All the passages below are taken from Lee Strobel’s book, “God’s Outrageous Claims,” which was published in 1997 by Zondervan.
Lee, I need your help. I see so many people around the church who have such a strong faith that I feel like I don’t fit in. I would like to feel confident, I wish I didn’t have doubts, but I’ve got more questions than answers. Now I’m beginning to doubt whether I’m a Christian at all. Can you relate to any of this? What should I do? Could you get back to me right away?
I recognized the signature: this was a bright and sincere business executive whom I was considering for a future leadership role in the church.
But his letter didn’t alarm me. Actually I found it encouraging that he was refusing to hide his skepticism and ride on the spiritual coattails of others. Besides, I have gone through times when I could relate to what he was saying. And maybe the same is true of you.
Perhaps you’ve questioned whether God has really forgiven you. Or you’ve wondered whether the Bible can be completely trusted. Or you can’t reconcile the world’s suffering with a loving God. Or you’ve read an article by a scientist or liberal theologian that kicked the legs of your faith right out from under you.
The truth is that a spiritual virus has been going around Christian circles for centuries, and it’s called doubt. If you haven’t caught it yet, you will. In fact, we could divide Christians into three groups. The first would consist of those who have doubted. The second would be those who haven’t doubted yet but who will. The third group would be those who are brain-dead.
Because if you’re a thinking person at all---if you seriously contemplate your faith and what it means to follow Jesus---the chances are that every once in a while you’re going to come down with some questions, issues, concerns, uncertainties, hesitations, or doubts.
And by the way, that’s not just a Christian phenomenon. I can personally attest that atheists also doubt their position from time to time. As C. S. Lewis wrote, “Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an athe1st I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”1
So the issue isn’t whether you will catch the doubt virus; we’re all carriers to some degree. The big question is, How can we prevent that virus from turning into a virulent disease that ultimately ravages our faith?
But God’s outrageous claim is that you can survive your bouts with doubt---and not only that but your faith could very well emerge even stronger as a result. As incredible as it sounds, doubting may turn out to be the healthiest thing you’ve ever done!
STAGGERING BETWEEN YES AND NO
There’s no doubt about it: doubt scares many Christians. They stare into the darkness at night, pestered by vague uncertainties and persistent questions that make them feel anxious and vulnerable, almost as if they were experiencing spiritual vertigo.
And to make matters worse, most Christians are reluctant to breathe a word about this, because they don’t want to be embarrassed. “I was so glad to hear you say that doubt is common, because I thought I was the only one,” a woman told me after I spoke on this topic. “I was afraid to admit I had questions. I didn’t want everybody around here to think I was some kind of wimp!”
When we keep our doubts suppressed inside, we unwittingly give them more and more power over us. On the other hand, when we finally let them emerge and face them squarely, it’s amazing how often their potency disappears.
So let’s put the doubt virus under the microscope, where we can expose it to scrutiny and destroy some of our misconceptions that give it undue strength. And believe me, there are plenty of misunderstandings about it.
For instance, most Christians think that doubt is the opposite of faith, but it isn’t. The opposite of faith is unbelief, and that’s an extremely important distinction to understand. Said Os Guinness in his classic book In Two Minds, “Doubt comes from a word meaning ‘two.’ To believe is to be ‘in one mind’ about accepting something as true; to disbelieve is to be ‘in one mind’ about rejecting it. To doubt is to waver between the two, to believe and disbelieve at once and so to be ‘in two minds.’”2
Guinness pointed out that in the Bible, unbelief refers to a willful refusal to believe or a deliberate decision to disobey God. But to doubt is something different. When we doubt, we’re being indecisive or ambivalent over an issue. We haven’t come down squarely on the side of disbelief, but we’re up in the air over some questions or concerns. “Doubt does not mean denial or negation,” wrote Karl Barth. “Doubt only means swaying and staggering between Yes and No.”3
Lynn Anderson, whose book If I Really Believe, Why Do I Have These Doubts? candidly describes his struggles with faith, said non-believers are people “who have made a conscious or unconscious choice not to have faith.” In contrast, doubters may be uncertain whether they have real faith or may not know exactly what to believe, but “they still want to have faith.”4
Let me offer some words of encouragement: you can have a strong faith and still have some doubts. You can be heaven-bound and nevertheless express uncertainty over some theological issues. You can be a full-fledged Christian without absolutely settling every single question of life once and for all. In fact, it has been said that struggling with God over the issues of life doesn’t show a lack of faith---that is faith. If you don’t believe me, just peruse the Psalms!
“True believers can experience doubt,” said Gary Habermas, a scholar who has extensively researched this topic. “In both the Old and New Testaments, believers clearly express wide ranges of questioning, especially on such topics as pain and evil, God’s personal dealing with his people, and the issue of evidence for one’s belief. On each of those subjects, doubt is clearly expressed by prominent believers.”5
Go ahead---breathe a sigh of relief. Those words might be just what you needed to hear to begin neutralizing the anxiety that the doubt virus has been generating inside you.
SUFFERING FROM CERTAINTY TO DOUBT
Not only is doubt different from disbelief but, contrary to popular opinion, doubt isn’t unforgivable, either. God doesn’t condemn us when we question him. In discussing this subject with me, Habermas offered an unlikely illustration involving John the Baptist.
If anybody should have been immune to the doubt virus, Habermas said, it would be John. He had given his entire life to paving the way for Jesus. He was the one who confidently pointed to Jesus and declared, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”6 He baptized Jesus and then personally witnessed the heavens opening up and God proclaiming, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”7 This is the person who said about Jesus, “I have seen and I testify that this is the Son of God.”8
But when he was wallowing in prison, awaiting execution, questions began swirling in John’s mind. Suddenly he wasn’t so sure anymore. The historian Luke describes how John sent two of his friends to track down Jesus and ask him point-blank, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?”9 That was John’s way of saying, “I used to be convinced you were the Messiah, but now... well, I’m wondering.”
How does Jesus react? Not by slam-dunking John. Not by shaming him. Instead, he tells John’s disciples, “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor.”10
That is, he instructs them to provide John with all the evidence they have seen for themselves that confirms that Jesus is indeed the Messiah. Then, Jesus suggests, John’s plague of doubt will be healed.
And guess how this affects the way Jesus views John. Instead of concluding that his questions have rendered him useless, Jesus declares, “I tell you, among those born of women there is no one greater than John.”11
Think about that---Jesus gave John this incredible compliment at the very same time he was experiencing doubt! And in the midst of your sincere questions and concerns, while you’re wrestling with your honest hesitations and uncertainties, Jesus won’t slam-dunk you either.
Don’t you think God would rather have you be honest with him about your doubts than have you profess a phony faith? He knows what’s going on inside us anyway; it’s absurd to think we can mask our doubts from him. An authentic relationship means telling the truth about how we feel---and that’s the kind of relationship God wants with us.
THE UPSIDE OF DOUBT
Another common misconception is that the doubt virus is always damaging to our spiritual health. However, the outrageous truth is that God can use our doubts to produce some extremely positive side effects.
To maintain our medical analogy, this is like getting an immunization: To help your body fight off a future disease, doctors inject you with a small amount of the very same illness so you will build up antibodies that will battle off that sickness if it ever threatens you. Your body is actually healthier for the experience. Similarly, when you’re infected with the doubt virus and you seek answers to your questions, you emerge stronger than ever, because your faith has been confirmed once more. You emerge with new confidence in dealing with doubt in the future.
That’s what happened to me when I was a fairly new Christian and volunteered to respond to cards submitted by church attenders who had questions. One Sunday a twelve-year-old girl turned in a card that simply said she wanted to know more about Jesus. “Could you and your wife come have dinner with me and my dad so we could talk?” she asked in a subsequent phone conversation.
“Of course!” I replied enthusiastically. I couldn’t imagine a better way to spend an evening than telling a child and her father about Jesus.
But when Leslie and I arrived at their house, I glanced at the coffee table and saw a stack of scholarly books written by critics of Christianity. It turned out that the girl’s father was a scientist who had been studying critiques of the faith for a long time.
Over pizza and soft drinks, he peppered me with questions until midnight, and many of his challenges caught me completely off guard. Frankly, a few sent tremors through my faith. I finally said, “I can’t answer all of your questions, but I don’t think that after two thousand years you’ll be the first person to destroy the foundation of Christianity. So let me do some research and get back to you.”
This doubt-generating experience prompted me to delve into new areas of research---in which I soon found satisfying answers that boosted my confidence in Christianity to even greater heights. Today I’m better equipped to handle these kinds of questions when they arise, and I’m less likely to let tough questions generate doubts. In short, my faith is healthier for the experience.
Author Mark Littleton agrees that this kind of experience can be a tremendous benefit. “Through doubt we can learn more than through naive trust,” he said. Truth can be tested. Doubt is the fire through which it passes. But when it has been tried it will come forth as gold.”12
Francis Bacon said it well nearly four hundred years ago: “If a man will begin with certainties, he shall end in doubts; but if he will be content to begin with doubts, he shall end in certainties.”
DISCOVERING GOD’S FOOTPRINTS
That’s not the only positive outcome we can experience when we work through our doubts. Sometimes when we’re afflicted with uncertainties, we get the feeling that God is absent from our life, yet Henri Nouwen said this can actually turn out to be a blessing in disguise. We can only plumb the mystery of God’s presence, he said, when we experience a deep awareness of his absence. When this absence creates a deeper and deeper longing inside us for God, that’s when we “discover his footprints”:
Just as the love of a mother for her son can grow deeper when he is far away, just as children can learn to appreciate their parents more when they have left home, just as lovers can rediscover each other during long periods of absence, so our intimate relationship with God can become deeper and more mature by the purifying experience of his absence.13
How ironic---when our doubts distance us from God, we can develop a fresh new hunger for his presence in our life and thus emerge with a faith that’s healthier than ever. What an amazing testimony to God’s willingness to grow our faith if we resolve to take a step toward him even while our own uncertainties threaten to push us away.
And there’s yet another way that doubt can be healthy for us: it can save us from the consequences of our own gullibility. For instance, what if David Koresh’s followers had questioned his bizarre biblical teachings before they were led to their destruction at Waco? What if residents of Jonestown had doubted the teachings of Jim Jones before he lured them into the trap of mass suicide? Sometimes we experience doubt because we sense we’re being led astray---and heeding that caution can be the best step we can take.
“Test everything,” cautioned the apostle Paul, “Hold on to the good.”14 When we’re receiving teaching that doesn’t square with Scripture, it’s time to question the teacher---and let our doubts lead us away from harm. Godly teachers encourage questions; those with something to hide are the ones who demand unthinking obedience.
The doubt virus, then, can serve us well in certain circumstances---if we seek prompt and thorough treatment for the infection. Instead of eating away at our faith, it might actually leave us stronger than before. At the turn of the century, Quaker pastor Rufus Jones put it this way: “A rebuilt faith is superior to an inherited faith that has never stood the strain of a great testing storm. If you have not clung to a broken piece of your old ship in the dark night of the soul, your faith may not have the sustaining power to carry you through to the end of the journey”15
When you’re feeling dizzy and disoriented because of doubt, remember that observation. As you emerge from your uncertainties, you may very well possess a heartier faith, a deeper faith, a more resilient and enduring faith, than before it was put to the test.
In The Gift of Doubt, Gary E. Parker acknowledges that some people may be uncomfortable with this idea that doubt can strengthen a person of faith. But he believes it’s true “If faith never encounters doubt, if truth never struggles with error, if good never battles with evil, how can faith know its own power? In my own pilgrimage, if I have to choose between a faith that has stared doubt in the eye and made it blink, or a naive faith that has never known the firing line of faith, I will choose the former every time”16
And as someone who has personally experienced how doubt can purify faith, I would make the same choice---no doubt about it.
Despite its potential upside, though, it’s not a good idea to go out of our way to find doubt. And when we do experience uncertainties, we should always be working positively to resolve them. That’s because if we passively allow the doubt virus to ravage our beliefs, it might ultimately decimate our faith. But to determine the right prescription for combating the virus, we need to understand the various ways that doubt can infect us---through our mind, our emotions, and our will.
THINKING IT OVER
One place doubt often gains entry to our lives is through our intellectual concerns about the faith. For instance, we start to wonder whether angels, demons, heaven, hell, miracles, and the Resurrection are really rational to believe in. We’re especially vulnerable to the doubt virus if we don’t know why we believe what we believe.
It might start with a conversation in which an acquaintance asks, “So you believe Jesus is God?”
“Sure,” you say. “Of course.”
“Well, why do you believe that?” he asks.
You take out your Bible and are about to show him all the passages demonstrating that Jesus is God, but he cuts you off. “Wait a second---you don’t expect me to believe anything in that book, do you?”
You’re taken aback. “Well, why not?”
“Everyone knows it’s full of contradictions, mythology superstition, and bad science. C’mon, this is the twentieth century! Why in the world would you believe that book is the Word of God?”
“Uh .. . well,” you stammer, “I just do, that’s all!”
This is when germs of doubt appear. Maybe he’s right. Maybe you’ve swallowed the Jesus story hook, line, and sinker, without asking the right questions. How do you know that the Bible is reliable?
It’s been said that Christians should believe simply---that is, have the pure faith of a child---but they shouldn’t just simply believe. That’s because the chances are that someone, sometime, somewhere, is going to challenge your faith. Not knowing why you believe what you believe makes you especially susceptible to the doubt virus.
And so does not knowing what you believe. If you have a distorted or unbalanced view of God, this can set you up for unwarranted disappointments that are a breeding ground for the doubt virus. For instance, if you know all about God’s love but nothing about his justice, holiness, and righteousness, you’re going to develop doubts about why he does what he does and why he doesn’t do what you think he ought to do.
Or if you think God has promised to promptly answer every single one of your prayers, you’re going to develop doubts when he doesn’t seem to be coming through for you. Or if you believe he guarantees health and wealth to those who just exercise enough faith, you’re going to begin questioning your faith when finances and healing don’t automatically come. Or if you think your faith offers blanket protection from life’s turbulence, you’re going to develop uncertainties when difficulties continue to beset you.
The problem isn’t with God. He never promised these things in the first place. The problem is that when we have an inaccurate view of his promises and character, it creates unrealistic expectations. The result: an infection of doubt.
THE CONGENITAL DOUBTER
Not only can our mind be a breeding ground for doubt but so can our emotions. For some, faith is built entirely on feelings. They had a euphoric experience when they gave their life to Christ and were emotionally pumped up for a while, but eventually that spiritual high began to wear off---and they started to panic out of fear that their faith was disappearing or that they never were a real Christian in the first place.
Essentially, they’ve misunderstood the role of emotions and faith. Faith isn’t fundamentally a feeling; it’s a decision of the will to follow Jesus Christ, and it doesn’t ebb and flow depending on how emotionally charged we feel.
Personality can be a factor, too. Just as certain people are more susceptible to particular diseases, some temperaments---especially those that tend to be melancholy or contemplative---are more vulnerable to questions and doubts. For instance, Lynn Anderson describes himself as a “congenital doubter”:
We are the adults who are haunted by “existential angst”---a fundamental sense of uncertainty about the basics of existence---and tend to be plagued with troubling questions that we can’t sweep under the rug. We don’t mean to be obnoxious, and we do not want to be rebellious or irreverent. Many of us, in fact, long to be doubt free. .. . Experts may disagree on where these doubts come from, but it feels like we were born with them!17
Author and educator Daniel Taylor uses the term “reflective Christian” to describe the person who is “first, and foremost, a question asker---one who finds in every experience and assertion something that requires further investigation. He or she is a stone turner, attracted to the creepy-crawly things that live under the rocks and behind human pronouncements.”18
He cites the author of Ecclesiastes as such a person: “So I turned my mind to understand, to investigate and to search out wisdom and the scheme of things.”19
Doubt also tends to develop among those who have been emotionally scarred from an experience in their past. If they suffered parental abuse as a child, if they were abandoned by their parents or spouse, if they’ve felt unloved by those most important to them, they may develop chronic uncertainties about God. Deep down inside they may be waiting for God to let them down the way people in their past have.
Interestingly, many of the all-time biggest unbelievers---such atheists as Karl Man, Sigmund Freud, Bertrand Russell, Jean Paul Sartre, Friedrich Nietzsche, and Albert Camus, among others---had their father die or abandon them when they were young, or had serious conflict with him.20
While most victims of parental abandonment don’t resort to the extreme of atheism, it is true that they sometimes find themselves having difficulty trusting their heavenly Father. And where there’s a lack of trust, doubt soon follows.
CHOICES THAT LEAD TO DOUBT
In addition to our mind and emotions, doubt can also enter our lives through our will, or the part of us that makes choices. For example, doubts can multiply when a Christian makes the deliberate decision not to turn away from a pattern of wrongdoing in his life.
Sin, of course, creates a lack of peace, and a sense of being separated from God. So when the person can’t find peace, he questions why God isn’t comforting him. When he feels God is distant, he begins to question whether God’s there at all---while the whole time, the underlying cause of his doubt is his own willful choice to cling to sin.
A stubborn sense of pride can be a contributing factor as well. . “The proud man needs to doubt because the sense of his own importance demands it,” Guinness said. “it is not in his nature to bow to anyone.”2l Consequently, he goes out of his way to invite doubt in order to justify his decision not to allow God full access to his life. Theologian Alister McGrath agrees that our lack of humility can invite doubt, but for a different reason. “All of us are tempted to believe that, because we haven’t got the answers to the hard questions of faith, there aren’t any answers to those questions,” he said.22
And there’s no question that doubt will sweep through you like wildfire if you’ve never actually made the decision to commit your life to Christ. Maybe you’re living on a hand-me-down faith from your parents or believe that you’re a Christian because you were baptized as a child, attend church, or are in general agreement with Christian doctrine.
But the Bible is clear that we need to make a choice to receive the free gift of forgiveness and eternal life that Christ is offering. When we do that, we’re adopted into God’s family and begin a relationship with him that will draw us closer and closer to him over time. In addition, the Holy Spirit will quietly assure us that we belong to God.
Apart from that life-changing and eternity-altering decision, it's no wonder that a person would feel that God is distant and detached---and it’s no wonder that doubts would continue to multiply as a result.
Finally, let me acknowledge the role that Satan plays in spreading the doubt virus wherever he can and encouraging it to grow out of control. Jesus called him “the father of lies”23 because of the way he whispers distortions in our ear to create mistrust and confusion.
We shouldn’t fall into the trap of ignoring the threat he poses, but we also shouldn’t get entangled in a second trap: becoming fixated on him. As the apostle John reminded Christ followers, “You, dear children, are from God ... the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world.”24
WALKING TOWARD CERTAINTY
Those are a few of the ways we can get infected with doubt. Once we’re afflicted, it’s imperative that we do something to regain our spiritual health. And often that’s not easy.
I don’t want to mislead you into thinking that there’s some spiritual elixir that will cure your questions. Some people end up living with a frustrating low-grade infection of doubt over long periods. At the same time, however, there is hope.
“When does doubt become unbelief?” asked Alister McGrath. “Answer: when you let it.”25 So don’t let it. By taking action, you can prevent questions, concerns, or doubts from multiplying out of control into full-fledged disbelief.
As I’ve dealt with people through the years---ranging from those who were merely pestered by pesky questions to some who would qualify as “congenital doubters”---I’ve found that there are five steps that can help in battling the doubt virus. To make them easy to remember, I’ve taken the word FAITH and used each letter as the beginning of each step.
Step 1: Find the Root of Your Doubt
This is the diagnostic phase, the time when you delve into what’s behind your particular strain of doubt. I’ve just gone over several examples of how doubt can infect us through our mind, our emotion, and our will and maybe as you were reading you concluded, “Hey, that’s me!” If I didn’t mention your own species of doubt, do some self-examination and research so you can pinpoint it.
Tom is an example of someone who was chronically beset by intellectual doubts but couldn’t figure out why. As I was helping him through this first step, I finally came to the conclusion that his doubts were rooted in his misunderstanding of what faith is all about.
He was demanding absolute proof concerning God, and no matter how much evidence he unearthed, it always fell short of perfect certainty. That’s where his doubts came in.
Once we diagnosed the cause of his doubt, I was able to help him understand that the existence of God can neither be completely proved nor disproved. There is plenty of evidence that points convincingly in the direction of God---but ultimately we need to take a step of faith in that same direction, by putting our trust in him.
With the concept of faith clarified, Tom was able to deal constructively with his doubts and feel confident that his trust in God was well placed.
Step 2: Ask God and Others for Help
Be as honest with God as the father whose son was gripped by evil. “I do believe,” he said to Jesus. “Help me overcome my unbelief!”26 Actually, he wasn’t suffering from unbelief but was afflicted with doubt---remember, there’s a difference. But the key is this: he asked Jesus to help him---and Jesus did. He healed his son.
Turn to God for help---not as a last resort but as a top priority. Ask him to lead you to answers, to provide you with insight, to give you wisdom, and to bolster your confidence. Tell him of your desire for a strong and vibrant faith.
Then turn to Christians in your life. This is why it’s so important to be part of a small circle of friends in which authenticity is encouraged and spiritual growth is promoted. James said we should honestly admit our struggles and shortcomings to each other and pray for one another. Why? So, James said, that we may be healed.27
I’ve found it’s particularly helpful to seek out people who have a strong faith themselves. . . .
We can benefit from hanging around with people who have deep and abiding beliefs. They tend to anchor and reassure us, and we can always learn from the spiritual practices that they have integrated into their life to help them build a doubt-resistant faith.
Step 3: Implement a Course of Treatment
Once you’ve found the root cause of your doubt and sought wisdom from both God and godly advisors, then you’re in a better position to identify and implement a strategy for fighting the doubt virus.
For instance, instead of just concluding that you’ve got some vague intellectual concerns about Christianity, take the time to write down the specific questions you have. This discipline will help you zero in on exactly what’s troubling you. You’ll be surprised by how many resources are readily available to help you pursue satisfying answers.
Or perhaps you’ve determined that emotional issues are creating germs of doubt. Maybe an appropriate course of action would be to discuss them with a pastor or Christian counselor who can assist you in resolving them.
Or if it’s a matter of the will, ask yourself specifically where you’re holding back from God. After all, the choice is yours: you can let willful disobedience or pride plague you with doubt for the rest of your life, or you can submit your whole self to God and really experience the adventure of Christianity.
And if you’re not certain that you have ever really given your life to Christ, make sure once and for all---pray to receive Christ as your forgiver and leader. It’s all right if this turns out to be a recommitment. But once you’ve done it with sincerity, put the issue to rest. The Bible assures us that when we humbly receive Christ’s gift of eternal life, we’re adopted into his family forever. We don’t have to doubt our salvation anymore.
Diagnosing the root of your doubt, seeking counsel, and implementing a course of action will put you on the road to recovery, although you may have to deal with some relapses along the way. The next step is important in warding off infections in the future.
Step 4: Take Scrupulous Care of Your Spiritual Health
A body is less susceptible to viruses when it’s healthy, because it can fight off minor infections before they become serious. In a similar way, a strong faith is better able to fight off the doubt virus before it gains a foothold and threatens to overwhelm your defenses. Just as a body is strengthened through good nourishment and exercise, your faith becomes stronger through both knowledge and action.
By knowledge, I mean getting serious about learning more about God and why he’s trustworthy. That involves not only reading books about the Bible but studying the Bible itself in a consistent and systematic way. For a good grounding in how to do that meaningfully, I often recommend Living By the Book, by Howard and William Hendricks, as a helpful introduction to personal Bible study?28
And through your day-to-day actions, build up your faith by exercising it. We learn best by doing, and we learn best about the trustworthiness of God when we make the daily decision to submit our lives to him and enthusiastically press the envelop of our faith. As King David said, taste and see for yourself that the Lord is good.29
When you do these things, this is what happens: whenever you’re threatened by doubt, it’s much easier to look back on your knowledge about God, and your personal experience with him, and say, “I may not know the answer to this particular question yet, but I’ve got plenty of evidence that God is real, that the Bible is reliable, and that God cares about me. All of that gives me confidence that God has an answer for this question. So I’m not going to panic or toss my faith out the window. I’m not going to get mired in despair or fall into disillusionment. Instead, I’ll keep relying on God, because he has shown me over and over that my trust in him is well founded.”
That’s how we develop a shield that will deflect doubt when we’re exposed to it.
Step 5: Hold Your Remaining Questions in Tension
God’s thoughts and ways are higher than ours. We’re limited people with limited minds, so we can’t expect to understand everything about our unlimited God. Consequently, there are bound to be some mysteries that won’t be resolved for the time being.
In some cases we’ll get a better glimpse of an answer as we mature in our faith through the years. But in many instances we’ll have to wait for eternity, when we can raise our hand and say, “Jesus, I’ve got a question that’s been bothering me for a while now. Exactly how does predestination fit in with free will? Precisely how does this Trinity thing work? Why didn’t I seem to hear from you that time when I was hurting so bad? Why is it, as a little boy once wrote, ‘I prayed for a puppy but got a little brother instead’?”
I will tell you what: my arm is going to be in the air. I’m sure yours will be, too, and that’s OK. God will answer. After all, we’ve got forever to satisfy our curiosity!
Until then we can say, “I may not have answers to every single one of my peripheral questions, but the answers I do have point me unmistakably toward God as being real, as being dependable, and as being a Father who loves me. Because of that, my faith can stay intact even while I hold some issues in abeyance.”
That’s not an irrational faith. Instead, that’s dealing with our doubts responsibly by making an informed decision to suspend judgment for a while. It’s concluding from all the available evidence, that God can be trusted and that therefore it’s permissible to take a wait-and-see attitude toward a particular issue. Actually, if we had one hundred percent of the answers to one hundred percent of our questions, there wouldn’t be any room for faith at all.
So as you deal with your doubts, remember this: we may feel perplexed by mysteries, but there is no mystery to God. He understands all. As Gary Parker put it, “I may not have the answer to many questions, but I know the One who does.”30
The apostle Paul also knew that One. And Paul understood how little he himself knew. When you’re fighting off a doubt virus, try transforming Paul’s words into a personal prayer. “Lord, I can see and understand only a little about you now, as if I were peering at your reflection in a poor mirror, but someday I am going to see you in your completeness, face-to-face. Now all that I know is hazy and blurred, but then I will see everything clearly, just as clearly as you see into my heart right now.”31 (102-117)
1. C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (New York Macmillan, 1952), 123.
2. Os Guinness, In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve It (Downers Grove, EL: InterVarsity Press, 1976), 25.
3. Karl Barth, Evangelical Theology: An Introduction (New York Holt, Rinehart, and Winston, 1963), 124.
4. Lynn Anderson, If I Really Believe, Why Do I Have These Doubts? (Minneapolis: Bethany House, 1992), 25—26.
5. Gary R. Habermas, Dealing With Doubt (Chicago: Moody Press, 1990), 15. His thinking on this topic has greatly influenced my approach.
6. John 1:29 (NIV).
7. Mark 1:11 (NIV).
8. John 1:34 (NIV).
9. Luke 7:20 (NIV).
10. Luke 7:22 (NIV).
11. Luke 7:28 (NIV).
12. Mark it Littleton, “Doubt Can Be a Good Thing,” The Lookout (March 17,1991), 5.
13. Henri Nouwen, Reaching Out (New York: Doubleday, 1957), 128.
14. 1 Thessalonians 5:21.
15. Rufus Jones, The Radiant Life, quoted in Gary F. Parker, The Gift of Doubt: From Crisis to Authentic Faith (San Francisco, Harper & Row, 1990), 71.
16. Parker, The Gift of Doubt, 69.
17. Anderson, If I Really Believe, 31.
18. Daniel Taylor, The Myth of Certainty (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 16.
19. Ecclesiastes 7:25 (NIV).
20. Paul C. Vitz, “The Psychology of Atheist” Truth: An International, Interdisciplinary Journal of Christian Thought, vol.1 (1958), 29.
21. Guiness, In Two Minds, 70.
22. R. C. Sprout ed., Doubt and Assurance (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 22.
23. John 8:44 (NIV).
24. 1 John 4:4 (NIV).
25. Sproul, Doubt and Assurance, 24.
26. Mark 9:24 (NIV).
27. James 5:16 (NIV).
28. Howard Hendricks and William Hendricks, Living By the Book (Chicago: Moody Press, 1991)
29. Psalms 34:8 (NIV).
30. Parker, The Gift of Doubt, 142.
31. Based on 1 Corinthians 13:12, adapted from The Living Bible.
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