Is it faithless to doubt? (part 4)

Prompted by the story of Thomas in John 20, we come now to the final post in our series exploring doubt. For many Christians, chronic doubt is not a problem. But for others, it is. What do we do about it? Based on what I’ve said in earlier posts, here are some suggestions.

First, remember that even the faithful have doubts. It’s not either-or. Jesus’ own core of disciples could be a clueless and pig-headed lot — and yet the church is built on their Spirit-empowered witness. Each of us, all through life, must grow and develop in wisdom, understanding, and trust.  We are not yet all that we will be. But by God’s grace, we’re still part of the plan.

Second, ask yourself if the problem is with the doubts themselves, or with the emotions attached to them. Have you been taught (implicitly or explicitly) that only “bad” or “faithless” Christians doubt? Have you been shunned or punished in some way for asking questions? If so, seeking intellectual answers to intellectual questions may not help much — because the problem is more self-doubt than intellectual doubt, a feeling of being somehow defective for having any doubts at all.

Again, take firm hold of Jesus’ patience and grace toward his disciples. Read the gospels carefully: see how much he loved those who honestly followed him, regardless of their very real shortcomings. And on that basis, work toward forgiving those who stifled your curiosity or desire to understand. We are all broken — and we are all deeply loved.

Third, examine yourself honestly: to what extent to your doubts represent an inability to tolerate ambiguity? A need to be in control? Filling up on intellectual content to quell your doubts can be like playing spiritual Whack-A-Mole: as soon as you beat down one doubt, another pops up. Consider instead what it might take to be okay with not knowing, to be able to calmly say, “I really don’t know.” Figure that one out, and your doubts may lose their urgency.

Fourth, consider your context: it’s not just about you. As suggested above, doubt can be problematic because of how others respond to it: with anxiety, anger, rejection, etc. That doesn’t have to mean turning your back on your family or church and running to find a better alternative. But it should mean wanting to be part of the solution instead of the problem. What would it take to create safe spaces for people to talk and explore? Don’t wait for it to drop in your lap; be the person who makes it safe for others, and encourage others to do the same.

Fifth, if we’re struggling with doubt, it may be our understanding of faith that needs an overhaul. Faith does not mean believing something with all your heart despite the fact that there’s no real biblical warrant for it (as in “name it and claim it” versions of the gospel). After all, is it “doubt” to have second thoughts when our first thoughts aren’t valid?

Finally, let’s circle back to Thomas, who saw the risen Jesus and declared, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28). That’s not the same as saying, “Okay, great. Thanks for answering my questions.” Thomas’ words are words of worship: he suddenly knows who is standing before him, and responds accordingly.

That suggests that the answer to our doubts may not be more information. We can’t always Google our way to a satisfied spirit. What we need are reasons to worship.

There’s nothing wrong with searching the Bible for specific answers to specific questions. But that’s no replacement for reading the Bible to discover the gracious, merciful, and loving God disclosed in its pages.

There’s nothing wrong with having places and spaces to engage in intellectual argument. But that’s no replacement for gathering together to worship, to give ourselves in faith to a God whom we will never fully understand.

We will never know everything there is to know. But it is in worship that we learn what, out of everything we do know, really matters.

Of that, I have no doubt.