Navigating Doubt

February 25, 2020

Have you ever met someone who used to be a passionate follower of Jesus, but who later declared themselves to be an atheist? Or if not an atheist, they’re entirely disconnected from any faith community and are living without regard to Christian morality? Anyone who has ever been in a high school youth group, a college fellowship group or a church has witnessed many people who have walked away from Christian faith. One main reason people say they left the Christian faith is because of doubt.  

Why do we doubt? 

We often find ourselves adopting “implicit beliefs” along with our Christian faith. What do I mean by “implicit beliefs”? I mean assumptions that we have which we regard as necessary corollaries to our core faith convictions. For example, some people raised in Christian homes who attend Christian schools assume that non-believers ought to be cruel, self-centered, unkind and unhappy people. At least more cruel, self-centered, unkind and unhappy than true believers. But then, that person graduates from their Christian school, goes to the big city and finds a group of non-believers who happy, charitable, and appear to be doing very well without God. They begin to doubt whether God really exists or whether he makes a real difference in people’s lives. 

Or Christians grow up with the belief that if I’m a faithful Christian and if I follow the rules then, while I may suffer, God will protect me from things that are truly horrible like the death of a child or the murder of a parent. Of course, we are committed to follow a Savior who was brutally murdered, but many Christians still hold to an implicit belief that God will protect us from anything “too bad”.  

Or maybe someone grows up with the belief that if they have sex outside of marriage, they will feel horribly guilty, and the sexual experience itself will be completely empty and unfulfilling. But then they have sex outside of marriage and it actually feels good. To compound the problem, they don’t feel nearly as guilty as they thought they would! In sum, doubts often arise not by way of attack on core Christian teaching, but attacks on deeply held “implicit beliefs” due to wrongly drawn conclusions from our core beliefs.  

What does it mean to doubt? 

The English word “doubt” comes from the Latin word “dubitare” whose root meaning is “two.” 

dubitare = two 

To “believe” is to be of one mind and to accept or trust something as true. To “disbelieve” is also to be of one mind and to reject something as untrue. To “doubt” is to waiver between faith and unbelief or to be of two minds. The heart of doubt is double-mindedness or having a divided heart. We use many different metaphors to express this divided heart. We talk about having a foot in both camps. The Chinese talk about having a foot in two boats. In the Old Testament the prophet Elijah confronted the Israelites on Mt. Carmel and said, “How long will you hesitate between two opinions?”  

A great illustration of this suspension between faith and unbelief is found in the gospel of Mark. Jesus is asked by a father of a young boy to free the young boy from demonic bondage that was causing seizures for the boy. This man said to Jesus, “If you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” Here is what we read in Mark 9:23-24: 

Mark 9:23-24 

23 “If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” 

It is this double-mindedness, the feeling of being cut in two that creates in us the unease, the dis-ease, of doubt. 

Troubled by doubt 

We ask, “What’s the matter with me? Here I am; I’m sitting in church and I still doubt…” Perhaps you have thought, “I’ve given my life to Christ; I’m trying to obey God; but, I still feel like I’m eaten away by doubt.” Some of you might say, “I feel like I’m overwhelmed by doubt in God’s goodness or his existence; I believe, help my unbelief.”  

I read an illustration years ago in an old book by Os Guinness. The book was called In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt and How to Resolve It. Sadly, the book is no longer in print. Guinness wrote about a man in a Latin American country who had loaded up his donkey with an enormously heavy load and was leading the donkey up a very steep mountain path. The donkey was laboring to carry this heavy load up this steep path when he finally collapsed, exhausted under the weight of the load.  

The man began to beat the donkey and kick it and invoked all kinds of curses on the donkey. Guinness wrote that this is often the way that we treat our faith when doubt loads it down. We beat ourselves up. We say, “What is the matter with me. I just need to give my faith a good kick in the rear; that will help me to believe more and not doubt!” 

As a follower of Jesus for the past 45 years, I have discovered that one of the best ways for me to deal with anything negative in my life – anxiety, anger, confusion, and especially doubt – is to simply invite Jesus into that negativity without covering it up, or putting on a good front or trying to handle it on my own. An honest, authentic acknowledgement of doubt before God, or even doubt in God, has consistently proven to strengthen my faith. I have found that God can handle anything I throw at him. He is an excellent catcher and can handle even my wildest pitches! 

During the Lenten season this year – from Ash Wednesday to Easter Sunday – we will be considering the issue of doubt in both our weekend messages and through our small group emphasis titled “Profiles in Doubt”. This series will be a great opportunity to invite anyone you know who is wrestling with doubt. And for all of us who at least sometimes doubt – my prayer is that we’ll all find our faith strengthened by this Lenten season’s teachings.