Why Doubt Can Give You Hope

Lee Strobel on how we misunderstand wrestling with doubt.

I know I’ve gone through bouts of doubt that felt like they could be lethal to my faith. How about you?

Perhaps you’ve questioned whether God has really forgiven you or whether He can keep forgiving you when, as a Christian, you’ve failed to do what you knew He was telling you to do. Or you’ve wondered whether the Bible can be trusted. Or you can’t reconcile the world’s suffering with a loving God. Or you’ve read an article by a skeptical scientist or liberal theologian that kicked the legs of your faith right out from under you.

The issue isn’t whether you will catch the doubt virus; we’re all infected to some degree. The real question is this: How can we prevent that virus from turning into a virulent disease that ultimately ravages our faith? Or perhaps this is a better question: How can we respond to our doubts in ways that will help us emerge even stronger as a result?

As incredible as it sounds, a bout of doubt may turn out to be one of the healthiest and most hope-inspiring experiences you’ll ever go through.

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.

First Misunderstanding: What Doubt Really Is

Many 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.

A bout of doubt may turn out to be one of the healthiest and most hope-inspiring experiences you’ll ever go through.

In his book In Two Minds, Os Guinness said, “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.’”

Guinness also pointed out that in the Bible, unbelief refers to a willful refusal to believe or a deliberate decision to disobey God. But doubt is different. When we doubt, we’re being indecisive or ambivalent about an issue. We haven’t come down squarely on the side of disbelief or belief; we’re simply stuck over some questions or concerns.

So go ahead and 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, robbing you of the hope your Christian faith ought to give you.

Second Misunderstanding: Doubt Is a Sin to Be Forgiven

Not only is doubt different from disbelief, but, contrary to popular opinion, doubt is not a sinful offense. God doesn’t condemn us when we ask Him questions.

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.

Third Misunderstanding: Doubt Inevitably Does Damage

Another common misconception is that the doubt virus is always detrimental to our spiritual health. However, the truth is that God can use our doubts to produce positive side effects.

Using a medical analogy, overcoming a bout of doubt is like getting an immunization. To help your body ward off a disease in the future, doctors inject you with a small amount of the virus that causes that very same illness so you will build up antibodies that will battle off that sickness if it ever threatens you. In the long run, your body is actually healthier for the experience.

Similarly, when you’re infected with the doubt virus and it compels you to seek answers to your questions, you will ultimately emerge stronger than ever. Your faith has been confirmed once more. And you end up gaining greater confidence for dealing with doubt in the future.

God doesn’t condemn us when we ask Him questions.

There’s another way that doubt can be healthy for us: it can guard us from our own gullibility. Most religious cults, for instance, would go out of business immediately if their members would exercise a healthy dose of doubt about the biblical interpretations, broader teachings and actual practices of the groups they’re part of.

“Test everything,” cautioned the apostle Paul. “Hold on to the good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). When teaching doesn’t square with Scripture, it’s time to question that teacher and let our doubts lead us away from harm. Godly teachers encourage questions; those who demand unthinking agreement have something to hide.

Holding on to Hope

When you’re trying to maintain your sense of hope in the midst of spiritual doubt, turn Paul’s words into a personal prayer:

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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.

In the meantime, be encouraged by the words of Rufus Jones, a pastor who put it this way a century ago: “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.”

When you’re feeling dizzy and disoriented because of doubt, remember that observation. As you emerge from your uncertainties, I believe that you will possess a hardier faith, a deeper faith and a more resilient, enduring and hope-filled faith than you did before it was put to the test.

Taken from The Case for Hope by Lee Strobel Copyright © September 2015 by Zondervan. Used by permission of Zondervan. www.zondervan.com.

Top Comments

Steve Cornell

344

Steve Cornell commented…

Good and needed words! Thank You! "Be merciful to those who doubt" (jude 22). Sometimes doubt is caused by life's perplexing trials. In my personal journey growing up as the oldest son in a very large family, sometimes I focused so much on asking God for BIG solutions to life's trials that I missed the hand of God in many smaller graces. But God is kind and merciful when we turn to Him with grateful hearts -- and our hearts are renewed with joy.

You might be interested in a bit of a different perspective in a piece I wrote for The Gospel Coalition titled, "When faith causes us to doubt" https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/when-faith-causes-doubts/

2 Comments

Steve Cornell

344

Steve Cornell commented…

Good and needed words! Thank You! "Be merciful to those who doubt" (jude 22). Sometimes doubt is caused by life's perplexing trials. In my personal journey growing up as the oldest son in a very large family, sometimes I focused so much on asking God for BIG solutions to life's trials that I missed the hand of God in many smaller graces. But God is kind and merciful when we turn to Him with grateful hearts -- and our hearts are renewed with joy.

You might be interested in a bit of a different perspective in a piece I wrote for The Gospel Coalition titled, "When faith causes us to doubt" https://thinkpoint.wordpress.com/2013/08/03/when-faith-causes-doubts/

Benjamin Wiens

1

Benjamin Wiens commented…

Interesting article. I don't quite get all of it though. Strobel makes doubt and disbelief sound like very different things, but looking up dictionary definitions of "doubt" and "disbelief" it seems the two words are synonymous or at the very least that doubt is a spectrum of which disbelief is a part of. It seems to me that there is not too much of a difference between "strongly doubting" something (e.g. a Christian tenet) and "disbelieving" it. Does Strobel see doubt as a spectrum of how uncertain someone is? It seems like Strobel logically separates the concepts of doubting and disbelieving in a black-and-white manner. This seems inconsistent and contrary to how doubt actually works. He wholeheartedly affirms doubt yet condemns disbelief strongly. At what point does doubt become disbelief and worthy of condemnation? If Strobel affirms that doubting Christian tenets isn't bad or wrong, I assume he would agree that there are legitimate intellectual reasons that people doubt said tenets. At what point do legitimate intellectual reasons that people doubt Christian tenets go too far and become disbelief? It seems that setting a specific point is completely arbitrary.
Many who doubt or disbelief have expressed that their doubt and/or disbelief is not a choice but that it is merely a logical response to logical problems that they see in Christian tenets. At one point Strobel says disbelief is a "willful refusal to believe." It seems Strobel assumes that disbelief is willful and therefore a choice. Do you guys think that doubt or disbelief is a choice?
Strobel doesn't seem at all encouraging people who doubt. People normally doubt because they seek answers. They have probably had honest intellectual questions concerning what they believe. Strobel doesn't seem to be encouraging honest inquiry; he seems to encouraging inquiry only that leads to a certain conclusion.
What do you guys think? Is there a definite distinction between doubt and disbelief? Is doubt or disbelief even a choice? Any other thoughts? (I posted this comment on Facebook as well)

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