Doubt: Why does it happen?
Can doubt be helpful? Why do I doubt?
Doubting what is false
In my last article, we saw that doubt is tied to an experience of contradiction – sometimes we experience things that contradict what we know about the world or God, and that can lead us to doubt, like it did for Job, the Teacher of Ecclesiastes, and the disciples of Jesus.
But hang on a minute. Aren’t Christians supposed to be people of faith? Didn’t God send Jesus to reveal the truth to us? Didn’t he inspire the Scriptures so we can know what is true about him and about the world? Don’t we have the Spirit at work in us if we trust Jesus, to help us know him? How come some of us doubt then? Why does it happen? And does that mean we are not really Christians?
Well, sometimes, we might just doubt because something we think about God or the world is wrong. This happens to us all the time – we get corrected by Scripture and experience and we change things we think because they were actually wrong. Here's a couple of examples.
In the past, people thought the world was flat. They started doubting when they couldn’t sail off the edge of it into space. Their doubts eventually led them to the truth, that the world is round.
Jesus' disciples thought Jesus couldn't have been risen from the dead (Luke 24:36-39). They started doubting this, though, when they saw Jesus walking and talking after he had been killed. Their doubts led them to the truth, that Jesus had actually been raised from the dead.
Doubting what is true
If the biblical picture of humans is right, we would actually expect that we might doubt true things too. You see according to the Bible, we are:
Creatures: I’m not sure if you know this, but you are not God! Neither am I. And knowing all things is a privilege only God has. That is why Paul says in Romans: ‘”Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been his counselor?”’ (Rom 11:34). God is God, Christians are humans – we don’t know everything, and we can’t always see the big picture. Sometimes that means we don’t understand things, and it leads us to doubt.
Waiting Creatures: We are in a time between the ages. Jesus’ resurrection has brought the future into the present in a way, but we are not there yet. Even the Spirit who shines God’s light on us doesn’t take away all our uncertainties - Paul says the Spirit helps us in our weakness as we wait for Jesus’ return (Rom 8:26-27). He doesn’t say the Spirit takes away our weakness. We are not at the top of the mountain yet, so we can’t see everything.
Sinful Waiting Creatures: Doubt is not always treated as sin in the Scriptures, and is not simply the result of sin. But it still can be associated with sin. Think about Genesis chapter 3. The snake says to Eve ‘you will not surely die’ if you eat the fruit (Gen 3:4-5). God had said they would surely die! The snake causes Eve to doubt, and in the end she trusts the snake and not God – and that is what sin is all about. An important way sin can be connected to doubt is through pride – sometimes we are proud and so sure of our own ability to know & reason, that we won’t recognise we need to be humble before God if we are going to understand him.
We are sinful, waiting creatures. So it’s not surprising if we experience doubt of the truth, sometimes, or if those around us experience it.
Let your doubts lead you to the truth
One last point: Christianity makes a daring claim – the claim that God acts in this world,. This is seen most of all in God the Son becoming human, walking on the actual dirt and sand of Palestine, really dying, being put in a real tomb, and leaving that tomb empty in his resurrection.
That means that when people challenge the claims of Christianity, we need to take that seriously – we can’t just ignore their challenges, because God has acted in the same world we all live in. Like I said, we are all sinful waiting creatures, so none of us know everything , including those who challenge the truth of Christianity. But still, God’s action in our real world means we can’t just ignore everyone who challenges Christianity. And that is another reason that doubt sometimes happens.
Okay, so it happens, and sometimes it happens for good reasons. But is there anything we can do about it? We'll answer that question in tomorrow's article.