As a follower of Christ, is it ok to have doubts?
If that feels like a polarizing topic, let me ask it a different way: as a Christian, is it ok to ask questions about the faith? Any question?
Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith. Doubt doesn’t have to mean you are without belief, and as it turns out, if you have questions and doubts about the resurrection, God, or the entirety of Christian faith, you’re in some pretty good company. The Bible is full of individuals who have questions, who have doubts and seek answers. We can relate with them; we can learn from them.
Look at some of the characters of John’s gospel: Nathanael, Nicodemus, the Samaritan woman, the disciples, Mary and Martha, Thomas, and so many others—Jesus loves an honest skeptic. Jesus loves to come alongside the humble of heart. Jesus loves to meet us in our doubts, and invite us to come and see.
Of course there is a significant difference between honest doubts and antagonistic doubts. The Bible is full of this other character too. There are the Pharisees, scribes, and others who just wanted to put one over on Jesus. They are promoting themselves, not truth. They are looking to win, not to learn. They are seeking escape from God’s claim, not his guidance. This is characteristic of an unbelieving, faithless heart, not the honest questioning of humble followers.
Faithful doubt wrestles with questions with open humility, seeking answers from the ultimate giver of truth.
As you reflect on your life, have you ever had doubts? Of course we can’t always be doubting, but at different times in life we wrestle with various questions. Have you ever made space to ask the hard questions? More likely than not, we would rather distract ourselves with work, busy schedules, and entertainment, numbing ourselves from the questions that might cause disruption. Or we would rather listen only to the voices that agree with us, silencing or ignoring those that challenge or disagree with our view. Out of fear, we would rather seek comfort than the truth.
But when we come to Jesus in humility, with honest questions, it can provide an opportunity for such a depth of growth in our Christian walk. Vulnerable and honest questions that can instill humility and health to the Christian life.
Timothy Keller, former pastor of Redeemer Church in New York, provides a helpful illustration:
A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person's faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends' and neighbors'. It is no longer sufficient to hold beliefs just because you inherited them. Only if you struggle long and hard with objections to your faith will you be able to provide the grounds for your beliefs to skeptics, including yourself, that are plausible rather than ridiculous or offensive. And, just as important for our current situation, such a process will lead you, even after you come to a position of strong faith, to respect and understand those who doubt. (The Reason for God, pp 116-17.)
Keller claims it’s healthy to have questions, to wrestle with doubt. We don’t need to fear, or distract ourselves, but we can embrace our own doubts and questions for our good and the good of others.
As we’ve been walking through scriptures that focus on the resurrection the past few Sundays, we are confronted with hard questions. Intellectual questions of the faith. Existential questions of our own reality. As we do, here are three quick thoughts on doubt:
Doubt is a part of life.
If we are transparent with ourselves, doubt is just a part of real life. It is part of the human experience. If you say you’ve never had questions or doubts then you’re kidding yourself. It’s how we learn and grow. If someone like John the Baptist can have doubts (Matt. 11:3), then it’s ok for you too. We must learn to be honest with our own doubts and gracious to those who come with open questions.
We shouldn’t fear questions.
Sometimes we can feel hostile to questions because we fear an attack on our faith. However, if we claim the Bible is true, and the Christ is Messiah, why should we fear engaging honest questions and dialogue? What are we really afraid of? We mustn’t fear questions, because we always have room to grow ourselves, and to help others grow as well.
Doubt can lead to a strengthened faith.
More often than not, faithful doubts can lead to a strengthened and emboldened faith, for our benefit and the benefit of others. Through our questions and doubts, our honest apprehension of the Christian experience, we learn and grow. We learn greater obedience and trust in the one who holds all things together. We must learn to engage our doubts and the doubts of others for growth.
This last Sunday, our encounter with “doubting Thomas” reminded me of the other end of John’s gospel and the calling of the first disciples (John 1:35-51). Maybe you’re familiar with the story, but I have always been astounded by the encounter of Philip and Nathanael.
Philip tells Nathanael about this Jesus, the one all of history has been waiting for, but skeptical Nathaniel responds, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” What a statement of doubt.
What’s fascinating about how this story unfolds is that Philip doesn’t condemn his doubts, or immediately prepare a defense for the Nazarene. He isn’t worried about the difficulty of the question, rather he extends an invitation to a personal encounter. “Come and see.”
And in a world of debate and doubt, the greatest apologetic is to simply “come and see.” To see for yourself. To witness to the transformational power and truth of the living God. Not to fear or ignore, but to come to Jesus with our questions and doubts. To taste and see that the Lord is good.