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How Doubt Saved My Faith

Your questions won't sink your faith.

Whether it’s from Rob Bell, Donald Miller, or just your local breed of hip, urban pastors—most of us have heard a sermon or two on doubt by now. You know, the ones that say something to the effect of, “Doubt is an important part of developing a more mature faith.” That might be true. At the very least though, embracing doubt has become an important part of the development of twentysomething theological rhetoric.

But it hasn’t always been. There was a time when the Church didn’t have such a high view of doubt. For example, when I was growing up—no less than 10 years ago.

The Church is so busy saving people who are drowning in their doubt that we rarely have time to teach people to swim.

Living with doubt

I did not grow up in the Church, nor did I become a Christian early on. But through a series of spiritual epiphanies and encounters with the Living God, I became a Christian at the age of 15 (although I feel like I’ve “become” a Christian many times since then as well). During this year or two was the only time in my life I can remember having what I’d call a “normal, Evangelical” faith—the kind that never questioned or thought too hard about anything I heard at church. I had accepted Jesus into my heart as my Savior and nothing else really mattered. I went to Creationfest and listened to Kutless—I even placed vaguely Christian quotes in my AIM and Myspace profiles in attempts to evangelize to my friends.

But when I turned 16 or so, I started encountering this big, messy thing called doubt for the first time. But this wasn’t one of those small puddles of doubt that I could just step over. Nor was it a river of doubt I could swim across if I trained long and hard. This was an insurmountable ocean of doubt—one with seemingly no end. This was the kind that people drown in.

I never really told anyone about that doubt at the time, realizing quickly that most of the Christians I knew didn’t bother thinking too hard about such things. But I doubted everything: the authenticity of the Bible, the historicity of Jesus, the value of the Church, creationism—the whole nine yards. I would go back and forth over the months in terms of beliefs, but whenever the doubt would take over, I’d fall into a state of frantic panic. I think of it being like when someone who doesn’t know how to swim just jumps in a pool and starts flailing their arms around.

A strong faith doesn’t come from Seminary

In my years of intense seeking and studying, I didn’t end up finding any real solace for my soul. Sure, I learned some valuable stuff about how the Bible was made and the historical argument for the bodily resurrection on Easter morning (thanks N.T. Wright)—but nothing magical. Nothing that would forever put my doubts to rest. By the time I was 21, I could wade through the water. I had the facts and theories and counter-arguments to keep me afloat, but still didn’t have the boldness to swim on my own.

But one thing I learned during this time was that well-meaning Christians love to tell you doubt is an important thing to acknowledge in your life, but that you shouldn’t ultimately get too carried away with it. Don’t go down that road too far. Be careful what you read. Stay away from the water. After all, you don’t want to be like doubting Thomas who couldn’t even acknowledge the Risen Christ without inspecting him like a TSA agent at the airport. But I can’t help think that the Church is so busy saving people who are drowning in their doubt that we rarely have time to teach people to swim.

It’s kind of like Job (the guy from the Bible, not the guy from Arrested Development), who goes through a very long, frustrating time of doubting God and trying to figure out how He works. He gets in these long, drawn out arguments with his buddies and they are no help. He accuses God of all sorts of terrible things. But ultimately, a heady dialogue on the nature of God could never settle those things for him. He never really found answers to his questions about suffering and oppression and injustice this way. In order to be freed of his doubt and contention with God, Job had to come face to face with the Living God. God had to show up. God had to speak. And He did—and He made Job feel really dumb for the ways he had doubted God’s steady hand of justice. But He also honored Job’s courage and his desire to pursue Him through suffering and confusion.

For me, it wasn’t until I’d realized that it was not knowledge, but fear—some of the same fear that Job had—that was keeping me from moving forward in my faith. My fear of the unknown and my fear of death were what held me under doubt’s captivity—not my lack of compelling apologetics. God had to show up.

Knowing God in your heart

“Faith is like yogurt,” said my college pastor, standing a half-stage in front of about 200 college students who had chosen to go to church on a Friday night instead of party with the rest of the town. He said the berries on top (hint: the doubt) needed to be mixed into the yogurt (hint: faith) to have a full picture of what being a disciple of Jesus was like. If you were missing the berries in your meal, your faith was a bit incomplete. You could still eat it, but it was missing the flavor it was meant to have.

My fear of the unknown and my fear of death were what held me under doubt’s captivity—not my lack of compelling apologetics.


For a lot of people sitting at that college group, that probably convinced them that the doubt they experienced in their lives was OK. That it was healthy. Part of a maturing faith even. But for me, that picture of faith rocked my world because it made me realize that I had been doing faith wrong for most of my life. My proportions were all backwards. My walk with Christ had been more like an entire bowl of berries with some Yogloo drizzled on top. I was doing it wrong. I was the Job of of chapters of 3-41—the guy who was constantly calling out to God in anger and confusion and not receiving the answers he wanted. It was time to stop doing laps at the pool and start trusting God in the ocean—out where there was actually something at stake.

Psalm 14:1 says, “The fool says in their heart there is no God.” Loving God and believing in Him has—and always will be—a choice of the heart. The choice to pursue God is one we make deep down in the core of who we are—sometimes even unbeknownst to the stuff going on in our cognition.

I can’t say that diving headfirst into the ocean is a good idea for everyone. It’s dangerous. It will mess with your understanding of the world. There’s no going back. But if you do, know that God is already out in the water—calling you to Him. “Oh ye of little faith,” He will surely say once you start flailing your arms and calling out for help. But take heart that God will also reach down His hand into the water and pull you up again when you are sinking in your doubt.

This is how you learn to swim. This is faith.

Top Comments

Chayil Puwk

1

Chayil Puwk replied to Jonathan Avants's comment

Reply to Jonathan Avants questions posed above:
A) Honest doubt can possibly be healthy for personal faith. An example is found in John 20:24-29, where Thomas was confronted with a personal experience of the unknown to see and even touch for himself. If you truly desire to know if Jesus is for real, let us pray together for you, ask Him to reveal Himself to you, and Jesus will always meet us where we’re at, whether it be hiding in a pit of sin, running scared, or lost in a sea of doubt. But it remains our choice to acknowledge the intellectual, tangible evidence He has provided.
B) In Deut. 18: 9-13 God forbids child sacrifice, so on the surface what is going on in Genesis 22 with Abraham offering Isaac appears contradictory to God's character. But Hebrews 11:19 reveals the reasoning in Abraham's heart, and trust in His Provider God to come through on His promises. With closer study, the similarities of this episode parallel the gospel story as an astonishing messianic prophecy, from the wording in reference to Isaac as “only son”, to the exact same place foretelling where Jesus was to be crucified, from the timing of 3 days and 3 nights…. It becomes obvious both Abraham and Isaac were trusting and obeying their Jehovah Jireh Provider God in total peace and confidence, and God did provide. This is a beautifully detailed prophecy, foreshadowing the lasting eternal covenant to be provided through our Messiah, Jesus.
C) The point is this, trusting and studying God’s word, in order to defend our great faith, is a matter of forming an essential new habit to replace the old one of allowing doubts the devil plants in our minds. AMEN!

6 Comments

Sean Cunningham

8

Sean Cunningham commented…

Great article. As someone who grew up in the church (a charismatic, tongue-speaking church no less), my faith was shaped by personal encounters with God and less by intellectual wrestling. The funny thing is, once I got into college I realized that I enjoyed casting doubt on things I'd long believed, not out of rebellion but out of a new sense of freedom. I think that once we get past the fear factor that often accompanies doubt, there are many times we should seek out doubt and resolve it. Long ago I came to the conclusion that if Jesus was who he said he was and he did what the Bible said he did, everything else would come into line sooner or later. Any time I came into contact with a difficult doctrine I could refer to that fixed point in my life to keep me grounded.

Ultimately, I don't think God necessarily wants us to doubt, but he does want us to know what we believe and why we believe it.

ak7

8

ak7 commented…

superb article. so good that it stung my eyes.

Jonathan Avants

21

Jonathan Avants commented…

Hello Luke, I have questions.

1) You said via "a series of spiritual epiphanies and encounters with the Living God", you were convinced to align yourself with the Christian faith. Okay, can you explain what those experiences were?

2) Do you "doubt" that water is two parts hydrogen, one part oxygen? (Meaning: if doubt is a necessity for healthy religious faith, why is it possible to think, test, and find assurances that erase doubt? Would you "doubt" that not sacrificing your child on an alter is evil, or would you, ahem, follow God's orders to the bell?)

Chayil Puwk

1

Chayil Puwk replied to Jonathan Avants's comment

Reply to Jonathan Avants questions posed above:
A) Honest doubt can possibly be healthy for personal faith. An example is found in John 20:24-29, where Thomas was confronted with a personal experience of the unknown to see and even touch for himself. If you truly desire to know if Jesus is for real, let us pray together for you, ask Him to reveal Himself to you, and Jesus will always meet us where we’re at, whether it be hiding in a pit of sin, running scared, or lost in a sea of doubt. But it remains our choice to acknowledge the intellectual, tangible evidence He has provided.
B) In Deut. 18: 9-13 God forbids child sacrifice, so on the surface what is going on in Genesis 22 with Abraham offering Isaac appears contradictory to God's character. But Hebrews 11:19 reveals the reasoning in Abraham's heart, and trust in His Provider God to come through on His promises. With closer study, the similarities of this episode parallel the gospel story as an astonishing messianic prophecy, from the wording in reference to Isaac as “only son”, to the exact same place foretelling where Jesus was to be crucified, from the timing of 3 days and 3 nights…. It becomes obvious both Abraham and Isaac were trusting and obeying their Jehovah Jireh Provider God in total peace and confidence, and God did provide. This is a beautifully detailed prophecy, foreshadowing the lasting eternal covenant to be provided through our Messiah, Jesus.
C) The point is this, trusting and studying God’s word, in order to defend our great faith, is a matter of forming an essential new habit to replace the old one of allowing doubts the devil plants in our minds. AMEN!

carco1ita

1

carco1ita commented…

Yogurt? Isn't it a little belittling and frustrating to have something as powerful and troubling as doubt compared to berries, something that is peripheral and mixed in? Berries don't fundamentally undermine the integrity of the yogurt. I agree that doubt is an important part of a mature faith, but it is a wrecking ball that demolishes, forcing weak structures to be rebuilt, not a delicious and nutritious topping.

Joey Cook

1

Joey Cook commented…

I agree the yogurt thing is a bit simplistic, but Jesus used very simple language in his parables so average people could understand something as vast as kingdom of heaven, a mustard seed, a treasure buried in a field, etc.m so I guess I get the berry analogy works. I don't think doubt is a wrecking ball if you've experienced the Holy Spirit (which is where our faith comes from), but a reminder that we constantly need to depend on him and be in contact with him, rather than just depending on our own beliefs or understanding. The truth is Sin is the wrecking ball and we've already all been wrecked. The disciples had doubts, it caused them to call out to Jesus to rescue them, John the Baptist had doubts, it caused him to send his friends to find out if Jesus was the real deal, and Jesus says John was the greatest man that ever lived, so I guess if he wasn't sure, it's ok if I am not sure sometimes. I think doubt reminds us that although we can know God, we can never fully know him, that we always have to be seeking him, that our faith is always, until we're done here, growing, that there is always more for him to reveal. Being mature in faith doesn't mean you've got it all nailed down (that's being Pharisaical) being mature is getting to the point that if you don't depend on the living spirit in you to keep you going you sink. I appreciate the honesty of your article Luke, to me pretending that we as Christians don't have doubts is the same as pretending that we never sin again once we meet Jesus, or that just because I met Jesus my life is perfect and nothing bad ever happens. I think people who don't know Jesus yet need to see that sometimes we're still a little messed up, even though we're trying to follow Him. And they need to see that that is ok, it's part of the journey. Thanks for being open and honest Luke. Be Blessed Bro.

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