Doubt is viewed by many American Christians as one of the worst of all sins. To doubt a tenant of the faith, or something found in the Bible, or something one has been told growing up in church, is to reject God’s trust, or at least so it seems to the doubter.
This is a sad state of being. Doubt is one of the most beautiful – and most crucial! – elements of any vibrant faith. Doubt is the critical attitude taken towards any asserted system of belief or knowledge that works to refine and strengthen that system by cutting away the fat.
Yet, that is the problem for many Christians. Their faith is built on shaky moral and intellectual foundations, and the distrust of doubt is a subconscious acknowledgement of that fact. To know that doubting even one small tenant of faith would bring your entire worldview crashing down is to admit the weakness of that worldview; if it can’t stand up to scrutiny, it must be a faith “built on sand and shifting stones.”
The fear of doubt, for many Christians, is the fear that God will cast them out for doubting God’s truth. It is a fear preyed upon by those who tell them “The End is Near,” and those who want to use that fear to get in their wallets. What is Jesus came back just in that moment of doubt, and I miss my chance to be taken into heaven forever, because right at that moment I wasn’t so sure about something? Leaving aside the inherent problematic, and non-Biblical nature of such an apocalyptic worldview, the use of fear to coerce people into faith is surely one of the greatest sins one can engage in. “Fear not,” Jesus commanded. “There is no fear in love,” the author of 1 John writes. To cause others to fear, intentionally, is to go against God. To strike fear into the hearts of good people because they might have doubts is spiritual malpractice.
Especially because, doubt is Biblical!
For instance, in the very last chapter of the Gospel of Matthew, we find the resurrected Jesus issuing his Great Commission to the gathered disciples, exhorting them to “Go therefore, and make disciples of all nations.” Yet, just one verse before this, we read that, upon seeing the Risen Christ, some disciples worshipped, “but some doubted.”
And that’s it. That’s all it says. It doesn’t say that that doubt was resolved. Jesus doesn’t preach a sermon, or rebuke them, or tell them they have to get it together before they can make disciples.
No, all it says is “they doubted” and then they are commissioned and then they head out. Think about that: even with their doubts, Jesus still sends them out to make disciples. He doesn’t see doubt as an impediment to their ability to carry the Gospel. In being followers of the Way, those who doubt are just as valid as those who don’t.
(But, really, who doesn’t feel doubt, right? Even those who worshipped probably held some doubts.)
But really, think about it this way: those who doubted were probably better evangelizers than those who claimed not to! Remember, doubt is a refining fire. Questioning strengthens one’s beliefs in the long term. They person who engages in self-criticism, questioning and self-doubt can more clearly and firmly answer the questions – and speak to the doubts – of others. The disciple who speaks honestly of their own doubts and questions can more fully relate to other doubters, whereas the person who claims to have all the answers and none of the doubts is often off-putting and demoralizing by comparison.
And really, what was Jesus doing other than doubting the religious assertions and dogmas of his times. Asking questions, challenging, doubting that the religious really did have all the answers to peoples questions. The Way of Jesus is a way of doubts and questions and skepticism.
Don’t be afraid of your doubts. Don’t reject questions. Don’t be afraid to reformulate and reject and rethink. Bring your faith through the fires of doubt, and know you are standing in the tradition of Christ. Know you are participating in the great creating and animating spirit we call God.