Friday, November 13, 2015

Expressing Doubt Builds Faith


Many of us have felt guilty for feeling doubt regarding our faith, whether it be our whole faith or parts of it. I hesitated about using the word doubt in this article because of its potentially negative connotations. However, I choose to use it because it captures the emotion behind what many of us feel when we question or enquire about areas of our faith that we don't understand. Interestingly, Fuller Seminary completed a study on what is most helpful for young people to retain their faith and build maturity, and found that wrestling with doubts was a key. Experiencing doubt can be emotionally draining and a fearful experience, and this needs to be recognised and addressed. When looking at the Bible, it seems to portray God as being merciful (in some cases praising) towards those who express questions or doubts. Faith doesn't seem to be an unquestionable act of trust in God, but more a choice to trust God, whilst acknowledging and wrestling with our doubts.  

Opening questions to consider:

Is it right or wrong to question our beliefs?
Is it unhelpful or helpful to question our beliefs?

What does God expect us to do?
What does evidence suggest we do?

Two Mindedness is not Necessarily Helpful

I admit that the Bible does emphasise that it is not helpful to be two-minded in our beliefs according to James 1. After looking at many scriptures relating to uncertainty and faith, what James appears to be referring to here is a person who is permanently indecisive and without conviction in life. Most people would say that a person having no conviction about social injustice or various issues would be a person who is unhelpful and impractical to reality. Edmund Burke said "The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing".

Scripture and Doubt

There are many situations in the Bible where people experience a type of doubt and it is not always seen with disdain. What God appears to respect in His Word is the sincere seeking of truth that people partake in. As the Bible says "seek and you will find".  The prophets would repeatedly appeal to what God has done in the past as evidence of God's power and glory, rather than just claiming that God is God. This suggests that God does not expect blind faith, but faith based on evidence. Paul also took time to argue the gospel reasonably and based on evidence. If faith is based on evidence, then it is based on conviction of that evidence and not a fake conviction of nothing. God is more concerned about the sincerity of heart than about shallow publicly espoused allegiance to Him, as Jesus so often accused the Pharisees of doing. 

Mark 9 shares a story where Jesus answered a doubting man's prayer. Jesus said that he needed to believe in order to receive His assistance. The man replied that he believed, but also asked Jesus to help him with his unbelief! What the man requested seems to be an oxymoron, but Jesus had mercy on him and granted his request. It seems that an admission of faith while experiencing doubt can even have prayers answered! God doesn't seem to need our unwavering faith to bring about His purposes. This story suggests that Jesus is more interested in a sincere pursuit of Him, even if that pursuit involves admission of doubt.

Paul says at the end of Roman 14 that we need to be congruent (consistent) or true to ourselves. He says that if we go against our conscience, it is more or less akin to sin. In the context of doubt, this could mean that acknowledging the doubt and wrestling with it, rather than going on pretending it isn't there, is the more helpful way of living.

Matthew states that even Jesus expressed a form of "doubt" when He cried "My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?". I am not saying that Jesus necessarily intellectually doubted His Father's existence, but that He existentially doubted (experiencing emotional or intellectual doubt) God's faithfulness to Him while He was on the cross. We all go through periods in our lives where we experience doubt about God's existence, goodness, or our understanding of "correct" doctrine - whether it be emotional or intellectual. Christ seemed to be free to express his anguish without worrying about the judgement of religious lofty eyes.

Jude 22 also chimes in on how to deal with doubt. He emphasises the mercy that we need to show to those who doubt. Rather than thinking less of those who experience doubt, he appears to imply being slow to judge and quick to hear. 

Expressing Doubt Builds Faith 

I have been reading a book recently by Nancy Pearcy called "Saving Leonardo: A call to resist the secular assault on mind, morals, & meaning".  In it she brings to our attention a fascinating study by Fuller Seminary that investigated High School graduate's tendency to lose their faith after school. In the study they found a key factor that influenced whether youth kept their faith or not. They found that the most effective factor was not prayer or Bible studies, but the safe exploration of questions before leaving home. The college students said that the more they felt they could safely express their doubts meant that they developed higher levels of faith and spiritual maturity. Pearcy believes that the best way for teens to be prepared to give an answer for their faith (1 Peter 3:15) is by personally wrestling with questions. Jesus interestingly said that we are to be child in like some way. Pearcy and Francis Schaeffer said that being childlike is not about believing the first thing we have been told, but about a tendency to ask questions! Pearcy concludes that we need to have the attitude of Paul "Test Everything; Hold fast what is good". 

As counselling theory has well established, safely and honestly exploring our realities (without fear of judgement) helps us to have a greater awareness and understanding which equips us to live more fruitful and sincere lives.   

Doubt and Fear

The alternative extreme to double mindedness is when people engage in a blind following of one belief without questioning it or hearing and entertaining another's viewpoint. I wrote a post recently on the subject of Group Think, its' dangerous tendencies, and how to combat it. I do believe in the usefulness of constructive talk around what we generally see as evidence for the faith (and there is a lot), but if this talk is not balanced it can produce fear amongst people when they doubt something that is taken for granted. Why do we fear? It could be because it has been ingrained into us to believe blindly or else be condemned, instead of engaging honestly with our doubt. I have felt at times that the attitude within church culture can be that to doubt is a sin or a weakness. However, there is a more helpful and God honouring way to view doubt.If I love truth, and God is truth, then I love God. The search for truth comes first, if it doesn't, then we just believe whatever we first come in contact with, or whatever suits our fancy. That would not be honouring God to believe something for the sake of it. On a similar note, if I expect someone else to question their world view in the humble pursuit of truth, then I must also too. God wants us to love Him with our heart, strength and mind. I am not saying that we blow about in the wind 24/7, but how C.S. Lewis put it: "Faith... is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods". People believe things for many reasons, and it would often take a huge amount of evidence before their belief would change anyway. I believe the honest pursuit of truth is the attitude that God would find most helpful to work with, rather than a dogmatic adherence to creeds with the suppression of doubt.    


Scripture suggests that it is not evil to experience doubt, but part of the process of finding out who we are and why we believe what we believe. Instead, we can be true to ourselves. The Fuller Seminary study shows that being real, and safely exploring our doubts leads to a stronger faith. It suggests it is more dangerous to not safely question your faith. However, it is not helpful to always be wavering and double minded, but instead having a humble conviction about what we do have evidence for. Experiencing doubt is not something people can always avoid due to the enquiring minds God has given us, but it can be extremely frightening and painful. One way to help relinquish this fear is by sincerely searching for truth while having an attitude of trust towards God, that if He is truth, He will guide our sincere searching in the most helpful direction. We cannot ever understand everything. Being true to ourselves is the best we can do, and what I believe God wants us to exhibit. I am not suggesting giving up on faith, but suggesting the necessity to express doubt as a part of our faith.


Joshua Griffiths is currently doing a series talking about how relationship and the existence of knowledge gaps is essential for a full understanding and experience of faith - Faithfully Valuing the Limits of Scripture (PART 3 - RELATIONSHIPS)


  1. One of the most common objections to challenging 'group think' (or to deliberately exploring alternative views in church) is that is could be potentially damaging. People usually assume it could especially harm those who are already doubting or struggling with the issues being 'explored'. This study would suggest the opposite - NOT exploring these things is much more dangerous. The safest thing to do is to provide a safe environment where these doubts can be expressed and explored honestly, rather than suppressed and ignored.

    And its not necessarily sufficient to just provide 'some form of answer'. There are so many pre-formed 'answers', clever emotional manipulation techniques, or avoidance tactics that Christians employ as 'answers' to tricky struggles. The intent is usually to 'deal with' the other person's doubt as quickly as possible and avoid it surfacing again (sometimes because it touches a nerve with our own dark thoughts). Its certainly not a true 'safe place' to explore doubts, if this is the response. We need listen, empathise, and be vulnerable to criticism so that we can grow stronger and share this strength with each other.

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  3. I have only read a small part of your post today, I shall hopefully come back to read the rest when I have got more time, but when I read about the man who told Jesus he believed but asked Jesus to help him in his unbelief, I was reminded of a time nearly thirty years ago when I had just been born again of the Holy Spirit.
    I was in a church in Adelaide and the man at the front who was preaching said that if anyone wanted prayer for healing to come to the front. I went to the front because I had a large lump that had been growing in my body. I believed that I could be healed because I had experienced a healing when I was a child and had seen others healed. However, there was a doubt as to whether I WOULD be healed that time because I did not understand why some got healed and others did not. I did get healed that day, the lump disappeared immediately the man put oil on my head and prayed in the name of Jesus.
    I believe that faith has to grow, as it comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God. (Romans ch. 10 v. 17). We are told that faith is one of the gifts of the Holy Spirit, and that there are various gifts, given to each part of the body of Christ (the church) for the building up of the church. I believe that the man who prayed for me had the gift of faith and therefore he prayed the prayer of faith that heals (as stated in James ch. 5 vs. 14 and 15) :- ' Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up.'

    The body of Christ on earth (the church) operates today in the same way Jesus did two thousand years ago.

  4. Thanks Brenda for the comment.

    I may have a different view of faith. I don't think that faith is necessarily conjuring up a feeling or "belief" that someone will be healed. Rather, having faith is having trust in the goodness and therefore the character of God. The character of God is to work things out for good to those who love God. Having faith in Him is believing that He will hear a prayer of faith, and depending on His will, that He is absolutely able to heal whenever He likes whether I expect Him to do so or not. Saying that God "will" and that He "can" are two very different things.
    Saying that God will heal immediately is quite misleading for a lot of people. We all need to die of some sickness someday, but we will get new bodies free from corruption :) That is the true bodily healing in Christ I believe