Doubt is something every follower of Jesus experiences at some point. Our world is messy and broken. Things don’t go to plan. Bad things happen. The God we believe is in control, it can seem, has lost control. And we are left with questions.
Doubt isn’t often spoken about in church circles. When it is, we speak of doubting Thomas. It’s always negative – the antithesis of faith. Sometimes I have questions. And then I feel condemned for doubting and lacking faith. I’m not alone. Here’s what a friend posted on Facebook a couple of weeks ago:
’Have you ever wondered to yourself – what if it’s all not true? What if the Bible’s just made up? What if Jesus didn’t die and rise? What about all my doubt?
I’m not saying for a second I’m turning my back on God. I’m just done. I’m done with keeping up appearances, with saying all the right things and blindly following the crowd.
I just want to be real. Every day I have doubts about the very existence of the one I love. I’ve never seen Him. When I pray, I don’t feel Him. And yet I call myself a Christian. What a hypocrite I am!
I wait for Him to explode into my life but He never does. Why? Why is He so distant? Why does my heart feel such pain?’
Maybe you’ve felt like this before too.
I was at a funeral a few years ago for a young man. His life had been cut short by sickness. I’ll never forget the brief conversation I had with Sam.¹ She said ‘I’m just so angry. God could have healed him but didn’t. Where is his love? How can he be trusted?’I could have given an answer like ‘God’s ways are higher than ours’ but it wouldn’t have helped. Instead I said something like ‘I wish I had an answer but I don’t. But your pain is real. And your questions are real. And you need to ask them.’
This is what it comes down to, in a church culture that decries the doubting and questioning of God, and tries to solve it by telling people to just have more faith, people hide. People don’t ask their questions. They masquerade their doubts under veils of pious religiosity.
To those who have questions, don’t hide. Don’t wear the veil. Don’t play the game. To my Facebook friend, to Sam, to those with doubts, I offer these words:
1. You Are Not Alone
Having doubts feels lonely. It feels like failing. But the reality is you are not alone. Think about some of the heroes from the Bible who experienced doubts and questions. Job did, but God called him righteous. Abraham did, but God made him a central part of his plan. David’s psalms are full of questions, yet God calls him a man after his own heart. Peter returns to fishing because he doubts God could restore him, but God did. And church tradition says Thomas carried the message of Jesus as far as India. What makes you so different? God can use you in spite of doubts and questions.
2. Doubt is an Invitation to Grow
Sometimes people speak about blind faith. But Christian faith isn’t blind. Blind faith has no basis or reason for trust. This is the opposite to what Jesus calls his followers to. Jesus asks his followers to have faith in him because they know him. This is important. Faith follows Jesus even when you don’t know exactly what God is up to. Our doubts and questions can bring us face to face with God, inviting us to know him more. When we cry out ‘God why are you so far away?’ aren’t we also saying ‘God I want to be closer to you?’ In a strange way our doubts can say we want to know God more – to know his faithfulness.
3. God doesn’t owe us
Times of doubt and asking God questions are okay, but there is a line. At some point we must realise that God is God, and we are not. We are not his judge. He doesn’t have to explain himself to us. Job learned this. He repeatedly called God to account for why he wasn’t acting justly. In fact, Job blames God for his problems. He feels God is out to destroy him. But even in the midst of his doubts, Job holds onto the hope that God will redeem his suffering. As Job’s story continues, God does show up. But he never addresses Job’s accusations. Instead he takes Job on a cosmic tour of the universe but that’s enough for Job.
Recently I spoke to Sam. It had been a couple of years had passed since the funeral and I wondered what had happened in her story. She told me she was in a much better place with God. She hadn’t asked others her questions, her fears, her doubts – only God. But he had helped her see he was there with her. This is a message I need to hear. In the midst of your doubt, and mine, God is with us, inviting us to know him more.
¹ Name changed to protect anonymity.