When you have doubts about God and His word, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing. JACKIE HWANG digs deeper into how we can wrestle with our doubts in a healthy way.
It is a natural for any of us to ask questions about things we do not understand and to express doubt about things that do not make sense to us. However, when it comes to our faith in God, what should be our proper response if there are things that do not make sense to us? Is it OK to doubt God?
Before we address this question, it is important to know that doubt by its nature is an open-ended process of investigation. As an open-ended process that is not limited by a predetermined answer, how it is handled is more important than whether it was right or wrong to have the doubt that started the process in the first place. When we handle the process of doubt well, it may initially challenge our faith in God, but will eventually deepen our faith. When we handle the process of doubt poorly, it will harden our hearts to any reason or even to God’s own voice to restore our faith.
To help us understand how the process of doubt can turn us toward God or away from Him, let me use some biblical examples to illustrate the differences. These examples will also show that the Bible indeed condones and encourages a process of doubt when we approach doubt constructively.
Biblical examples of constructive doubt
In Mark 9:24, there is a seemingly contradictory cry of “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” from a man who asked Jesus to heal his son. The man dealt with his struggle of doubt by turning to Jesus for help, instead of turning away from Jesus. The man was honest with Jesus about his doubt. Because of the man’s honesty, Jesus took the opportunity to strengthen his faith by healing his son.
Even though David doubted God, he turned toward God in honesty and humility.
This encounter between the doubting father and Jesus shows that being honest with our doubt and bringing our doubt to God humbly is a constructive way to handle our doubt toward God.
David, a well-known Old Testament figure, wrote many psalms dealing with his doubt toward God. Psalm 22 is one of these. It starts with these words in verses 1–2:
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?
My God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, but I find no rest.
Even though David doubted God, he turned toward God in honesty and humility. This attitude allowed David to work through his doubt and led to a deeper faith in God (Ps 22:22–31). In fact, these same words of doubt in Psalm 22:1 were also uttered by Jesus when He hung on the cross, revealing the human side of Him during a time of pain and suffering (Matt 27:46). These biblical examples show us that constructive doubt is the willingness to be honest and to turn toward God even when we doubt Him.
Biblical examples of destructive doubt
Unlike constructive doubt, destructive doubt is defined by arrogance and denial of God’s actions. An example of this is found in John 9, which tells the story of Pharisees who refused to believe in Jesus’ authority even when there was indisputable evidence that Jesus had healed a blind man. The Pharisees insisted on nitpicking the details of how Jesus healed the man to discredit Jesus (9:13–34). Because of their refusal to believe, Jesus rebuked them for their spiritual blindness (9:39–41).
Another example is found in the Old Testament book of Malachi, which describes the rebellion and arrogance of the Israelites toward God. In doubt, they claimed, “It is futile to serve God. … But now we call the arrogant blessed. Certainly evildoers prosper, and even when they put God to the test, they get away with it” (Mal 3:14–15). Though their doubt might seem similar to David’s in the earlier example, they differed from David since their arrogance did not lead them to turn to God but led them to reject God’s offer of showing His goodness and faithfulness to them. Not only did they turn away from God in arrogance, but they also denied their wrongdoing when God confronted them (Mal 3:13).
Constructive doubt leads to growing faith
The biblical examples above show us that having doubt is not a problem in itself. Instead, how doubt is handled is the key. When we deal with our doubt honestly and humbly by turning toward God, such a response conforms to biblical teaching. And if we have the proper safeguards against arrogance and against an outright rejection of God, a good dose of doubt can actually be very helpful to grow our faith in God.
A constructive approach allows the process of doubt to make our faith an active faith that is always asking questions and seeking a deeper knowledge of God. In fact, this active faith is much better than a dead faith that is afraid to go deeper with questions about God. So, we should encourage one another to have constructive doubt that will take us further in our faith in God!