Sometimes I doubt.

That might be surprising, even disconcerting, to some. Is it normal for a Christian to doubt what he believes? Is it alright for a pastor to have doubts?

I used to ask myself the same questions and wonder what was wrong with me — why couldn’t I attain absolute certainty about matters of the faith? Yet the more I’ve studied the Bible and talked with mature Christians, I’ve come to recognize that faith seldom (if ever) exists without a degree of doubt. To take it a step further, most people who are absolutely certain of everything haven’t really wrestled deeply with the bigger questions of life. Faith is not the same thing as certainty. Faith, by its very nature, is trusting in God even when we cannot attain certainty — I think this is the key point of Hebrews 11. We believe what we do not see. If we saw everything clearly, we would no longer have any reason to trust in the unseen.

Absolute certainty about anything is an illusion. Why? Because we are finite creatures. Whether we’re talking about scientific discovery or spiritual truth, my limited point of view necessarily means that there will be a bit of doubt lingering around the margins of my faith. (That’s why doubt is not merely a part of the Christian experience, but a part of the human experience.)

Most of us freak out when we experience doubt, and as a result I think we often miss one of its greatest benefits: Doubt is often a conduit for the grace of God. Doubt inherently places us in a position of helplessness and need. We cannot see everything, we cannot understand the things we think we do see, so we are utterly dependent upon the wisdom and kindness of God.

When James tells us that the doubting person will not receive anything from God, I don’t think he means that absolute certainty is required when we approach the Father in prayer. I think he means quite the opposite, in fact. The word for “doubt” in the Greek language carries the idea of “double-mindedness.” I think James is telling us this: The person who approaches God for wisdom, yet thinks he already understands everything with certainty, isn’t truly inclined to listen to what God has to say. He’s curious about God’s wisdom, but isn’t desperate for it. As a result, he doesn’t receive wisdom. Wisdom comes to those who approach God single-mindedly, asking Him to provide what we do not possess.

When Peter experienced his own bouts with doubt (see, for example, Matthew 14:22-34), they became stunning opportunities for the grace of Jesus to pour into his life. True, Jesus chastised Peter for his doubt, but it was sinking into the water that caused Peter to cry, “Lord, save me!” Only by sinking did he learn to cry out to the one who could pull him out. Peter had to learn faith through the troubling lens of doubt and fear, and Jesus knew that. The bold Peter we see on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2) would not have existed were it not for the lessons he learned on the water, and the pain he experienced when he denied His Savior.

I’ve learned to view doubt as a frustrating but necessary element of the Christian life. Until we see Jesus face to face, we will have to operate by faith rather than certainty. In the meanwhile, God uses our limitations and our doubt to reshape us. Through the process of wondering and questioning and asking God for the wisdom we lack, we slowly begin to grow in our own faith. Seeing God move in our lives despite our doubt and fear encourages us to take another step closer to Him.

To put it simply, doubt lets God’s grace come in. That’s true, if we view doubt as a renewed opportunity to trust Him. On the other hand, if we push away the doubt with our own reasoning, our own intelligence, and a sense of arrogant self-sufficiency, then we will not find the faith we’re seeking. Nor will we find certainty. Instead, we’ll become proud and distant from God. It’s only by acknowledging the doubt and bringing it to the feet of our all-knowing God that we can grow. Wisdom isn’t found in certainty, but in a growing understanding of our own limitations and our utter and absolute need of God’s wisdom.

So what do you think? Is doubt inappropriate for Christians? Do you ever struggle with it? How do you handle it? 

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