Spiritual Resources > Doubt, Trust and Faith
You aren't able to refuse to have doubt. No matter how secure you are about your system of beliefs, your mode of thinking, your way of living, or your relationships, you will soon run smack up against its limits. The limits of your knowing: there is more to know than you can hold in your mind. The limits of all knowing: there are mysteries that are bigger than mere knowledge. (Wisdom is, in part, knowing when you don't or can't know.) And, there is contradiction in our understanding; we won't always be sure that in moments of one-or-the-other choices, we chose the right one. The more secure you are, the more the whispers come through: maybe it ain't so, maybe you staked your life on nothing. Do you know what this phenomenon is called? Life.
If your mind is operating right, it is asking, "is this so?" This question keeps coming up. It helps to gather facts, statistics, and testimony, and on some matters it helps to try it out (remembering that there are certain kinds of matters where tryouts backfire, such as with addictions). Logic, deduction, and analogy help, too. But no matter how much you gather, you're still left with questions, including questions about the information or form of thinking you use. Such doubts, when pushed, undermine your ability to act decisively.
The way past that is to ask not only why something would not be so, but also why it would or could be so. Adding that question into the mix opens the door for possibilities and imagination, not just rules and negatives. Doubts need to stand up to the same examination as beliefs. And what you'll find is that no matter how much you examine your questions, those too need to be questioned, and will have holes and dead ends. This is an epistemological problem (that is, it's in the very nature and limits of the ways in which beings can know and learn). The sound mind learns what it can, doubts what it knows, knows its doubts, and doubts its doubts. The decision to entrust God with the matter turns the strongest doubt into an act of faith, and the most stubborn question into a plea of faith.
This means that doubt can be a help to faith, maybe even a part of faith. What most fully opposes faith is not doubt, but fear.
But then, there is another question: can I become confident enough in what I know and what I believe that I am able to take decisive and direct action based on it? That is what Kierkegaard referred to as a 'leap of faith', or what the apostle Paul meant in saying we are to walk by faith, not sight, or even what a Charismatic means in saying that the Spirit gives a powerful sense of assurance to live by. The truth is, even the most materialist and atheist of people make the decisions of daily life on the basis of trust.
I'll give one example from my own life. The resurrection. It's the event that my entire way of thinking hinges on; my thought gets seen through its lens. But I wasn't around back then. Those who wrote about it from back then may indeed just be blowing smoke. I don't know, on a factual basis, whether or not it happened, nor does anyone else alive today. Yet, I have surprisingly little doubt that Jesus returned from the dead. Instead, my doubts focus on one particular thing: Jesus' promise that his followers will share in that new world He's creating. Even there, when it comes to what happens to many other people, the doubts aren't all that frequent or strong; I'm secure that they're going to the big dance. When it comes to myself, however, my doubts are ever present. I believe there's no grading system, but I still wonder if I've made the grade. If it's all about love, then what have I done because of love? A website and a bunch of radio shows? With so few friends, who am I loving, face-to-face and in person? With no wife (or anything within sight distance of having one, ever), I haven't ever been a husband, someone who takes on the promise and challenges of actually loving a specific someone else close up, day in and day out. So how am I living a life of love? But even beyond all that, there is that nibbling little whisper that I was never meant to go on from here. That maybe this life was what God made me for, that God put me here to do certain things, and then one day the Lord would gently close my eyes, and it would be finished.
This is what I mean when I write that doubt is inescapable. It can come at too many angles for us to simply block them off. It can take into account too many variables - too many 'if's - for anyone to just wish away. I have to face and re-face that question. I live with it every day by staking my life on the God I've come to know over the years, that when Jesus says His followers are a part of the new life, He means it. The new life is something I'm already taking part in, in part, something I see in the world around me in so many ways I cannot count all of them. Thus, I trust the promise. But the whispers that it's not so for me still come, and never really go away.
You have your own places where spiritual or religious doubt hangs out. If you're honest with yourself, you know where they are. Some you can eventually resolve; other will never go away. You have both the freedom and the responsibility to account for religious doubt, to learn from it and live with it.
It often seems as if doubt can only grow; it so rarely seems to shrink. But actually, doubt is constantly growing and shrinking and changing shape. Like with knowledge itself, each time you find an answer, some doubts die. But each time you find one, new questions will arise, about the assumptions you operate under, with new unsurenesses and wonders about what is next.
a site user writes:
>> I've been getting doubts about Jesus'
>> resurrection lately. Lots of doubts.
>> And doubts about His place in my life.
>> Can you help me?
I wish I could. But that'd be hard to do, since a resurrection 2000 years ago can't be proved or demonstrated.
The best I can do is ask you to read the gospels again. They testify that Christ's resurrection was the winning action of a wider, broader story, about how God wants to make this world and its people whole and bring them back into relationship with Him. You know how people are, and you have some idea of how God is. What kind of a God is this God of your world? What do you see of God in your life, and in the Bible? Does this resurrection stuff fit with what this God is like? And what does it mean for you that God is this way? Pray about it, and let your prayers guide your thoughts. Maybe God will give you just the right insight to grasp what's at the heart of Christ's being risen.
Doubt's not something to flee, even when you doubt God. Doubt means your mind isn't switched off and your emotions are active and involved. Doubt makes you want to test, to try out, to ask around, to understand. It's the only way to get past the idea that you're being lied to. (Indeed, many religious leaders lie to you a lot.) You need to have at least enough suspicion to wonder and ask questions. The only way past these doubts is to go through them, sorting them out mostly based on the kind of character God has. Then you can find cause to doubt your doubts. Faith is not what you know, it's what and/or Who you trust. Trust God enough to lead you forward.
I'm trusting God will do that for you.
A site user writes:
> I haven't been given
a gift yet,
> and it's been months since Christ took me in.
> I'm always vacillating between faith and doubt.
> Is that my problem?
No, that means you're *alive*. You will doubt Christ. Not always, perhaps, but a little most of the time and a lot some of the time. Ask the Lord to help you with your unbelief. As you turn your doubt over to God, the Spirit harnesses it, using it to help you learn and discern. When you doubt, you're likely not to see the opportunities God gives you to use your gifts. Yet, doubt grows you up, and strips away the plush-toy aspects of the way you hold your faith. An honest doubt, when honestly being explored, is itself reasonable, even logical. (Just remember that logic doesn't solve everything.) Many people panic over discovering they still doubt Christ. Some church folks will tell you, "don't speak your doubts aloud". But God deals in truth, and wants us to do so too. Remember what Jesus said about faith the size of a mustard seed - it doesn't take much faith for God to work!
If God gives you tongues, rejoice! If God gives you prophetic words, rejoice! If God gives you understanding of people, or a way with kids, or a keen nose for hogwash, rejoice!! We all get some sort of gift, often several gifts. Let God show you the blessing you're given. Trust that, and don't worry about what you don't have or whether your doubts stop your gifts. Don't be so concerned about getting gifts, but about being a gift to others, in Christ's name, doubts and all. Who knows, you may suddenly talk up a stream of tongues one day -- and just as suddenly never do it again. But you can still live each day for Christ.
more on spiritual gifts,
and on living in the questions.
doubt's up-side and down-side
Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.
Doubt comes in at the window when inquiry is denied at the door.
To doubt is a misfortune, but to seek when in doubt is an indispensable duty. So he who doubts and seeks not is at once unfortunate and unfair.
When in doubt, win the trick.
Edmund Hoyle, *24 Rules*, rule 12
Doubt indulged soon becomes doubt realized.
Frances Havergal, *Royal Bounty*
The wound of peace is surety,
Surety secure; but modest doubt is called
The beacon of the wise, the tent that searches
To th' bottom of the worst.
Hector, in William Shakespeare's *Troilus and Cressida*, act 2, ii
Doubt is the vestibule of faith.
Charles Caleb Colton
"It is not as a child that I believe and confess Jesus Christ. My hosanna is born of a furnace of doubt."
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|ver.: 12 March 2012
Spiritual Doubt. Copyright © 1999-2012 by Robert Longman.