While there are many illnesses we’d hate to contract, glaucoma is one disease that strikes a particular alarm. This incurable eye condition creeps in slowly over time until a person can no longer see. A slow development of glaucoma leads to vision problems initially and eventually to a total inability to see at all.

Doubt and the Christian faith can be a bit like this. Doubt is something of a “vision problem” in the life of the Christian that can happen slowly, over time, until one looks back and can’t quite describe how things got that far. However, when dealt with wisely, doubt can lead us to Christ, loving, trusting, and obeying Him all the more.

In this post, we’ll consider three questions: How should we think about doubt? How does doubt spring up? How should we approach our doubt?


God’s Purposes for Doubt

Doubt, like any physical ailment that can happen to any of us at any time, in and of itself is not something that should surprise us. Doubt is normal in the life of the believer, but we also don’t want to leave it undealt with. Further, to say that doubt is normal does not mean that it is neutral. Rather, we ought to take doubt seriously. We’ll get into the specifics of how to approach our doubt toward the end of this post, but for now let’s consider how God treats doubt in Scripture.

The typical way God uses doubt is not simply to leave those doubts unanswered but to respond in such a way that brings glory to Himself and reinforces relationship with his people. Matthew 14:22–33 recounts the true story of Peter’s doubt and Jesus’ response when Jesus beckons Peter to walk on the water in faith. Peter walks on the water but soon takes his eyes off of Jesus and begins to sink. In response, Jesus reaches out his hand, takes hold of Peter, and asks Peter why he doubted. The response from those in the boat was to worship Jesus.

Now take Luke 7:18–35 where John the Baptist sends messengers to Jesus to ask him whether or not he is truly the one they thought he was. In response, Jesus is not harsh or condemning, but He simply tells the messengers to remind John of miracles done by Jesus. Jesus also adds an encouragement about the one who believes: And blessed is the one who is not offended by me (Luke 7:23).

These two passages show God’s patience and mercy toward those who doubt Him. However merciful and patient God is toward doubters, we must recognize that doubt is different from unbelief. As Pastor Tim spoke about in a recent sermon, “Doubt wants to believe; unbelief wants not to believe.”

If you find yourself in a season of questioning God, ask yourself, “Why do I doubt?” Ask other wise believers around you to help sort through this question too. Getting at the heart of our questioning here means we have to distinguish questions that come from a place of belief and wanting to believe versus a place of unbelief and not wanting to believe.

A couple more litmus test questions here can help us: Am I asking questions in order to test God or in order to know, love, and obey God? Is the heart posture behind my questions coming from any root of sin in my life? Looking around us today, it is easy to see that there is doubt “out there” (culturally/socially) and doubt “in here” (inside of us). The environment we’re in, including what we read, listen to, and watch, all affect our proclivity to doubt.

Yet more subtle—and possibly more harmful because we are commonly blind to it—is the doubt that springs from inside of us, often emerging from sin or unaddressed idolatry in our lives. What sin may be lying at the root of doubt in your life? How might turning to Jesus to help in this sin area affect any doubting you currently experience?


Fertile Ground for Doubt

Like a snare waiting to be activated by unsuspecting prey, being formed by the world rather than Christ and His church creates fertile ground for doubt to spring up. When we are primarily formed by the world, we fail to see when a “vision problem” emerges. These vision problems cause our eyes to be foggy, our hearts to be groggy, and we become sleepy to the discernment and wisdom found in Christ alone. Secular ideas that sound nice but are contrary to a Christian worldview can begin to take us captive.

God has given many non-Christians knowledge and understanding that may reflect His truth and that we, as believers, can learn from and find some value in. Yet, we still have to filter what we see, hear, and learn through a Christian lens. If we are not being discipled in our homes and in our local church to know and follow Jesus, we are being discipled by something, someone, somewhere else. The question here is: What am I reading? Listening to? Learning? Practicing? Talking about?

One way to cling to Christ in an age of doubt is to love the Church. It can be a remarkably slow and subtle drift from following Jesus when we (sometimes unknowingly) begin to follow the teachers of the world more readily and willingly than following our Savior and Lord and loving the Church that is so precious to Him. When we love Christ and the Church, we commit to the fellowship and accountability of other believers, bringing our questions there, helping others wrestle with their questions, and continually pointing one another back to Jesus.


A Countercultural Approach to Doubt

So where are we to go with all of this? A countercultural approach to our doubts and the doubts of the people around us illuminates a pathway not only up and out of doubt but “further up” and “further in” to the “land we have been looking for all our lives” (C.S. Lewis).

Many of us will tend toward one of two extremes of either leaving no room for questions and shaming those who doubt or celebrating doubt as a desirable virtue. However, there is a third way that appropriately positions questions and doubts in the life of the believer.

Questions and yes, even doubt, can lead us to know, love, trust, and obey God more and more. More enjoyment of God is possible on the other side of our doubt. Let us not ask questions in our own minds alone, but bring other wise believers around us and bring our humble questions to the Lord who knows how to handle them.

At the same time, we must take our doubt seriously. So how do we “doubt our doubt”? A few things may be as helpful to you as they have been for me:

  1. Recognize that all of our thoughts are not truthful. Sin and fallenness has marred every aspect of our lives. Therefore, even our own thinking is impacted, and we must recognize that not everything we think is truthful.
  2. Remember that God made us to know things, including things about Him, things about ourselves, and things about the world he created. He made us able to know things with certainty. This means that, in most cases, there are real answers to our real questions and our real doubts.
  3. Study the Christian faith deeply.
    1. Regularly read the Bible.
    2. Be in fellowship and discipleship with other believers.
    3. Take Christian education classes offered.
    4. Ask for recommendations from wise leaders and friends on good Christian books.
  4. Press into the local church. Books and wise Christian leaders and authors are great, but they cannot replace wise counsel and fellowship found in the local body of believers.

Back to Matthew 14:31–33, here’s what Scripture tells us:

Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”

What do we notice here about Jesus’ response to Peter’s doubt?

  • Jesus’ response to Peter’s doubt is immediate. Jesus does not wait around before tending to the doubt of his disciple. Jesus is ready to respond to your doubt too.
  • Jesus’ response is to give his hand. Jesus offers real hope for your real doubts too.
  • With his hand he takes hold of Peter. Jesus is the one holding you in your doubt, like a father holding the hand of a child. Even if you wanted to let go, if you are in Christ, he will not let you go.
  • Jesus asks Peter why he doubted. While we might think this question indicates Jesus’ surprise, the question is actually for Peter. Jesus is not caught off guard by our doubt.
  • Those in the boat worshiped Jesus. Our doubt can be used by God to bring glory to himself.

Jesus is the one holding us. He can handle our doubts. Bring them to him, in faith.