By Elysia McColley
Doubt can be an unnerving experience. It happens when your mind starts to call into question things that you thought you were certain about. A scientists who just made a ground-breaking discovery may feel doubt about his or her findings; perhaps the procedure used was not clear enough, or there was some kind of interference that the scientist was not aware of, or the discovery actually isn’t all that significant. What does a good scientist do to alleviate this doubt? He or she goes back to the procedure and runs the experiment again, and again, and again, as many times as is necessary to ensure that the results are accurate and that the findings are legitimate.
For scientists who are thorough in their work, doubt is an unpleasant feeling that leads to productive results. Going back and reviewing their work leads to more precision in the end. The same can be true for Christians when experiencing doubt.
Doubt is a common experience for Christians who, like a scientist, are seeking something that is authentic and can withstand scrutiny and refutation. Doubt may not matter much for someone who just wants to sit in the pew on Sunday morning, but it matters a lot to Christians who want a faith that is genuine and that permeates every aspect of their lives. As Christians, we don’t have to look at doubt as an unwelcome intruder that betrays our faith; we can embrace the experience as something that requires us to go back, like a scientist back to an experiment, and find an even deeper level of faith.
When we experience moments of doubt that the Bible is trustworthy, instead of brushing off the feeling, we can search out reasons for believing that the Bible is true. If in doubt about the historical figure of Jesus or any claims that He made, we can dig into the evidence that apologists and saints give for His virgin birth, miracles, death, and resurrection.
A common misconception is that doubt is the opposite of faith, but this idea is simply not true. The opposite of doubt is prayer. Prayer is not a casual aside to the Christian life or something that we can sprinkle onto a busy day. Rather, prayer is the essence of the Christian life. It allows us to push through doubt because Jesus promised that God gives good things to those who ask. He told several parables in which someone persistently asked for help – from a neighbor in the middle of the night, from an unrighteous judge – and did not stop asking until the help arrived. The person know that help would come and pushed through moments of doubt by continuing to ask, seek, and knock.
James 1:5-8 echoes this sentiment. The verses say, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
At first glance, this passage seems to condemn Christians who experience doubt. A closer reading of this passage, however, reveals that prayer dispels the believer’s doubt. The person who should not expect to receive anything is not the believer who doubts, but the doubter who does not believe in the first place. What the book of James goes on to teach is that belief, or faith, works itself out through action, namely through good works and prayer. Inaction, the lack of prayer and good works, on the part of a Christian is the nemesis of faith. Prayer, on the other hand, is an action that pushes through doubt and takes a person straight to the throne of God.
Handled well, doubt will cause us to go back to the Bible, prayer, and everything else that informs an authentic faith. Doubt may lead us to study apologetics so as to affirm the authority and veracity of the Bible. One could say that doubt is an important part of the Christian journey because it leads us to strengthen our faith. It should never lead us to abandon the faith, just like doubt should never lead a scientist to abandon the profession.
A Christian’s experience of doubt does not mean that the Christian faith is inauthentic. Rather, it is an invitation to experience a more authentic faith, one that can withstand any refutation or argument against it.