Friday, May 18, 2012

Room For Doubt

Reading through the Bible, there are books within my own that get a lot of wear and tear.  The Psalms are a constant source of comfort to me.  I find myself in Paul's letters a lot for encouragement and teaching as well.  There are some books within the Bible that, while I don't avoid them, they just don't get a lot of airtime.

A few months ago, I remembered a verse in the book of Jude, a very short 25 verse long book.  A friend had brought one of the verses in Jude to my attention years ago in a conversation.  Jude 3 says, "Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people."  After constantly stumbling upon this verse and remembering our conversation, I was led back to Jude to see what other insights that it might hold.

Over the past few months, I have read through Jude a number of times, at least once a month if not more frequently.  The beauty of Scripture, to me, is that there is new insight to be gleaned every time that I read it.  I am constantly amazed at how I can read something hundreds of time and one day, I read it and notice something that I had never noticed before.

That very thing happened to be this morning as I found myself again reading through Jude.  Jude 22 says, "Be merciful to those who doubt."  I really stopped on that verse and began to think about it.  There is an ancient practice of Scripture reading called Lectio Divina in which the Word of God is read, meditated upon, prayed upon, and then contemplated.  As I read through Jude this morning, I felt like I hit the brakes when I read this verse.  It was a moment for meditation, reflection, and contemplation.

I have wrestled with doubt in my life.  It was far greater when I was younger, but every once in a while, I still find myself having questions and doubts.  They are more to do with what I am doing and where I am going, though the occasional "existence of God" doubts can sometimes take center stage.

This morning as I read through Jude and stumbled upon this verse, I began to think about so many people who had decried doubt as if it were a sin.  As we read through the overall narrative of Scripture, we encounter many people who have had their fair share of doubt.  I recall the man whose son was possessed by a spirit who said to Jesus, "I believe, help my unbelief."  I recall the disciple, Thomas, who needed to put his hands onto the wounds of Jesus after he rose from the dead in order to fully believe.  Those are just two cases, but there were others who doubted, who struggled to hold onto faith.

It is a myth to say that the Christian life is all rainbows and roses.  While some may criticize me for having a "doom and gloom" approach towards life with a statement like that, I'm only basing it on what Jesus said to his followers.  He specifically told them that in this world they would have trouble.  He told them that he had been persecuted and they should expect to be persecuted just as he was.  But he never left it there.  When he told them that they would have trouble in this world, he told them that he had overcome the world (John 16:33).

Doubt isn't a bad thing, it's what we do with that doubt.  Do we let it plague us, pull us down, overtake us?  Or do we wrestle with it and seek answers in the midst of it?  Job went through a crisis of faith, rightfully so, who wouldn't experience the depths of loss that he experienced and not go through a crisis of faith?  He eventually heard from God who set him straight and restored what he had lost.

We will doubt.  When we do, be careful not to listen to the voices of those who would cry against it.  Amidst our doubt, we serve and know a God who can hold that doubt, who is big enough to handle when His children struggle with their faith and questions along life's journey.  There is room for doubt in this life, it's just a question of what we do with it.

We will also encounter others who doubt, and despite the journey that we have been through that has brought us to our current place, others have not necessarily had similar circumstances and experiences.  What may seem logical to one may seem impossible to another.  As we encounter those who wrestle with doubt, we aren't called to beat them over the head with our experiences or what we have come to believe and know as truth, we are called to love and to be merciful to them.  If we have doubts, wouldn't we hope to have others be merciful to us?

There is room for dialogue and conversation in doubt, if we would only stop and find the time to engage in these things.  As we talk and converse, wrestling with our doubt, the ministry of presence from others as well as the mercy that they are called to can help us through these doubts.  Remember Job and his friends, while they ministered to him with their presence, some of their advice was less than sound.  A conversation requires both sides to be engaged in order to be fully successful.

The doubts that I have experienced are not behind me, one day they will rear their heads again, but how I handle them is my choice.  If I handle them honestly, they can be used for strengthening, rather than weakening my faith.  May we allow our times of doubt the opportunity to strengthen our faith.  God is big enough to handle our doubt, don't let anyone tell you differently.


  1. Thank you for this, Jon. Would you believe the verse I rely on the most is Mark 9:24? My friend who is a christian education professor once said during a small group discussion that the world needs doubt, because without doubt there is no such thing as faith.

  2. From my's almost as if one's faith just dwells on the surface if there is no favorite song of mine goes, "It's harder to believe than not to". And speaking of of mine on the subject of doubt and faith is Os Guiness who has written several classics on the subject: Doubt, Doubt: Faith in Two Minds, and God in the Dark: The Assurance of Faith Beyond a Shadow of Doubt.

    Two Os Guinness Quotes:
    “Sometimes when I listen to people who say they have lost their faith, I am far less surprised than they expect. If their view of God is what they say, then it is only surprising that they did not reject it much earlier.

    Other people have a concept of God so fundamentally false that it would be better for them to doubt than to remain devout. The more devout they are, the uglier their faith will become since it is based on a lie. Doubt in such a case is not only highly understandable, it is even a mark of spiritual and intellectual sensitivity to error, for their picture is not of God but an idol. ”
    ― Os Guinness, God in the Dark


    “What has happened to create this doubt is that a problem (such as a deep conflict or a bad experience) has been allowed to usurp God's place and become the controlling principle of life. Instead of viewing the problem from the vantage point of faith, the doubter views faith from the vantage point of the problem. Instead of faith sizing up the problem, the situation ends with the problem scaling down faith. The world of faith is upside down, and in the topsy-turvy reality of doubt, a problem has become god and God has become a problem.”
    ― Os Guinness