There are many, many days where I wonder why in the world I believe what I do. The first time I actually took these doubts seriously, I was terrified. Questioning a world view that you’ve grown up with is always difficult, but for me, it felt like I was lost in a dark cave.
When I think about doubt, two conversations come to mind. The first was with someone whom I’d expected would sympathize with my conundrum. I asked them if doubt was bad, and they unequivocally answered ‘Yes. You can’t doubt; you just have to believe.” The second was with someone whom I’d expected wouldn’t be able to empathize. Their answer was that if you haven’t doubted, you’ve never really ever contemplated your faith, and that’s not a good thing.
These conversations pretty much sum up the two camps about doubt. The first sees doubt as completely incompatible with faith: if you doubt, you obviously don’t have enough faith. The classic saying of this camp is “Where there is faith, there is no doubt.” The second sees doubt as a part of one’s faith journey, a natural and necessary part of the growth process.
I’ve come to see doubt as a good thing. Whereas before I found paralyzing, I now find it freeing.
The biggest problem with those in the first camp is that they seem to see faith as something that can be perfected. But it can’t be. It can’t be because we’re human, which means we’re imperfect. How can imperfect beings have perfect faith? It’s simply not possible.
The other problem with the first camp is that it doesn’t allow any room for questions, which is troubling. Where would Christianity be if Martin Luther hadn’t asked questions? Then there’s poor Galileo, whose devout faith was questioned and then condemned by the Catholic church because he happened to believe that the earth revolved around the sun instead of vice versa. Questions don’t necessarily lead to an end to faith. But they may lead to an end to a certain belief, which can then lead to a new, deeper belief and faith. I think the biggest reason why people fear doubt is because they conflate faith with belief. Daniel Taylor puts it this way:
Faith is a “life-shaping acceptance of a claim.” That is, “Our creeds calls us to be-live something, not simply to believe something.”
For years I walked around believing in certain things because I felt I had to in order to be a person of faith. I thought that my belief in and of itself was faith. But it’s not. It’s not even close.
Faith requires us to ask tough questions. Faith demands that we search our hearts and souls for what rings true. Faith asks us to cut through the noise, to be still and listen and feel.
I love this quote from Timothy Keller:
A faith without some doubts is like a human body without any antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she has failed over the years to listen to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection. Believers should acknowledge and wrestle with doubts—not only their own but their friends’ and neighbors’.
So don’t be afraid to doubt. Embrace it. Yes, it might lead you unexpected directions, but it may also lead you to a deeper, more resonant faith. It’s worth the risk.