Is the Bible really true? Does God actually hear my prayers? Can I genuinely be forgiven? Will I definitely go to Heaven when I die? Is there truly a God at all? Doubt can be a stimulus to faith, or an ongoing annoyance in the Christian life, or a fatal blow to someone’s loose commitment to Jesus. It all depends on what we do with our doubts.
Acknowledging Our Doubts
One thing we should always do with our doubts is to be honest about the fact that we have them. Doubt is a struggle to be acknowledged. Indeed, having doubts is a normal part of Christian experience. We see this repeatedly in the Scriptures. We see it in the story of Job, whose afflictions tempted him to doubt the goodness of the sovereignty of God. We see it in the life of Asaph, who looked around at the atheists he knew, saw what a good time they seemed to be having, and suddenly doubted whether God was worth it (Psalm 73:1–15). We see it in David, whose psalms testify to all the struggles of a doubting soul. We also see it in the desperate father who hoped that Jesus would heal his son from an evil spirit. “I do believe,” he said to Jesus, but “help me overcome my unbelief” (Mark 9:24 NIV).
All of these believers were also doubters, sometimes. In a way, we even see this in Jesus himself, in his words from the cross, when he gathered up all of our darkest doubts and expressed them in the interrogative mood: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34; Psalm 22:1). Doubt is a struggle to be acknowledged—an ordinary dimension of spiritual experience for God’s faithful people in a fallen world.
Resisting Our Doubts
But, doubt is also a temptation to be resisted. The main person who wants us to disbelieve is the Devil, which is why dealing with doubt can be such a dark struggle. The contested ground between faith and unbelief is a spiritual battlefield, and like any form of warfare, it calls for armed resistance.
Some believers spend too much time doubting their faith, and not enough time doubting their doubts. Yes, there are some reasonable questions that thoughtful people have always raised about the Christian faith. But there are also some very good questions that faithful people should raise about their spiritual doubts:
- Have I studied what God has to say on this question, or have I been listening mainly to His detractors?
- Am I well aware of how this doubt has been addressed in the history of Christian theology, or has my thinking been relatively superficial?
- Have I been compromising with sin in ways that make it harder for me to hear God’s voice and diminish my desire for the purity of His truth?
- Is this a doubt that I have offered sincerely to God in prayer, or am I waiting to see if God measures up to my standards before I ask for His help?
All of the doubting believers that I mentioned earlier knew how to fight for the assurance of their faith. When Asaph had his doubts, he went to the temple and worshiped God anyway. Once he was there, he perceived—correctly—that turning away from God would only end in destruction (Psalm 73:16–28). When David had his doubts, he talked them over with God in prayer. And when the half-believing, half-doubting father in the Gospel of Mark wondered if his son would ever be delivered, he went to Jesus and prayed for the gift of triumphant faith.
These are all God-honoring ways to deal with spiritual doubts. Even doubting is something we can do to the glory of God, as long as we do it with God, and not against Him. So as you seek the assurance of God’s love, be sure to doubt your doubts!
Philip Graham Ryken (DPhil, University of Oxford) is the eighth president of Wheaton College. He preached at Philadelphia’s Tenth Presbyterian Church from 1995 until his appointment at Wheaton in 2010. Ryken has published more than 50 books, including When Trouble Comes and expository commentaries on Exodus, Ecclesiastes, and Jeremiah. He serves as a board member for the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, the Lausanne Movement, and the National Association of Evangelicals.