“Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
–Paul Tillich, philosopher and theologian
I distinctly remember when one of my dear friends, who I’ll call “Sara”, sat with me, chatting over coffee about religion. She told me that there were some things she was uncertain about in her belief system, but that she shouldn’t question them. I could tell her doubts were eating at her, but Sara felt that questioning her beliefs would be like questioning God, and she didn’t feel like that was something she could do.
I’ve been there, too. Even though I was raised in a household that has encouraged me to ask big questions, and I’ve been involved in a ministry that has challenged my thinking process, I’ve definitely met a few people who don’t like the idea of me being uncertain. I’ve been told that doubts are “from the devil” and that my doubts show where my faith and trust in God are lacking. Are those things true? Is it bad to doubt things about your beliefs sometimes?
In Isaiah 1:18, the Lord says, “Come now, and let us reason together”; in Matthew 22:37, Jesus says to “love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” There’s not a lot of guess work at what God wants us to do. He created us with brains and He told us straight up to use them. He wants us to reason and to know him with our minds, as well as our hearts.
Let’s think about this idea. It makes sense, right? Even in everyday life, we believe things because we have reasons to believe them to be true. When you get in your car to drive, how do you know your breaks will work? Okay, sure. I bet you don’t call a mechanic and have him check your brakes to see how they’re doing to be sure they’re going to work every single time you drive. But don’t you still have reasons for believing your brakes will work? They worked last time you drove, and the time before that, and there doesn’t appear to be any reason for them not to work. We have reasonable faith in our brakes. We have reasonable faith in a lot of things in our lives.
But let me get back on track. We’re supposed to be talking about doubts, and faith and doubts are contradictory things, and–PLOT TWIST. Faith and doubts can actually complement each other. If God wants us to reason, to explore different arguments and ideas for why we believe what we believe, then we HAVE to be exposed to ideas contrary to our own. We have to be exposed to things that make us question ourselves and what we believe. In order to grow, we need ideas contrary to our own to teach us.
The whole “it-makes-sense-if-you-don’t-think-it-through” mindset is ridiculous. Can you imagine if lawyers did that? If they doubted their clients who were pleading innocent and they had overwhelming reasons to believe that their clients committed crimes but also didn’t look for any evidence to prove their clients were innocent before a judge and jury? Yeah, I have a feeling the jury would doubt the clients’ innocence as well. Look, I understand the fear that people have in regards to doubts. Doubts can cripple your faith if you don’t know how to seek out answers and resolve doubts. However, if you let your doubts motivate you to look for evidence for why you believe what you believe, then your case for faith becomes even stronger. Doubts, in and of themselves, are not evil at all. It’s how you deal with your doubts that counts. It’s up to you.