Some may feel that doubt has no place in the Christian life. Others may feel frustrated with their own battles with doubt. Others still suffer from debilitating shame over persistent doubt. Doubt seems to be a part of the human experience. What did Jesus say about doubt?
Jesus and the Struggle with Doubt
Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22).
Jesus didn’t treat the idea of doubt systematically. However, I have found (in the Jesus story) at least four completely different kinds of experiences that have come to be associated with the idea of doubt. I hope this brief treatment of each might throw some light on your struggles with doubt.
1. Doubt as Lack of Faith
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
A man wants Jesus to heal his son. Jesus asks, “Do you believe I can do it?” The desperate father says, “I want to believe! Help me where I fail to believe!” I love this man’s brutal honesty. I resonate with his dilemma. I want to believe. But sometimes, my collective past experiences (like, people don’t get healed) over-ride my best desires.
Jesus healed the man’s son. Obviously, asking for help with this kind of doubt is not only acceptable but encouraged and rewarded.
2. Doubt as Double-Mindedness
Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” (Matt. 14:31).
Peter sees Jesus walking on water. He wants to do it too. Jesus says, “C’mon.” Impetuous Peter, to his own amazement, jumps out of the boat and starts to walk toward Jesus on the water. But, then he loses focus — he starts to analyze the situation — and he sinks.
I want to do the seemingly impossible. Jesus tells me I can. I want to believe him. But then my monkey brain kicks in and short-circuits my fleeting glimpse of the miraculous.
Jesus said, once you decide to believe — try not to look back (Luke 9:62; James 1:6).
3. Doubt as Earnest Questioning
How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked” (John 3:4).
Nicodemus was not a believer. He comes to Jesus at night so his friends won’t see him. He knows Jesus is special. But he has his doubts about some of Jesus’ teachings. Jesus tries to explain. But, Nicodemus has some honest questions.
Nicodemus wasn’t the first, nor the last to question Jesus. His closest disciples asked him hard questions (Matt. 13:10; 19:25). The apostle Paul admitted there were things he didn’t understand. He compared this life to a blurry view of eternal reality (1 Cor. 13:9, 12). And some of the greatest and most devout Christians in history have questioned the things of God (Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, etc.).
Asking honest questions when you doubt is the only way to grow.
4. Doubt as Hard Scepticism
The Pharisees came and began to question Jesus. To test him, they asked him for a sign from heaven” (Mark 8:11).
Just as there is an unhealthy kind of “blind faith,” there is an equally-unhealthy type of “blind scepticism.”
It is a doubt that says — I’m already convinced of my position, so don’t confuse me with the facts.
It is a hard-wired doubt that must belittle or dismiss all experience that runs contrary to the assumptions that undergird its scepticism.
It is an oppressive doubt that begins to rule every aspect of life, leaving no room for the miraculous, the impossible, and ultimately, the beautiful.
It is a fallacious doubt that, in the end, has no explanation for art, or love, or memory — much less, the expanse of the cosmos.
It is a hypocritical doubt that ridicules the faithful for the naivete of their faith but is blinded to its own myopic lenses.
Jesus’ Response to Doubt
Jesus gently chastised his disciples for struggling with Doubt as Lack of Faith. He encouraged them to push against Doubt as Double-Mindedness. He welcomed and patiently answered the questions of Doubt as Earnest Questioning.
It was only the last type of Doubt — Doubt as Hard Scepticism — that Jesus reserved his most aggressive condemnation.
For most doubters, Jesus would point to the words he whispered into the ear of Jude — “Be merciful to those who doubt” (Jude 1:22).