Faith and Doubt: The Uncertainty of It All
I sit at my desk, staring off into space. Yet another huge decision looms over my head. I cannot make a choice, and I continue sitting there in silence as if paralyzed. Ideas race through my mind while self-doubt haunts my every thought. Where do I begin? Should I begin? What if things go wrong?
I am a natural worrier and skeptic. This has made my life difficult to navigate at times. Particularly concerning is the constant tension between my faith and my doubts as a Christian. This stems, in part, from my cultural upbringing of what it means to be a Christian. Certainty, knowing without any possibility of being wrong, is praised as being faithful. While on the other hand, having doubts, although not necessarily unexpected, should be quickly thrown off and ignored. I believe many Christian circles still believe similarly.
Adding to the confusion of the relationship between faith and doubt would seem to be the Bible itself, as there are passages that are not easily reconciled when it comes to these topics.1 What then is the relationship between faith and doubt? In short, I would argue that it is a necessary relationship. Certainty, at least with the biggest and most important aspects of life (whether it is starting a business, a marriage, a family) is a myth.2 If one is certain of their beliefs, then it is no longer faith but something else entirely. Perhaps it could even be construed as idolatrous.3 Unfortunately, I feel modern apologetics can further fuel the desire for certainty when it aims to prove beyond any reasonable doubt the truth of Christianity, and inadvertently support the idol-making of certainty.[^4] In a sense, it is no longer God who defends the Christian, but the Christian who defends God. It is no longer God that matters most of all, but that we are right in our beliefs.
Still, my lack of certainty makes me uncomfortable. I do not like taking risks, especially ones that involve eternity. Not to mention, would a loving God really make the process of believing in him such an arduous and risky business? Maybe I am wrong about being certain when it comes to faith. I could just be trying to explain away my own doubts, weak faith, or, even worse, I am simply in denial—i.e. I don’t really believe in any of this Christian business.
So how have I chosen to move forward with these conflicting ideas of faith and doubt? I am currently taking a stance like the man in Mark 9:21-26. A sort of skeptical believer,4 this man cries out to God to heal his son with the words “I believe; help my unbelief.” In the very same breath, there is faith and doubt paradoxically intertwined, yet Jesus is willing to work through this in the man’s favor. I think this is how faith and doubt relate together: in a beautiful mess that we may not fully understand but can rely upon God to show us mercy and grace.
[^4}: Strobel, Lee. The Case for Christ: A Journalist’s Personal Investigation of the Evidence for Jesus. Zondervan, 1998.
A. Definition of faith-Hebrews 11:1. B. Faith and Doubt in Conflict- Mark 11:22-24, James 1:5-8; C. Faith and Doubt with Success- Matthew 28:16-20, John 20:24-29 ↩
Taylor, Daniel. The Myth of Certainty: the Reflective Christian and the Risk of Commitment. Intervarsity Press, 2000. ↩
Boyd, Gregory. Benefit of the Doubt: Breaking the Idol of Certainty. BakerBooks, 2013. a. Article on the above book: https://www.patheos.com/blogs/peterenns/2013/11/greg-boyd-on-doubt-and-the-christian-life-its-unavoidable-biblical-and-healthy/?fbclid=IwAR1TF8r7CQIqVYjISzD8qt3uGEeIT0lAWyyVU07i4chOGne2rf_jEgzuyds ↩
Taylor, Daniel. The Skeptical Believer: Telling Stories to Your Inner Atheist. Bog Walk Press, 2013. a. Please note that this book may not actually reference Mark 9:21-26; I cite it as an excellent source for those who struggle with belief and doubt. ↩