What would it be like to be without doubt? I’ll tell you – it would be dangerous! Doubt drives caution, and caution stops us falling into the pit. But what about doubt in matters of faith? Faith versus doubt is an age-old battle, and we want to be on the winning side. One name stands out from the crowded history of our faith as the archetypal doubter – dear “doubting Thomas”. But Peter and the other disciples were also slow to believe when the women returned from the empty tomb. Thomas may have been cautious to accept what the other apostles told him, but once he encountered the risen Christ, he committed himself completely. A section of the church in India traces its origin to the missionary work of no-longer-doubting Thomas. For Thomas, doubt was one stage on the road to deep faith.
Abraham, Moses, Gideon, Elijah – all are remembered as men of faith, but each had times when they questioned God. They doubted. As for David, “a man after God’s own heart” , you only have to read the Psalms he wrote to see how he doubted and complained. Why did these men doubt? Simply because they were human. To live without doubt is to be less than completely mature. A child may live safely under its parents’ protection. But doubt is an essential tool for adults in a dishonest world. Doubt is the protective barrier that stops us from forming an unhelpful relationship, or making an unwise purchase, or responding to a phishing email.
Charismatic men have sometimes been empowered to form dangerous sects because the people they led were without doubt. By valuing our power to ask questions, or to challenge what is said, we can protect ourselves from dangerous error – and possibly protect others too. Truth can stand up to sensible enquiry – as it did when the church in Berea studied the Scriptures to check on what Paul was teaching .
I believe in one God. I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, and that he rose from the dead. I believe in the Holy Spirit. In many ways I am an orthodox Christian believer – but I treasure the freedom that God gave me to study, to examine, and to question. Truth is powerful, and the Holy Spirit grants wisdom so, as I have explored the niches of doubt that arise from time to time, my faith has continually been refreshed and strengthened.
What can we do when we feel doubtful about what we’re being taught?
– If it’s based on a particular Bible verse, check the context
– Check if it agrees with more that one other Bible passage
– Note how it fits with the Spirit of the Gospel
– Listen to what the Holy Spirit is saying to your heart
– If you’re still not sure, wait. Place it on a metaphorical shelf until you’re convinced one way or the other
We live in an age when our world view is continually under assault – and I don’t just mean in matters of faith. The phrases “fake news” and “conspiracy theory” are recent entrants to our language, but there have always been people who chose to spread lies. The difference today is that the tools that enable deserving minorities to reach new audiences, also enable people with wacky ideas to disseminate their opinions widely.
What can we do to avoid being misled?
– Don’t be trapped into any clique which feeds only on its own views
– Plug into a variety of information sources
– Listen before responding
– Research the views of people who disagree with you
– Judge wisely – and slowly
Truth can stand up to sensible enquiry. We’re allowed to ask questions, but we need to follow them through with serious, honest study – and prayer.
© Derrick Phillips 2023