Editor’s Word: The Doubting

Charles Spurgeon preached against doubting, but dealt with doubts himself. He said, “I think when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him.”

The apostle Thomas has been dubbed “Doubting Thomas” because he was open and honest about his doubts. He had faith, but he also had some doubts. In John 11:16, he expressed absolute commitment to Christ: “Let us also go, that we may die with Him.” In John 14:5, he said to Jesus, “Lord, we do not know where You are going, how do we know the way?” Then, after Jesus had risen from the dead and appeared to some of the other disciples, Thomas doubted. He said in John 20:25, “Unless I shall see in His hands the imprint of the nails, and put my finger into the place of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” When he saw the resurrected Lord, he immediately cried out, “My Lord and my God!”

It seems that doubt is no stranger to Christians on our pilgrimage. In fact, it may be one of the tools God uses to help us grow. John MacArthur says, “Doubt is a struggle to believe. It is something that keeps us from believing and can be momentary, prolonged or permanent.”

To doubt is to call into question the truth, to lack confidence in something or someone, or to be uncertain. Barna Group recently released the results of a poll they had conducted regarding doubt among believers. The results showed that 65 percent of self-identified Christians have doubted in the past, 26 percent say they still experience spiritual doubt, and 40 percent say they have experienced doubt but have worked through it. Roxanne Stone, editor-in-chief of Barna Group, said, “For the majority of Christians, this inevitable doubt is a catalyst to spiritual growth.”

Jude 1:22 says to “be merciful to those who doubt.” Tim Keller, in an article by New York Times writer Nicholas Kristof, said, “We should not encourage people to simply stifle all doubts. Doubts force us to think things out and re-examine our reasons, and that can, in the end, lead to stronger faith.”

One person said that “fanaticism is the overcompensation for doubt.”

Phillip Yancey wrote: “Doubt is something almost every person experiences at some point, yet something that the church does not handle well. Evidently, God has more tolerance of doubt than most churches.” He added that the church should be the place that rewards rather than punishes honesty.

In Mark 9, a young demon-possessed boy was brought to Jesus. The dad asked Jesus to show pity and help them if He could. “If you can!” Jesus replied, “All things are possible to him who believes.” In verse 24, the father said, “I do believe; help my unbelief.” He was honest about his doubts, and Jesus healed the boy — not because of the father’s faith or doubt, but through the power of God.

Doubt is not something we want to characterize our lives as followers of Jesus. However, when we doubt, we can find mercy, help and growth from Christ through His Word. Barna Group reported that “only 18 percent of spiritual doubters turned to their pastor.” Maybe they thought the pastor never had any doubts or that they would feel unacceptable if they confessed to having doubts. Spurgeon observed: “Some of us who have preached the Word for years, and have been the means of working faith in others, and of establishing them in the knowledge of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible, have nevertheless been the subjects of the most fearful and violent doubts as to the truth of the very gospel we have preached.”

Doubt is universal. We all have various doubts from time to time. The question is not so much about having doubts, but what we do with the doubts we may have. It could be that the recognition and confession of doubt is a key that opens the door to a season of spiritual growth.