That title is a phrase I heard on the radio this weekend as joyously and peppily proclaimed by a Dixie gospel group. The song lyrics posited that to have faith and never doubt are essential to walk with Christ (and just for good measure, they sampled “Victory in Jesus” as a bridge between the second and third verses). The message was somewhat oversimplified, but I would venture to say that this thought is widely accepted as doctrine: doubt is not only counter to faith, but also sinful in nature and naturally excluded by the presence of faith. I beg to differ. Faith that has never been questioned or doubted is not a very strong or deep faith. It is faith that has never walked.
Before semantics become an issue, I am using the words “doubt” and “question” as essentially the same. According to www.dictionary.com, doubt is “to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe” or “to be uncertain about something; be undecided in opinion or belief.” Question is not only a sentence in interrogative form, but also “a matter of some uncertainty or difficulty” or “to make a question of; doubt.” Doubt and question are synonyms with some obvious shades in meaning, but synonyms all the same. I have heard people say that it’s okay to question your faith but not to doubt it. I think that’s asking a bit much of syntax.
Where does questioning become doubt, and why are we so afraid of doubt? The bottom line seems to be that we are afraid to find out we might be wrong and that our faith has been for naught. We hope for irrevocable proof that our God is both real and right, and we are right to follow him. Guess what, Thomas? We won’t get that kind of tangible evidence this side of heaven. We can hear echoes and glimpse flashes of Truth, but we will not know God the way that he knows us until we are standing in his presence. Until that time, we are left here on earth to wrestle with faith and doubt.
The church tends to condition us not to express doubt. When was the last time you heard anyone in a Sunday School class say there were days when they questioned the existence of God or the resurrection of Jesus? Can you hear the collective gasp and cry of blasphemy? But, if you are a Christian, haven’t you had moments where you wondered if you’d missed the boat? What is gained by hiding those moments from each other? After two years of constant doubt, I felt embarrassed to go to church. It was pretty easy to slip in late for the morning service or only show up at night with the smaller crowd, but I dreaded being in a small group like Sunday School because I didn’t want to answer any direct questions about my faith. For two years, I defaulted to answering questions with some variation of, “Well, Paul says fill in the blank in Romans.” I didn’t speak of my own thoughts or beliefs to anyone but my very, very best friends (maybe only two of them, actually) for almost two years.
I was in fact terrified to talk to anyone except my best friend about matters of faith. What if they discovered that I had no idea what I believed anymore? What if I couldn’t figure out what I believed at all? At that point in my life, I had been a Christian for twenty years. It shattered my world to have no idea which end was up. If you are an ocean swimmer, imagine the worst rip tide you have ever experienced; you are caught underwater, being swirled and pummeled and forcibly moved by water that you can’t see through or control, and you have no idea which way the surface is or when you will next breathe. At some point, you will either drown in the current or you will find your way back to the top and open air.
My foundations were solid, and I knew I wouldn’t drown, but it made for a terrifying few years. Every time I attended church or read the Bible, I was confronted with some doubt that had to be wrestled into submission. It was exhausting to think of doing all of that work by myself. I have no doubt that it was unnecessary for me to be or feel alone – now. I have no doubt that there are saints capable of never doubting, but I doubt that I have ever met one. I do feel comforted to find myself in good company as an occasional doubter: the disciple Thomas, John the Baptist, and Mother Theresa all doubted. I still wonder, if we don’t see those examples as sinful, why do we condemn ourselves as such for expressing a question?
Sometimes setting may be the issue. It isn’t always appropriate to express every doubt to everyone. For instance, if my questions are more in line with a specific doctrine about women’s roles in the church, I really shouldn’t espouse those questions to someone who struggling with the very idea of God’s existence or his goodness. But I shouldn’t dismiss the doubts of someone who is struggling with something I may already have come to grips with. I guess I’m going back to the shoeless man example, but we’ve got to help each other with what really matters without condemning the doubter as a heretic. If our faith is never questioned, it is never tested or proven. Would you rather go diving into the ocean with scuba gear that has been quality tested, or would you rather try your luck with second-hand gear that hasn’t seen light or water in decades? I think of doubt as the quality test or the annual inspection my air tanks have to pass. Questions allow us to test for weak spots and fix them before they become life-threatening issues. That singing group can proudly claim to never doubt, but I have faith, and sometimes I doubt.