Whenever I teach an apologetics class, I always clarify the relationship between faith, doubts, and questions. It is important to remember that asking questions about what you believe is not necessarily the same thing as doubt. For example, when I was a new Christian, I had all kinds of questions. And I still have questions to this day. Asking questions is a part of spiritual growth.
Believe it or not, all of us are doubters. You may say “But I believe with all my heart that Jesus is the Lord.” But think about this: Are you skeptical of Islam, Mormonism, Spiritualism, Hinduism, or another belief system? Probably so. In other words, you probably have doubts about the truthfulness of these various faiths. Doubt can be a valuable element in honest, and rational inquiry because it helps prevents us from jumping to conclusions or making commitments to unreliable and untrustworthy sources
Daniel L. Aiken says in Baker’s Evangelical Online Dictionary the following about doubt:
“It is possible to have questions (or doubts) about persons, propositions, or objects. Doubt has been deemed a valuable element in honest, rational inquiry. It prevents us from reaching hasty conclusions or making commitments to unreliable and untrustworthy sources. A suspension of judgment until sufficient inquiry is made and adequate evidence is presented is judged to be admirable. In this light, doubt is not an enemy of faith. This seems to be the attitude of the Bereans in Acts 17:11. Questioning or doubting motivates us to search further and deeper in an understanding of faith. However, doubt in Scripture can be seen to be characteristic of both believers and unbelievers. In believers it is usually a weakness of faith, a wavering in the face of God’s promises. In the unbeliever doubt is virtually synonymous with unbelief. Scripture, as would be expected, does not look at doubt philosophically or epistemologically. Doubt is viewed practically and spiritually as it relates to our trust in the Lord. For this reason, doubt is not deemed as valuable or commendable.”
So having said this, here are some few tips when dealing with doubt.
First, identify the type of doubt. Second, be honest with God about your doubt. Many of God’s servants have dealt with the same issues for centuries. As far as types of doubt, perhaps we can ask some questions:
- It is emotional doubt? Does God’s presence seem to be quite distant at times?
- Does God seem painfully absent?
- Is it an unanswered prayer issue?
- It is factual doubt?
Remember, the following about emotional doubt: In Deut. 6: 4-9, we see who our God is and how we should respond to him. It should be a holistic commitment towards him. We love our God with our emotions, our actions, our entire beings (including our minds). “Heart” (Heb. lebab/leb, Gk. kardia) occurs over one thousand times in the Bible, making it the most common anthropological term in the Scripture. It denotes a person’s center for both physical and emotional-intellectual-moral activities.
Paul said in Ephesians 4:18: “They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” In other words, at the bottom of human irrationality and spiritual ignorance is hardness of heart. That is, our self-centered hearts distort our reason to the point where we cannot use it to draw true inferences from what is really there. If we don’t want God to be God, our sensory faculties and our rational faculties will not be able to infer that he is God.
In 2 Corinthians 3:14, Paul says the mind is “hardened” (epōrōthē). In 1 Timothy 6:5 he calls the mind “depraved” (diephtharmenōn). And in Romans 1:21, he says that thinking has become “futile” (emaraiōthēsan) and “darkened” (eskotisthē) and “foolish” (asunetos) because men “by their unrighteousness suppress the truth” (Romans 1:18). In other words, unrighteousness disorders the capacity to see the truth. The corruption of our hearts is the root of our irrationality.
I bring this up because from a biblical perspective, there is no way to separate our emotions, rational faculties and our wills. Sin has a way of impacting all our being. We have to examine our hearts and ask if the condition of our hearts is tied to our emotional doubts with God.
Remember that when it comes to factual doubt, there is no need for exhaustive knowledge. As Paul Copan says in his article, How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? A Response to Skepticism, “Being less than 100% certain doesn’t mean we can’t truly know. We can have highly plausible or probable knowledge, even if it’s not 100% certain.”
In order for a judgment to belong in the realm of certitude, it must meet the following criteria:
(1) It cannot be challenged by the consideration of new evidence that results from improved observation
(2) It can’t be criticized by improved reasoning or the detection of inadequacies or errors in the reasoning we have done. Beyond such challenge or criticism, such judgments are indubitable, or beyond doubt.
Remember, a judgment is subject to doubt if there is any possibility at all (1) of its being challenged in the light of additional or more acute observations or (2) of its being criticized on the basis of more cogent or more comprehensive reasoning.
How many of our claims past the test of certitude? Not many! Does this mean we are left to blind faith? No! There are two kinds of defeaters: rationality defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the rationality of a basing a belief on certain grounds) and knowledge defeaters (that provide grounds that undermine the legitimacy of a claim to knowledge on behalf of a belief based on certain grounds). The two kinds are not mutually exclusive: some defeaters function at both levels, including those that challenge the objective alethic reliability of one’s actual grounds (see Robert C. Koons and George Bealer, Epistemological Objections to Materialism in The Waning of Materialism).
Why do I bring this up? You can read all kinds of arguments on both sides. Both sides will present defeaters. It never ends.So at some point,you will have to get over the need for certitude or exhaustive knowledge.
You can work on your issues of factual doubt and try to answer defeaters. But in the end, you need to ask yourself the question: Am I looking for reasons to leave the Christian faith because there is some sin that’s appealing to me? Or, am I looking to grow more confident in my faith so I can be equipped to share and defend it in the public square? Only God knows the issues of your heart. He can see what’s really going on.
For an in depth treatment of the subject of doubt, see these two free online resources: