Years ago, our first child came down with an unusually high fever. His temperature peaked at 105, and in our worry and concern we packed him into the car and took him to the emergency room. We’d treated the fever as best as we could, but the symptoms were no longer something we could control. Within 30 minutes of sitting in the emergency room, a nurse had gotten his temperature down to a normal range, and could find no discernible cause other than a “virus.”
It was frustrating to say the least, although we were certainly glad he was better. We knew the fever was his body’s way of fighting off sickness, but it felt out of our control. I think about that night a lot when I think about doubt. Doubt, in many ways, is like a fever. It is a healthy sign that our faith is fighting complacency and trying to grow. We can’t avoid it – we shouldn’t avoid it. But if we leave it uncontrolled, it can be dangerous to our faith journey.
What Do We Do With Our Doubts?
So what do we do with our doubts? Many traditions have presented doubt as a lack of faith, as if having questions about matters of faith disqualifies you. Out of a concern for being ostracized by God and community, many wind up stuffing their questions down deep, accepting easy answers and avoiding the emotions that come with our questions. But doubt does not disqualify you. In Matthew 28:17, the disciples stand in from of the risen Jesus and worshiped him, but is says, “some doubted.” What does Jesus do? He commissions them to make disciples. They aren’t rejected, they are sent.
Others, who rightly reject rote answers and false certainty, run headlong into doubt and feel refreshed by the lack of constraints their tradition held them in. Many modern voices encourage this journey out of the dogmatic constraints of tradition. Yet while the temptation within certainty seeking traditions is to avoid doubt, the temptation in this pursuit is to avoid faith – to stay in a perpetual state of ambiguity that paralyzes us from taking our next step. Rightly understood, doubt is not our destination. It is a part of our spiritual journey that shouldn’t be avoided, but it shouldn’t be our home either.
So how do we rightly walk through doubt in a healthy way? Here’s some practical wisdom for walking through seasons of doubt in a way that builds and strengthens us along our journey.
The first thing is simple: Be Honest With God. God is not afraid of your questions. He’s not scared off by your doubts. Listen to these words from Psalm 77:
“At night I remember my music; I meditate in my heart, and my spirit ponders. “Will the Lord reject forever and never again show favor? Has his faithful love ceased forever? Is his promise at an end for all generations? Has God forgotten to be gracious? Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
That’s pretty blunt. Does this writer have a lack of faith? Of course not! We should feel the same freedom to voice our cries and complaints and questions to God.
Which leads us to the second thing: Learn To Lament. What is lament? Lament is crying out to God in the honesty of our emotion. I grew up in a setting that never taught us that grief and crying out were important parts of faith. If you were grieving reality and where you were and what you saw, you didn’t have enough faith. And if you feel that grief and yet are told you don’t have faith, guess what? You move towards doubt. I truly think many in my generation have been driven to doubt simply because they have seen the world in all of it’s brokenness yet feel like crying out to God this way is a betrayal of faith. It is not. It is an expression of faith, and we’d be wise to walk more deeply into it.
Third, Seek Wisdom. You might think you are alone in your doubt, but I guarantee that there are people throughout history of the Church that have wrestled deeply with the same doubts you are and have found profound answers. And many times, it’s outside the tradition we have known. For example, some of my doubts in the past have been around certain ideas about the Bible that I grew up with, and when I begin to explore the greater witness of the Church outside my own stream of thought, I was blown away. I’ve grown tremendously in my faith by finding wisdom from places I never thought I would – books and sermons and things like the Bible Project that have expanded my understanding our Scripture beyond the little box I knew. Don’t assume there’s not incredible wisdom out there around the places of your doubt.
Fourth, Embrace Mystery. When you seek wisdom, many times you will come to answers that open your eyes. But sometimes… the answers don’t come. In our doubt survey this past week, multiple people expressed that their doubts were founded in why some people seemed to get healed and others didn’t. I can promise you: there is no simple answer to that question. And for other doubts, the same may be true. Sometimes the most godly answer we can have is “I don’t know.” Isaiah 558-9 says:
“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, and your ways are not my ways.” This is the Lord’s declaration. “For as heaven is higher than earth, so my ways are higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts.
We simply don’t know everything, and won’t know everything on this side of eternity. Sometimes the most Christian answer we can offer is “I don’t know.”
And finally, Walk Through It With Jesus. There’s a story in Luke 24 about two dejected disciples walking away from Jerusalem after the crucifixion of Jesus. They’ve heard the rumors of the resurrection, but the events of the last few days left them with more questions than answers. Unbeknownst to them, the risen Jesus joins them on the walk, asking them why they were so upset.
They share their concerns and questions with Jesus, and what does he do? He walks with them. He explains, step by step, reorienting their lives and understanding of Scripture around Him. He does not reject them or rebuke them, we walks with them.
Jesus wants to walk with us through our doubts. He’s not afraid of our questions. He’s not scared off by our uncertainty. Instead, he embraces us, teaches us, and then commissions us. Our doubts do not disqualify us, but with Jesus, they don’t have to be our destination either. Faith is simply taking the next step, even in our moments of doubt.
If you’re doubting now, be encouraged. You belong. Invite Jesus to walk with you through the questions and uncertainty. With him, this season will strengthen you deeply for the journey ahead.