Faith: Threatened by Doubt or Sufficient for It?
This is the second in a three-part series on understanding true faith.
In Part 1 of this series, I discussed one commonly held, false belief about faith: God will do anything you want if you just believe hard enough. Here in Part 2, I’ll look at the reverse side of that coin: God will do nothing if you have any doubt.
#2-Having Faith Does Not Mean You Can’t and Won’t Face Some Doubts.
I am utterly grateful that I was raised in a family that trusts God. But one potential pitfall of growing up with such a strong emphasis on faith is knowing what the Bible says about the lack of it.
For example, we know that without faith, it’s impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). And that, when someone asks God for wisdom, “He must ask in faith without any doubting, for the one who doubts […] ought not to expect that he will receive anything from the Lord, being a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways” (James 1:5-8). Or how about this whopper: “Do not fret—it leads only to evil” (Psalm 37:8b).
Youch. Can I just admit that verses like this have often left me deeply unnerved? After all, I know I’ve struggled with uncertainty while professing to trust God.
Real Life Struggle
Take, for example, the time when my closest friend gave birth to a baby boy with grave health concerns. As he spent month after month in the NICU fighting against seemingly insurmountable obstacles, his family’s community lifted him up in prayer.
I don’t think I’ve ever prayed so much in my life, but I was distressed any time I sensed doubt lurking at the edges of my mind. Was my lack of perfect faith offensive to God? Did I need to muster up more faith? Did my fears nullify my prayers? Was this little boy in jeopardy if those of us praying for him had doubts?
A Solution to Doubt
In Mark 9, I find answers as I see how Jesus interacts with a boy who was tormented by an evil spirit. The boy’s father expressed hopefulness, but also hesitance in asking Jesus for help:
Jesus asked the boy’s father, “How long has he been like this?”
“From childhood…. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”
“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for him who believes.”
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:21-24, emphasis mine)
This father’s words bowled me over. Unbelief was there with him, but so was faith. He acted on that faith and he asked for help with his doubts. That was sufficient, because at that very moment, Jesus delivered the boy from his torment.
Now, as was stressed last time, the takeaway here is not that prayer guarantees God will give you whatever you want. Rather this shows that the man’s doubt, which he submitted to Christ, did not nullify his faith and did not pose any challenge for Jesus to intervene as he saw fit.
You can take hope in this. Rather than trying unsuccessfully to will doubts away or pretend they aren’t there—and feeling guilt and anxiety as a result—you can acknowledge that they are there. You can tell your Lord, “God, this doesn’t make sense to me…I can’t figure out how this will work out. But I choose to trust You anyway. Help me with my doubts.”
The Source of Faith
As Christians, we’re quick to acknowledge that Jesus’ work on the cross—taking on our sins and extending to us his righteousness—is a work of God’s grace (1 Peter 3:18). But we don’t always realize that our response of faith is also a work of God’s grace (Ephesians 2:8-9). On my own, I can no sooner rally sufficient faith for my salvation than I can produce sufficient righteousness. The father of the tormented boy realized that Jesus is the source of help in the struggle between doubt and faith (Hebrews 12:1b-2). He is the one we cling to for the faith to overcome our doubts.
Over the years, the boy we labored over in prayer has lived a life of joy and love, even as he’s continued to face and overcome struggles. His life has testified to God’s trustworthiness. But if I could go back and talk to myself in the precarious beginning of his story, I’d tell myself what I’ve learned now. Yes, doubt can be devastating and should be taken very seriously, as should any sin that works in opposition to a right relationship with God. But I serve a God who is faithful even when we are not, and the righteousness that Jesus extends to me is just as sufficient for this weakness of mine as it is for everything else that I already trust him for.
Arianne is a wife and mother of four. She and her family recently moved from Colorado to Portland for her husband's work with Humble Beast records. Having always had a love of writing, Arianne hopes to pursue the opportunities the Lord gives her to use this gift.