Doubt is not the arch-nemesis of faith, but its progenitor.
One of my favorite forms of ministry is to youth, largely because of what we learn from watching those just setting out on their spiritual journeys. I have worked two summers at Christian camps, and what I have increasingly realized is this: the greatest obstacle to faith is fear of doubt.
I recall one conversation most vividly, when I was teaching a small group of young teenage campers. We were discussing what sins and temptations we were most susceptible to, and one answer kept coming up again and again: lack of faith. Upon closer examination, however, I began to see that this was a misdiagnosis. This was not so much a lack of trust in God’s love or power, but a rational need for reasons to believe in him. My campers were discussing questioning Christianity as a sin, and they admitted their doubt with shame and reluctance.
I know from personal experience how crippling this feeling is, the fear that you are somehow a “bad Christian” for ever doubting the Bible, that you sin every time you wonder if God is really there, that it is a defect of faith that leads you to doubt. No feeling is more capable of turning a potential Son of God into a crippled version of himself at best and a resentful cynic at worst. For if we feel that we cannot question, we will either conduct our faith with trepidation and nervousness that we may stumble upon something that brings our belief system crashing down, or we will turn against the institution we believe has attempted to squash our freedom of thought.
In my own life, the battle against this sentiment characterized my early relationship with God and his church. I felt the enormity of my wrestle with the truth of the Bible and Christianity even at a very young age, understanding that my potential salvation hung in the balance. Had that been the only battle I was fighting, perhaps it would have been resolved more quickly and with less fear, but that was not the case. I was constantly assailed by the misconception that to doubt was to deny faith and therefore commit a sin, and in retrospect I see that this flowed from my poor grasp of what “faith” really means.
Had I been pressed to provide a definition of what faith really was, I suppose I might have quoted Hebrews 11:1 – “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” However, what I meant by that would be very different from what the author actually meant. Like many other struggling Christians, I thought faith meant believing in something even though there was no evidence to support it, what we might call blind faith, faith that denies any doubt whatsoever. Not only is that not what the author intends, it is actually the exact opposite.
Consider the context of the verse: “But we are not of those who shrink back and are destroyed, but of those who believe and are saved. Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible. By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did. By faith he was commended as a righteous man, when God spoke well of his offerings. And by faith he still speaks, even though he is dead” (Hebrews 10:39-11:4). Note that the exemplar of faith is not of man who had no evidence of God and yet forced himself to believe in his existence, but a man who saw God’s power and understood “that the universe was formed at God’s command,” and then proceeded to faithfully act in a manner pleasing to God.
Faith is as defined by action as by belief and is built around evidence. Faith examines the universe and recognizes God’s handiwork, and, upon logically perceiving his presence, turns and exalts Him, trusting Him even though it may not always understand what He is doing. It does not shrink from examining the evidence on the grounds that it might disprove God. This is not just poor or defective faith, it is faith’s opposite, and is blasphemous and sinful.
Consider the implicit reasoning in the fear of questioning Christianity. It is essentially to say, “I will not too eagerly seek to determine God’s existence and nature for fear that I will disprove Him.” I can hardly imagine a mindset more ridiculous and less Christ-like. We worship a God of truth, and one of the ways we worship him is by discovering that truth. If we are truly faithful, we will subject God’s Word to every possible examination, attempting to strain it to the very limit with our rigorous investigations, utterly confident that if He is there, we shall only find deeper and deeper depths of His majesty, knowing full well that His divine word is unfathomably mightier than any test we could ever put it to.
This is the only logical reaction of a man who realizes the reality of God. But even for a person who has not yet arrived at that point in his reasoning, such investigations are the first steps on the road of faith. Indeed, when first setting out on this journey towards truth, it is crucial to be open to the possibility that Christianity is fundamentally wrong. If we do not open ourselves up to this, we do not search for truth at all, but for a confirmation of what we desire to believe. If our faith is justified and there is a loving, all-mighty God in heaven, we will find him if we truly look. Christ exhorts us, “Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened” (Matthew 7:7-8). He does not say, “Trust by blind faith that I am behind the door”; He says, “Knock.” To earnestly seek and test for truth in Christianity may be doubt, but it is a doubt necessary to ever truly have the door swung wide and see our Savior face-to-face.