Doubt and Faith

Have you ever thought about the interaction between faith and doubt? Have you considered what part doubt plays in one’s faith? Here is a brief study that explores this connection. Let’s start with some definitions…

Faith –

  • confidence or trust in a person or thing: faith in another’s ability.
  • belief in God or in the doctrines or teachings of religion: the firm faith of the Pilgrims.

Doubt –

  • to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.
  • to distrust.
  • a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.

The word “faith”, and words derived from it “faithful”, “faithfulness”, etc., is found 274 times in the New Testament (NIV).

The word “doubt”, and words derived from it “doubts”, “doubting”, “doubted” is found only 12 times in the New Testament (NIV).

That is quite a marked disparity; “faith” is found over 250 times in the NT, but “doubt” is found only 12 times. Is that an indicator of significance or importance (or the insignificance of doubt)?  I don’t think so. A brief look at those passages that mention doubt will indicate how Jesus felt about it…

Matt 14:31 Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”

Matt 21:21 Jesus replied, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig-tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done.

Matt 28:17 When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted.

Mark 11:23 “I tell you the truth, if anyone says to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and does not doubt in his heart but believes that what he says will happen, it will be done for him.

Luke 24:38 He said to them, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?

John 20:27 Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Acts 12:11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I know without a doubt that the Lord sent his angel and rescued me from Herod’s clutches and from everything the Jewish people were anticipating.”

Rom 14:23 But the man who has doubts is condemned if he eats, because his eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.

1Cor 11:19 No doubt there have to be differences among you to show which of you have God’s approval.

Heb 7:7 And without doubt the lesser person is blessed by the greater.

James 1:6 But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.

Jude 1:22 Be merciful to those who doubt;

The author Patrick Morley (Man in the Mirror) says that Jesus continually exhorts us to believe and have faith, but wherever this is heard, there is doubt. In fact, Morley says doubt is more natural than belief.

Why is doubt so pervasive? Why is doubt often our first response? Why is doubt so natural?

Let’s look again at those twelve passages from the NT where we find doubt mentioned… half of those references relate instances in which Jesus’ disciples were admonished for their doubt and chastised for their disbelief (Mark 16:14). Even His closest associates, those who had followed Him for three years, who sat under His teaching and witnessed His miracles, who were the beneficiaries of His grace… even these men doubted sometimes. Is there any wonder then that we sometimes doubt?

Morley says that some of our doubt is due to our inability to see the divine reality of a situation when our eyes are blinded by our physical perception.

So what does all this have to do with the relationship between doubt and faith? Doubt can be debilitating. Hesitation and uncertainty are marks of the doubter. James says the “double minded” man is “unstable in all he does. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord.” (James 1:7)

Billy Graham says, “Probably everyone has had doubts and uncertainties at times in his religious experience. When Moses went up on Mt. Sinai to receive the tablets of the Law from the hand of God, and had been a long time out of the sight of the people who stood anxiously awaiting his return, they became doubtful of his return. ‘And they erected a golden calf to worship’ (Exodus 32:8). Their apostasy was the result of doubting and uncertainty.”

However, not everyone who expresses doubt falls into apostasy. Honest doubt, and the desire to resolve that doubt, often leads to solid faith and deeper commitment. The opposite of doubt, of course, is faith. James encouraged those who were passing through trials to “ask of God” and “ask in faith” (James 1:5,6).

I think that a lot of Christians would say that Proverbs 3:5-6 is their life verse. “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths.”

“Trust in the Lord with all your heart” is obviously an exhortation not to doubt. When you trust in the Lord with all your heart, you’re making a tangible choice not to let unbelief eat away at your soul. The next phrase will help you know: “…Do not lean on your own understanding.” You can’t trust in the Lord with all your heart if you’re leaning on your own understanding.

Do you say anything like, “I know how to fix this. I’ve been through this before. I’m going to get on this right now.” Yeah, that’s not great. Don’t lean on your own understanding. Instead, “In all your ways acknowledge Him…” In every choice, acknowledge God. You might be able to handle that situation by yourself, but, you don’t just want to get out of it, you want to please God in it. So in all your ways, you’re going to put Him first.

And, when you do this, you will see tangible results that will strengthen your faith. Most Christians are familiar with the definition of faith found in Hebrews 11:1(KJV), “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Now that is all well and good as far as definitions go, but most people are more experiential than cerebral, and when they cannot see something they find it very difficult to place their faith in it. When we see the results of God’s grace and provision and protection, when our doubts are resolved, when our experience says “Yes, this is trustworthy”, then our faith grows.

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