Is doubt the enemy of faith?
When it comes to the twelve apostles, who are at the top of the list for those that we do not want to imitate? Of course, Judas holds the number one position as the one who betrayed Jesus. The second place would probably go to Peter who publicly denied knowing Jesus, not once but three times. It is likely that the top three would be rounded out by the one we call “Doubting” Thomas.
Should we really be placing doubt in the same category as betrayal and denial? Is doubt a sin and should we see doubt as the enemy of faith?
I am someone who is a skeptic by nature. It is just the way God made me. It was skepticism that led me to leave the church I grew up in and to abandon Christianity as being no more than my family tradition. But it was also skepticism that caused me to give up on atheism when I realized that I did not have enough faith to believe that the Big Bang happened by itself or that life emerged on Earth by an accidental mixing of chemicals.
Is doubt always wrong?
In Luke 7:18-35, we read the story of John the Baptist sending messengers to Jesus. The content of John’s message was pretty simple, “Are you the one?”
How could John ask such a question? The purpose of John’s ministry was to prepare the way for the Lord, to preach a message of repentance and to baptize God’s Messiah who was bringing the kingdom of God. John the Baptist was one of the most important people in the entire Bible.
By asking, “Are you the one?”, John was doing much more than initiating a theological discussion, John was expressing doubt. John had an idea of what things would look like when the Messiah appeared and what he was seeing did not fit the vision. Theology and reality were in conflict and this created doubt.
How did Jesus respond to John’s doubt?
Jesus did not condemn John for his questions. Rather, Jesus almost goes overboard in praising John, describing him as the greatest born of women. Not only does Jesus praise John, he provides an answer to John’s question by pointing to the miracles that Jesus was performing.
Back to “Doubting” Thomas. While Christians use that description for Thomas, the Bible does not. It was natural for Thomas to have questions about Jesus’ resurrection because all Jewish expectations about the resurrection described it as happening all at the same time and not once for one man (even if he was the Messiah) and then later for everyone else. We also see in Matthew 28:17, that it was not just Thomas who doubted.
Again, Jesus did not condemn Thomas for his questions. Jesus provided the evidence that was needed to believe. While Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who would believe without seeing, this does not equate a curse against those who need evidence.
In the Hemorrhaging Faith study which looked at why young adults were leaving the Canadian church, one of the conclusions was a need for young Christians to openly and honestly ask questions about Christianity.
Leaders of past generations may have thought they were helping by shutting down conversation and burying doubt under Christian cliches, but they have only made things worse. The Bible invites, if not demands, us to ask the hard questions.
If all truth is God’s truth, the Church should never fear the asking of questions or expressions of doubt. Rather, the Church should encourage a culture of honest conversation and the sharing of helpful resources. For many people, doubt is not the end of faith but rather a key event in the growing of faith.
As a Christian and as a pastor, I have not lost my skeptical nature. I continue to question and even have doubts. What I once felt ashamed of, I now embrace as a vital part of who God made me to be and as the quality that has led to a stronger faith than I could have ever imagined.
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