The Benefit of the Doubt

A blog about Dialogue, Doubts, and Christian Faith ~Travis Dickinson~

Doubt That Is Toxic for Faith



Over the last few years, I’ve been known to say things like “doubt is a good thing for Christian faith” and I go on to explain that doubts can lead to truth and an even greater faith. But about 1/3 of Christians initially react to my saying this with a distinct look of horror on their face. If I have enough time, I can typically explain enough that the look of horror goes away (at least on the outside, even though they may secretly be planning to hide their children from me). What I say is, in doubting, there’s a real value in getting our hands dirty with objections to Christianity precisely because there is a robust case for Christianity. My experience and the experience of many I know is when we approach these matters with an open mind, Christianity provides deeply satisfying answers to our doubts.

But these are doubts of the intellectual variety. It is where we are wondering or are curious about some fact or other. To be sure, it may be a pronounced struggle, but (and this is really important) this form of doubt is entirely consistent with faith. We can have a variety of questions about Christianity and still maintain faith.

I often use the example of flying on an airplane. I have a lot of questions about how it is possible for a craft made of mostly metal to safely cruise 6 miles off the planet. I have some unanswered questions about this, but I can quite rationally get on board my next flight. I can place my faith in the air plane in the face of my doubts. Similarly, I can have questions—a lot of questions!—and still place my faith in Christ.

Toxic Doubt

But there’s another form of doubt (that seemingly 1/3 of people I talk to have in mind). It is more difficult and is, in a way, toxic for Christian faith and relationships, in general. This is where we lack trust and doubt someone’s integrity. This happens in marriages from time to time. Perhaps there’s been infidelity, in one way or another, and one can no longer trust his or her spouse. One is in this unfortunate place of doubting his or her spouse. This is really toxic for a marriage since faith in the other is lost. The survival of the marriage, it seems to me, depends on regaining this lost trust.

The parallel for Christian faith should be obvious. When we lack trust in God, this is of course a bad place to be as it relates to our Christian faith. In fact, if Christian faith is a state of trust (as I argue here, here, and here), then this form of doubt just is to fail to have faith. One cannot doubt (in this sense) and have faith.

Sometimes we are completely justified in lacking faith in someone. Spouses and other people in our lives are sometimes unfaithful and it is completely appropriate to doubt them. I of course do not think that this is the case with God, but I won’t take the space here to defend this claim. I will say, however, I am more certain about God’s fidelity, then just about anything of my Christian beliefs. But for the sake of this post (and I know not everyone reading this agrees), I’m going to assume that when we doubt God in this way, we aren’t thinking rightly about God.

Addressing Toxic Doubt

What should we do then when we doubt (as in lack trust in) God? We are, it seems, “like the surging sea, driven and tossed by the wind…being double-minded and unstable in all [our] ways” (Jm. 1:8-9).  It seems to me the answer is the same as it is for all doubts: we’ve got to pursue truth and knowledge. If one is doubting one’s spouse in a possibly inappropriate way, one should pursue the truth about one’s spouse. One needs to figure out whether he or she has in fact been unfaithful.

On the God front, apologetics may prove helpful here, but it is not the full answer. It seems one must also press in relationally (true of marriage too!) to taste of God’s fidelity. One should dive in devotionally and allow God to provide evidence of his character. This is coming face to face with God, confessing our doubts, and opening our hearts and minds to his corrective. It’s not easy but, in the process, there’s rest for your soul.

Consider the words of Jesus:

Come to me, all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take up my yoke and learn from me, because I am lowly and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light. (Mt. 11:28-30)

It’s a standing invitation.


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