When our youngest daughter was about 7 or 8, she approached us with growing doubts about the existence of Santa Claus. Her older brother and sister had hinted here and there that her belief was babyish. When she asked us if there really is a Santa Claus, my wife said something to the effect of, “Well, things like Santa Claus and the Easter Bunny are meant to represent the spirit of the seasons.” After thinking about this for a moment, our daughter responded, a horrified look on her face, “You mean there’s no Easter Bunny, either?!”
The reason I mention this humorous, if maybe a little sad, story is to demonstrate doubt dissolving into disbelief. Doubt can do that.
Does that mean we should be afraid of doubt? That’s what I’d like to unpack in this latest post in the series on apologetics, which is a fancy way of saying that you are able to explain your faith in a way that makes logical sense.
In some religious circles, doubts scramble away like cockroaches when you turn the lights on.
Here are some quotes I found that seem to underscore this idea.
But is this the way it should be? Is doubt really this terrible?
No, I don’t think so.
But wait, you may ask. Isn’t this a faith-based blog? Aren’t you always talking about the importance of faith?
Well, yes. But the point of view expressed by these quotes assumes that doubt is the opposite of faith. Doubt is bad, doubt is the enemy.
But that’s not the case. Far from it, actually. Here are a few quotes that ring more true to me than the earlier ones.
Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.Paul Tillich
Take faith, for example. For many people in our world, the opposite of faith is doubt. The goal, then, within this understanding, is to eliminate doubt. But faith and doubt aren’t opposites. Doubt is often a sign that your faith has a pulse, that it’s alive and well and exploring and searching. Faith and doubt aren’t opposites, they are, it turns out, excellent dance partners.Rob Bell
Let’s see how Jesus handles someone who doubts the claims that he had been resurrected. The Apostle John recounts this story in the twentieth chapter of his gospel.
Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”John 20:24-25 (NIV)
If we take the first view of doubt–that it is to be feared and avoided more than spiders and snakes and dentists combined–then of course Jesus would be furious at one of his closest followers who didn’t believe he had risen from the dead, despite Jesus’ statements to that effect several times before his crucifixion. But let’s take a look at how Jesus actually responded when he saw Thomas.
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” 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.”
Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”John 20:26-29 (NIV)
When Jesus says to Thomas, “Stop doubting and believe,” we are tempted to hear Jesus’ tone of voice as one of irritated admonishment. Something like, “Oy vey, Thomas! Will you quit with your foolish doubts already?” But that’s not the way we should read this. Jesus starts the conversation by patiently addressing Thomas’ doubt by inviting him to investigate his wounds in exactly the same way Thomas had said was needed for him to believe. Based on this, it would be better to read Jesus’ words, “Stop doubting and believe” as something more gentle, like “It’s OK that you doubted, but now do you believe?”
One other note about this conversation: some people are tempted to read Jesus’ final statement, “blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed,” to mean that Christians are called to believe in Jesus without any evidence of his believability–to just take that blind leap of faith. But as I wrote about last week, ours is a sighted faith. God invites us to examine the object of our faith to determine its validity. What Jesus refers to here is simply visual evidence–“those who have not seen and yet have believed.”
But is visual evidence the only kind of evidence there is?
Has anyone seen the wind? Has anyone among us seen Abraham Lincoln?
I don’t think so. But do any of us have trouble believing in them?
So here’s the thing: the reason I’m talking about doubt today is because it’s a natural part of everyone’s faith journey–at least that of anyone who wants to go beyond the superficial and dive deep into the depths of God. This means that you should not be ashamed of your doubt when it arises. You should not pretend it doesn’t exist. Remember, doubt is not the same thing as unbelief.
Actually, if you have doubt but try to sweep it under the rug, it could be devastating to your faith journey. Doubt is a little bit like stinky cheese. When you encounter it, you should deal with it right away. If you don’t, it’s only going to smell worse and worse over time. Doubt left uninvestigated could one day blow up your entire faith since everything you learn about God is built upon the layers of everything you knew before.
How should you deal with doubt? You dig into whatever it is you’re doubting. Study it in the Scriptures. Talk to your small group or other trusted friends or mentors about it. Think deeply about it. Talk to God about it–He can handle your doubt! In fact, He welcomes it since it means you’re thinking about your faith.
The Apostle Paul advises Timothy, his son in the faith, in this way: “Reflect on what I am saying, for the Lord will give you insight into all this.” (2 Timothy 2:7, NIV).
It is through investigations like this that our faith deepens. God graces us with occasional glimpses into His higher ways. Somewhere along the way of our journeys, He helps us construct our faith on a firm, immovable bedrock foundation. Yet at the same time, He shows us that it’s OK not to understand everything about Him, and it’s even OK if our understanding of Him changes over time. We are ever floating in the tension between the fluidity of growth and the solidity of our faith foundation.
And that’s exactly how God intended for us to be!