Is There Room for Doubt in Christianity?
By James Bunyan, England
Doubting is normal.
Uncomfortable as it can be, wondering whether we really have “got it right” is as human as it is inevitable, especially when we’re swimming each day in a sea of different beliefs. Doubting can even be a positive experience, leading us in the long run to revisit and strengthen our deepest held convictions. Indeed, if we’re someone who never doubts the things that we believe to be true, Christian or otherwise, then we are probably either blissfully and unthinkingly naïve, or we are dead.
We all doubt.
But is that all there is to say? Does the Bible encourage us to simply shrug our shoulders and put up with uncertainty? On this point, I’ve always found the start of the book of James refreshingly honest:
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do. (James 1: 5-8)
Let’s unpack this a little:
1. It is sensible to doubt yourself . . .
James is not unrealistic. He knows that many of us feel like we lack wisdom. We can’t live long in this world without realising we are neither omnipotent nor omniscient. We aren’t omni-anything, really.
And let’s face it; most of the time when we doubt the truth of the Christian faith, the problem is with us and our limited understanding. It’s not that the answers aren’t out there, it’s just that we haven’t found them yet. Or we doubt that God is working simply because we can’t yet see what He is doing. That is ok!
James’s understanding is that we will lack wisdom and that we will ask our Father for help. In fact, prayer comes from an attitude that acknowledges we need help! This attitude has always been regarded as a Christian virtue; it is called humility.
But he doesn’t stop there.
2. . . . but it is not sensible to doubt Jesus . . .
James says that, when we pray to the God of the Bible, we must not doubt. Those who do are as restless and unstable as a wave blowing about on the sea. The wave never settles, never goes anywhere or achieves anything. Similarly, “such a person is double-minded and unstable in all that they do.” The person who spends their time doubting that anything will ever change or happen will never truly pray.
Instead, when we pray, we are to trust that God the Father loves to give generously, loves to work within us by His Holy Spirit and loves to give us what we lack to serve Him.
This attitude has always been regarded as a Christian virtue; it is called faith.
Now, isn’t this just a mighty contradiction? To doubt and not doubt at the same time?
To answer this, it’s worth reflecting on what Christianity really is. Our faith is not primarily placed in a set of beliefs to understand but in a person to know and trust. We do not trust a cold, dead religion but a living, reigning King. Or as C. S. Lewis puts it, “You are no longer faced with an argument which
demands your assent, but with a person who demands your confidence.” Doubting him is like turning your back on a reliable friend.
So, the key question becomes, is Jesus worthy of our trust?
Well, the Bible tells us that he left the throne of heaven to be born among his own created humanity. He lived a life surrounded by scoundrels but was himself full of integrity and grace. He died a death he did not deserve to cleanse the world of our biggest problem. He was raised to life again to be seated at the right hand of God. He is sovereign over all things and works in all things for the good of his people. And he did all this without us asking. That is someone I can trust.
How do we live this out? How do we show both humility and faith, eroding our doubts and building our trust in King Jesus at the same time? Very simple; we pray.
3. . . . and prayer shows we doubt ourselves and trust Jesus!
If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. (James 1:5)
There is no alternative to a regular, persistent, and humble habit of spending time with our Father in prayer, just as there is no alternative to face-to-face conversation in any relationship. The times that I have felt most vulnerable to doubt are the times that I have neglected to pray for longer periods of time. The good news is, even if it’s been a while, beginning in prayer can be as easy as simply asking for God’s help out loud!
It’s a win-win! On the one hand, prayer shows we are humble enough to ask God for his help and shows we have faith that he answers prayer. On the other hand, if we’re feeling fragile, prayer itself grows and stretches our faith as we come before the one who is worthy of our trust. It is, as John Calvin taught in his magisterial chapter on prayer in the Institutes, “the chief exercise of faith.” You don’t need to wait to be sorted; just get on your knees and pray! This is why it is always worth asking God for very specific things in prayer; that way, we can see when our prayers have been answered.
Doubting whether the Bible is historically reliable? Pray that the sovereign shows you how good His book is!
Wondering why you’re currently going through a period of illness? Ask your Father to show you how you are being grown in this season!
Feeling useless, as you once again fail to mention your faith to your teammates? Pray He’d give you an opportunity!
In all things, pray and, in the fullness of time, you’ll see your doubts eroded as the Lord of all compassion and mercy, who “gives generously to all without finding fault,” proves to you time and again why He is worthy of your trust.
Father, you are very wise and very trustworthy but we are so quick to doubt. Thank you for giving us your Bible, full of wisdom and grace. Help us to pray, to trust your great power and love shown in Jesus, the one worthy of our trust. Amen.
 C S Lewis, “On Obstinacy in Belief” in The World’s Last Night (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 2017).
James Bunyan is a bit of a fidget, to be honest. His inability to sit still tends to spill over into all sorts of areas of his life; he loves travelling, good writing, all sports (except frisbee), the sense of purpose that the gospel gives him, exotic teas and the satisfaction of peeling off a sticker all in one go. He lives in Teddington (London), where he is training to be a vicar in the Church of England. For James and his wife Lois, lockdown in London was improved by the arrival of their daughter, Galilee, who just learned to clap.
"Originally published on www.ymi.today. Republished with permission."