The other day I was reading a discussion between two Christian leaders as to whether or not we can have doubt within a valid faith. One of them said that he has many doubts, and that he even admitted to his congregation that he has doubts. But the other leader said that doubts were not to be allowed to continue in the Christian life.
The first leader was trying to be open about his weaknesses. He wanted people to know that he wasn’t sure about everything within the Christian life. The other leader pushed him, stating that doubts come from Satan, and must be rebuked.
What I found missing in the discussion was their being specific about what kind of doubts. Certainly, Christians have all sorts of doubts. To pretend that we don’t have doubts would be dishonest, and to ask Christians to live without doubts would be asking them to stop being human.
Doubt is a part of life, even for the Christian. What we need to talk about regarding our doubts is the source of our doubts, and the target of our doubts.
I believe that for the Christian most of our doubts arise from our own weaknesses and our own lack of understanding. There is so much that we don’t know. There is so much that we are not able to handle or to do. When we are confronted by our own limitations, we may begin to doubt our ability to truly live out the Christian life.
For example, God tells us we are to go out and disciple to all nations. In order to disciple someone as a Christian, that person must first be a Christian. That means I need to share the gospel with that person so maybe they will come to believe. You may not feel you can share the gospel with someone to lead them to Christ, and so you begin to doubt.
God tells us we are to love our neighbors as ourselves. You may know people within your community who are different than you, and you are not certain you can love them. So again, you begin to doubt.
Maybe you have lost loved ones who didn’t believe in Jesus as Savior. You are heartbroken and confused as to how otherwise “good people” can be lost forever. Once again you begin to doubt.
I want you to know that these doubts are all normal. I would imagine that most Christians have struggled with these or similar issues in their Christian walk. But I want you to notice from where these doubts arise. They come from your inability to do something, or from your inability to comprehend the vastness of God.
With these kinds of doubts, you are not doubting what God did for you in and through Jesus Christ. Of that you are certain. You are doubting because there is something you don’t fully understand about God, or because you realize you can’t do all the things God has called you to do. Friend, that is why Jesus said in John 15:5 – “Apart from Me you can do nothing.” It is only through Him and His strength that you can do what He calls you to do. (Philippians 4:13)
Jesus knows that, left to yourself, you would have trouble loving people who are like you, let alone loving people who are totally different from you. That is why Jesus wants to love people through you. You know how much Jesus loves you, and so you know how much He can love others through you. So when it comes to God’s love, you don’t doubt God’s love, you doubt your ability to pass that love along.
You know how wonderful God’s salvation is; that is why you put your faith in Jesus. You also know that others told you about Jesus in one way or another, so you don’t really doubt the ways of sharing God’s Word, you simply doubt your ability to do so on your own. Again, I remind you of John 15:5.
Lastly you might begin to doubt in light of someone you love having died, possibly without faith in Jesus as their Savior. I understand. I have been there. But as you spend time in God’s Word, and as you spend time with Christ in prayer, you come to understand more fully what a Holy God He is. You begin to realize what a Righteous God He is. And you also begin to better understand what a Just God He is. That is His nature — Holy, Just, and Righteous.
When you begin to understand His nature, then you begin to realize that He never will make a decision about anyone who is not a holy, just, and righteous decision. That is when doubts about God begin to dissipate.
You will always have doubts about yourself or other people. But you need not have doubts about God. His character is beyond question. His love is without limits. But His ways are beyond our ability to fully understand them. Nonetheless, He reveals to us that His nature is to be unquestionably faithful to you, even when you are not faithful to Him.
So back to the discussion between the two men: Of course I will have doubts from time to time about myself, and of course I will have doubts about others. I imagine I will also continue to doubt if I properly understand all of what God says in the Bible. But I am absolutely certain that I never need to doubt God, or His love for me in and through Jesus.
Jon McCartney is pastor of First Baptist Church of Tooele.