Doubt: Is It Necessary?

Is doubt normative in the life of the believer? Is it necessary? These are two questions asked in a recent Sunday sermon at Watermark, and the answers were distinctly “Yes”. Perhaps the goal was to encourage believers not to let doubt shake their faith, as was somewhat stated in the speaker’s points, but it seemed to also license doubt itself, especially with a citation from Dr. Chuck Swindoll’s, which claimed it to be necessary.

Necessary? Really? I disagree. While we see plenty of descriptive stories in the Bible about people who doubted–even those esteemed as being “after God’s own heart–God and the text do not endorse doubt as “necessary”, but rather exalt faith. Now, can God use our doubt for His glory? Absolutely! But wouldn’t He rather we exercise faith in the gaps where our knowledge and sight fail us?

Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 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 1:2-8

James in this passage raises faith as the lighthouse amidst the stormy seas of trials. Doubt, on the other hand, is the enemy as it takes our eyes off of the lighthouse of God’s wisdom and provision through prayer.

Perhaps this is a conversation of two types of “doubt” as the same can be said for “testing” versus “temptation”. Is all doubt sin? Is all questioning doubt? The one doubting in James 1, the one who is blown, tossed, double-minded, and unstable, would surely as sinning, would he not? However, David and other psalmists’ repeated cries to God in their times of trouble would seem to be reliance on Him in the form of questioning, not “doubt” as some might call it.

Paul, in Romans 14, speaks of the weaker brother who is tempted to doubt (his standing before God, it seems) by the eating of certain foods. In verse 23, Paul concludes by saying, “But whoever has doubts is condemned if they eat, because their eating is not from faith; and everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Faith, thus, appears to be the determiner in the midst of uncertainty (in Romans 14, whether God’s declaration of all things clean and of idols being rubbish, is true).

Wrapping up, I would propose that asking questions of and in your faith is absolutely wise and necessary. Learn! Be ready to give a defense! Know your God!

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behavior in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. ~1 Peter 3:15-16

Is doubt, as it is mostly defined and spoken of in Scripture, normal? As fallen, unredeemed man, unfortunately yes. Is it necessary? By faith, no.

All passages quoted from the NIV 2011.

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