For many people raised in American churches, doubt is considered the antithesis of faith. To be sure, there are Bible verses that decry the dangers of excessive doubts. Jesus points to a lack of faith as the culprit behind Peter’s near-drowning. James teaches that those who doubt are “unstable” and should not expect anything from God. But, is there any Christian who can honestly claim to have never doubted? Struggling to believe the doctrines of scripture is an ubiquitous problem, effecting every believer at some point in their walk. So, if doubt is a given, what separates the doubting Christian from the non-believer? And is it a sin to doubt?
Make no mistake: doubt is absolutely a tool of the enemy. It weighs us down and can cause us to stumble or lose sight of God. In the most extreme cases, it can lead to a complete state of apostasy. That is why it is so important to talk honestly and openly about doubts. Like any other spiritual attack, it starts with something small and seemingly harmless, and grows until it can consume you entirely. The relationship between doubt and unbelief can be compared to the difference between attraction and lust; there is a difference, but it is dangerous to loiter at the border trying to figure out which is which. Christians must address doubt right away to keep it from transforming into ravenous unbelief.
It would be foolish to pretend that a doubt will disappear when it is ignored. Unfortunately, exhorting a person to simply believe is as helpful as encouraging an addict to just “stop it.” Scattered throughout scripture are examples of people who rejected blind belief and questioned God. From Job to Gideon to David to Thomas and beyond, there is an abundance of examples of people laying their doubts before the Lord; and He answers them (though, not always the way they expect, as in the case of Job). God has not called Christians to claim belief even when they don’t believe, but to seek Him when in doubt and allow Him to comfort and assure them of His goodness.
Jesus said that His sheep would recognize His voice, so reading the words of Jesus is a great place to start. Embrace the Bible, and spend time figuring out what God may want to reveal to you in His word. Also, share your doubts and struggles with another believer to learn whether they may have dealt with the same issue. Scour the Bible to remember what claims are made there. Do research to learn the historical context of scripture. Read up on subjects or stories that you struggle to believe. If God is bigger than your doubts, don’t be afraid to let Him address them.
It is important to note that, when addressing doubt, you must do more than just acknowledge it. You cannot address it apart from acknowledging it, obviously, but simply admitting that it is there serves only as a first step. The next step is actively turn from it. Research and talking through your doubts may not immediately reassure you, but there is a powerful example of what it looks like to turn from doubt found in Mark 9, where the father of a possessed boy cries out to Jesus to help him believe despite his doubts.
All that said, the hardest question to answer is whether or not doubt is a sin. The answer is no, usually. But it can be yes. It is not a sin to know less than God, it is a fact of our reality. It is only a sin if you begin to presume that, despite knowing less than God, you can figure things out without Him. Doubt without sin means admitting to the Lord that you cannot fully understand Him or His actions. Sinful doubt means deciding that you don’t need Him simply because you do not understand Him.
Seek to understand the source of your doubts. Are you doubting because of negative feelings towards a specific person or congregation? Are you doubting because you can’t wrap your mind around a concept or doctrine? Are you doubting because you found something that looks like a contradiction in scripture? Scripture teaches us to test the spirits, to see which ones confess Christ, so do so with joy!
Lastly, use your doubts as an opportunity to strengthen your faith, not as reasons to abandon it. Anyone can find reasons to walk away from Jesus if they really want to, but only those who have been called out of sin can hear His voice inviting them back.