A Letter to the Doubting Christian
Dear Mr. Doubting,
Thank you for your last letter. It was honest and, I am sure, difficult to write. I myself have frequently been where you are--asking questions, doubtful about the truth, searching for certainty, unsure of my own belief. Doubt has many channels into the heart, and I too am familiar with the tidal wave of inquisitiveness that seems to fill them all. I have wondered at times if I would ever recover. Such is the tragic position many Christians find themselves in. They are, by all accounts, the unstable man, "like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind" (James 1:6).
Now, let me be clear. It isn't the asking of questions that concerns me. By all means ask questions! If we're to have an informed faith--which Christianity is in desperate need of today--we must have an inquisitive faith. Nor is it difficulty of mind that troubles me. After all, as one of Job's friends asked, "Can you find out the deep things of God?" (Job 11:7), and, as Peter noted, even some of Paul's writings are "hard to understand" (2 Peter 3:16). Neither is it ignorance concerning unrevealed things, "How unsearchable are his judgments and how inscrutable his ways!" (Romans 11:33), and "the secret things belong to the LORD our God" (Deuteronomy 29:29).
Rather, my concern lies in a different quarter. Namely this, many are choosing doubt. Of course, they gloss it over with words like "authenticity," "generous orthodoxy," "spacious," "open minded," and so forth. But these seem to me, in the final analysis, to be an excuse for doubt. The birds of doubt land in the tree and build a home there. They ask questions but never have answers. Some even act as if the greatest vice of Christianity is conviction, confidence, and certainty, while its greatest virtue is doubt.
This isn't the biblical picture of doubt, which is almost always put in a negative light. For instance, Jesus rebuked Peter, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?" (Matthew 14:31), and Paul said, "But whoever has doubts is condemned if he eats, because the eating is not from faith. For whatever does not proceed from faith is sin" (Romans 14:23). In both of these instances doubt is the counterpart of faith and, therefore, is sin. We need forgiveness for doubting as much as we do for every other sin.
Mr. Doubting, I want to remind you that God's purpose for you does not lie in your doubt. Jesus Christ did not ascend into heaven to make you unsure of the faith you profess. Paul tells us that when he ascended on high he gave us the ministry of the church so that we might "all attain the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes" (Ephesians 4:13-14). God wants you to have an immovable faith in his Word, promises, and in his purposes. Like the faith of Abraham that said, "Kill my son? You're going to raise him from the dead, aren't you?"
So, how do you confront your doubts? There is no magical formula, but let me suggest a couple of things. First, bring your doubts to Jesus. I hear more faith in the prayer of the distressed faith than in most prayers I have ever prayed, "I believe; help my unbelief" (Mark 9:24). Even as the father sought to have the demon cast out of his son, the far greater miracle was the way in which Jesus exorcised unbelief from his heart. "A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not quench" (Matthew 12:20). Second, be ministered to by the church through the ordinary means of grace--especially the Word and sacrament. The ministry of the church exists to grow and mature us (Ephesians 4:11-14), the preaching of the Word is intended to increase faith, "Faith comes through hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ" (Romans 10:17), and the ones who flourish are those who are "Planted in the house of the Lord" (Psalm 92:13).
Mr. Doubting, have no doubt, the Holy Spirit would see you flourish in the faith--both your knowledge of it and your assurance. If your branches will grow strong to stand against the wind of doubt, your roots must go deep--deep into his Word and promises. May you, like Abraham before you, grow strong in the faith as you give glory to God, being fully convinced that God is able to do what he has promised.
Waiting With You For Faith to Become Sight,