Is doubt necessarily a vice?

55698245One of the offsets, living in a world where conflicts and differences are at hand, is to be in a position of doubt. That is, when you don’t know that to believe, or perhaps do.

Just as you start to deal with an aspect of your life, then doubt may suddenly creep in. In short, that’s the time when doubt comes first. On the other hand, when you’ve traveled along some tedious paths and found yourself confronted with a lot of options, given that you are unable to see things clearly, then doubt meets you at the end of the line — when you no longer know what to believe in.

“You just got to have faith!,” as one of the most pulled-out lines in the Christian community. Although that’s true and elevating, when you’re the one who pulls the power line, after all, the author of Hebrews (11:6) can never overstate that fact, but it sometimes can make you feel mortified when you are on the receiving end. That is, when you’ve already squeezed the sponge enough, yet it returned back to its original form — just not what you and other people expected. All this is trying to prove is that doubt is inescapable.

The reality of doubt is not surprising, though. The Bible even gives us the clearest answer — we are fallen creatures! To the materialists, evolution is not perfect, that is, assuming that faith and doubt are physical components.

But what actually is doubt? Is doubt necessarily a vice? Is doubt opposite of faith? Can we allow a room for doubt? To what extent? Is it even healthy? How are we going to deal with doubt? Does it displease God?

To address those questions, we need to come into terms. We need to understand, most importantly, what doubt is, and what it is not. And to do that with justice, may need a thorough navigation on the subject (that includes answering all the previous questions), which not the least, not the goal of this brief article. Nevertheless, that doesn’t mean we cannot recognize what it is and what it is not.

It is important in the topic to distinguish between two kinds of doubt: intellectual and emotional. Intellectual doubt is cerebral, while, emotional doubt speaks in its term. While the two are easily accepted, though not usually recognized, a number of people (including Christians, or perhaps mostly Christians) identify a third kind of doubt, that may or may not, but often does overlap, if it not comes with the former (emotional doubt). That third kind of doubt is spiritual.

Since we are willing to admit that doubt not only comes in various ways, but also wrought in a difficult position, thus, anyone who tries to address another person’s doubt without any thoughtful attempt to identify what kind of doubt the person is carrying, is nonetheless presumptuous and may cause more damage.

One of the biggest myths, especially in the Christian circle is the assumption that: “Spiritual people don’t doubt.” That is far from the truth. Another common myth, which is the opposite is always recognized, is that doubt is always bad. Jonathan Morrow, in his book Welcome To College: A Christ-Follower’s Guide for The Journey, explains that:

People can grow in their faith and mature as they deal with doubt. So if you find yourself doubting, there is nothing to be ashamed about; you just need to find out how to deal with [it] (160).

As one pastor once said: doubt is not the opposite of faith, but certainty. He said that, for no other reason but claiming that when a person is certain about something, he doesn’t need faith for that anymore. Arguably, I cannot agree any further.

In regards to the first kind of doubt, that is, intellectual doubt (I would argue) is a virtue. To deny that is to nonetheless defy experience. We doubt we can pass our exams without studying so we vigorously walk through the thick pages. We doubt we can remember all our plans so we take down notes. In other words, intellectual doubt is normal. We address that doubt by investigation or research.

But what is crucial is the other two. Both often overlap, and may sometimes hard to identify. This cannot be explained any clearer than what Os Guiness observes:

The problem is not that reason attacks faith but that emotions overwhelm reason as well as faith, and it is impossible for reason to dissuade them. . . [this kind of] doubt comes just at the point where the believer’s emotions (vivid imagination, changing moods, erratic feelings, intense reactions) rise up and overpower the understanding of faith. Out-voted, out gunned, faith is pressed back and hemmed in by the unruly mob of raging emotions that only a while earlier were quiet, orderly citizens of the personality. Reason is cut down, obedience is thrown out, and for a while the rule of emotions is as sovereign as it is violent. The coup d’etat is complete (God in the Dark, 125-126).

In other words, often times we confuse spiritual doubt with unruly emotions, when what we actually need, perhaps if not significantly, are simple just things (e.g., taking a nap, or just eat, etc.).

On the other hand, the third kind of doubt, that is, spiritual doubt — one might find himself doubting the promises of God. This is what I’ve meant when you’ve already squeezed the sponge enough, yet it returned back to its original form. When you try to believe, but it’s seems never working. This is not unique though. You can identify this one with the situation of the father of a child with an unclean spirit in the gospels where he cried out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24, ESV).

So how are we going to deal with that kind of doubt?

In reflecting with Phil. 4:6-9, Gary Habermas, derives this four step process: (1) pray, (2) express thanksgiving and praise, (3) change your thinking, and (4) practice. The last part tells us that we need to exercise the three. And another factor, which is very significant, is to surround yourself with those people who care. John Piper cannot overstate it any greater:

For most people who are passing through the dark night of the soul, the turnaround will come because God brings unwavering lovers of Christ into their lives who do not give up on them.

To conclude, doubt is not necessarily a vice. It’s okay to have doubts. It can be an open door. And understand that God is not surprised, but is pleased when we confront doubts with humility, as the psalmist says, “He leads the humble in what is right, and teaches the humble his way” (Ps. 25:9). As Charles Spurgeon once said:

God is too good to be unkind. He is too wise to be confused. If I cannot trace His hand, I can always trust His heart.

 


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