What is the place of doubt in a life of faith?
Doubt is a normal part of a life of faith because a coming to faith should involve not just emotions but also our minds. To wrestle with doubt can actually help strengthen faith.
The role of doubt in a life of faith
William Lane Craig on how some doubt is actually part of a life of committed faith.
SIMON SMART: To what extent does some doubt play a role in a life of committed faith?
WILLIAM LANE CRAIG: I think that traditionally Christians theologians and ordinary believers have understood that doubt actually is part of the life of faith. Very often great saints of God have gone through what they call ‘the dark valley’, in which God may not seem real to them and they trust in God to get them through that dark valley and bring them out on the other side. And this is not inimical to faith, or contrary to faith, this is a part of the life of faith. The trust in God just as Job in the Old Testament trusted in God as he went through terrible suffering and loss. And this isn’t a blind or irrational faith – on the contrary, in those moments where we go through the dark valley it can be helpful to remember all of the good reasons and evidence for God’s existence, that our faith is not based just on emotions, but it’s based upon the truth, and therefore we can trust God to help get us through those difficult times.close
Doubt and Grace
Francis Spufford explains that far from being its enemy, doubt can often illuminate faith.
FRANCIS SPUFFORD: In some ways, the more intense your relationship with faith is, the more intense your relationship with doubt tends to be too; they’re coordinated like clothing, or they’re dancing partners, pick your metaphor. The metaphor that isn’t right, though, is that doubt is the enemy of faith – that’s much too easy. I don’t know any believers who don’t find that doubt is their frequent companion. And actually, doubt defines faith in some ways, faith comes out of struggle with doubt, faith is sometimes illuminated with doubt, faith gets its bright edges from the dark lines of doubt around it. It’s not like we say goodbye to doubt or that we don’t recognise the value of scepticism, but our questions pull back towards that core sense of being nourished from the centre of faith.close
Facebook Forum: Doubt and Faith
Tom McLeish responds to a question submitted on Facebook about whether he ever has doubts regarding his faith.
SIMON SMART: Cecily Thew Patterson asks this: Do you personally have doubts regarding your faith and if so, what are they based on?
TOM MCLEISH: Cecily, thank you. I think we all have personal doubts. I have a good go at being an atheist every so often. It’s a little discipline that I exercise. But that’s not a doubt, it’s a self-enforced doubt. I make myself have doubts because I want to do sanity checks the whole time. Maybe all my atheist colleagues and friends are right. So, let me go and jump into their world system as much as I can and believe it and ask – is this making sense? Perhaps in answer to the previous question – that will be the thing that one day I will think, ah yes, this is better or no, this is clearer, I can see much clearer now. I think that is a risk that those who are honest about our faith commitments really have to take. I have doubts about how well I’m obeying God, how well I’m carrying out his command to love my neighbour as myself, to love him. I have huge doubts about how well I’m doing that. But we all have those doubts and we all need to go through the experience of being forgiven and getting up on our feet again every day.close
- Share in pairs or small groups about a time in your life when you really doubted something you believed (this doesn’t have to be a ‘big’ thing like faith in God; it could be anything).
Understand & Evaluate
Watch the videos and read the article.
- Discuss the following questions as a class or in small groups:
- What kind of attitude do these scholars display towards doubt? Does this surprise you?
- How could doubt be beneficial to faith or even ‘part of the life of faith’?
- If these people have at different times struggled with doubt, why do you think they still believe?
- What is your reaction to this section of the article written by Simon Smart? : “The sort of faith that allows no room for doubt may ultimately be frail and limited…Deep faith that honestly wrestles with the murky aspects of life, the parts that cannot be reduced to simple equations, measurable qualities and glib answers may in the end be the most enduring and sturdy of them all.”
Read Matthew 11:2-11.
- What does John’s question to Jesus show about how John was felling at this point in time?
- Why is it surprising that John was experiencing doubt? (You may want to read Mark 1:1-11 for some background on John). What circumstance in his life do you think might have caused this?
- How did Jesus respond to John? What might this show us about Jesus’ character and how he responds to doubt in general?
- What does Jesus say about John? Why is this surprising? (Considering that John has just expressed some doubt in Jesus’ identity).
- On a post-it note, write down one doubt you have about the Christian faith (which could then be displayed with other post-it notes on the classroom wall).
- Write a journal entry explaining your doubt and brainstorming some ideas about how you might explore and wrestle with it further.
- Talk to someone you know is a Christian (ideally an older person) and ask them about doubt and their faith. Specifically, what have they doubted? How did their faith survive the time of doubt? Did their doubts strengthen their faith?