When people ask me how I knew my husband was The One I usually reply with a simple, “I didn’t.” I knew I loved him, he loved me, he was a good man, I wanted to be with him, and there were no red flags so, after four and a half years of dating, (I wasn’t the only one in the relationship who struggled with certainty) we got married. We’re both glad we did.
I wasn’t completely certain that Cory was The One but I was certain enough to yield.
Matthew Bates, in his book Salvation by Allegiance Alone, asks how certain we need to be about our doctrine (the things we believe about who God is, who we are, and how things operate in this world). His answer is simple: “Certain enough to yield.”
Sometimes Doubt Leads to Danger
My dad was a doubter and it got him into trouble. He was a relatively new Christian attending a church with his young family when he began to express his questions about biblical doctrines. Some things, like the doctrine of the Trinity, did not make sense to him so he asked the elders to show him the doctrine in the Bible. When he wasn’t satisfied with their answers, he was kicked out of the church. The elders made it clear that his family was welcome to attend but he was not.
That experience had a profound impact on our family. My dad continued to wrestle and to question; he just didn’t take the risk of sharing his doubts with church leaders for a long time after that. My parents gave us the freedom to question anything, if we did it respectfully.
I have a strong bent toward doubt and questioning. I’m not sure I asked, “Why?” as much as a toddler as I did in my teenage years and the years that followed. I remember my dad telling me, “Someday your questions are going to get you in trouble because not everyone will be as patient as them as we are.”
Thankfully, my dad experience with sharing my doubt was different than his.
My leaders and mentors, while often ill-equipped to deal with the content and intense passion with which my questions were asked, were open to me asking them. I was given the gift of doubt and the space to express it. I believe my faith and my relationship with God is stronger because of it.
By taking a look at why we fear doubt, especially in the realm of what we believe about God, we can name the fears and address them so we can wrestle well with the doubt and accept the gifts that doubt offers.
6 Reasons We Fear Doubt
- We fear our own inadequacy.
When someone, especially someone in a place of spiritual authority (a pastor, youth group leader, Sunday School teacher, etc.) doesn’t know how to address your doubts; it can make us feel stupid and inadequate. Instead of saying, “I don’t know, let’s explore this together,” we think, “Oh my gosh, I’m so stupid, I should know this but I don’t.” It quickly becomes about our inadequacy, not your doubt. We might displace our frustration and shame onto you.
- We fear God’s judgement.
We read a verse, like the one where James clearly says we shouldn’t doubt out of context and understand it to be condemning all doubt and questions. But the Bible is FULL of people expressing their uncertainty and doubt and, rarely, being chastised for it.
It’s not so much if you doubt but what you do with your doubt when it comes.
Moses doubted that God knew what he was doing, but God only seems to get frustrated when Moses refuses (after a lengthy conversation) to yield.
Job wrestles with God for 40 long chapters. He doesn’t end with the answers to his questions, but he ends with peace because he remained yielded in the midst of the questions.
The Psalms are FULL of doubts and questions and accusations. “Why are you letting this happen?” “Don’t you hear me?” “I can’t take this anymore, where are you?” Sometimes just expressing their fear and doubt brings the psalmist around to a place of peace, sometimes it doesn’t, but their examples teach us to keep pursuing in the mist of our fear and doubt, to keep wresting.
- We fear where it can lead.
We fear that if we question one thing, we start on a slippery slope that ends with us rejecting our faith completely. And it can. But it doesn’t have to. The slippery slope can take an unexpected curve and release us back into the arms of a God who welcomes the weary, disheartened, doubters.
Not taking the first step because we’re afraid of where a journey can lead almost guarantee that we end up rotting in place with our feet planted on shaky ground.
This reminds me of the pinterest worthy quote: “What if I fall?” “But, oh, darling, what if you fly?” (Erin Hanson)
- We fear that doubting doctrine is the same as doubting God.
But it’s not. We can believe wrong things about God but still be completely dedicated to him. Our ideas about God are not the same thing as God himself. Questioning what we believe about how the world was created is not the same as questioning God. It’s asking questions about the things God did. Questioning what salvation accomplished is not the same as questioning Jesus. It’s questioning our ideas about what Jesus did.
To add another layer, when we’re questioning, we’re not usually questioning God, we’re question what someone else told us about God. And, since so many good, god-fearing people have told us so many different things about God, it’s important for us to sort through them—to question and doubt them—to discover what rings true.
- They fear loss of identity or community.
This is the one fear I look at and think, “Well, yes, that legitimately could happen.” So we have to decide if the risk of wrestling with the hope of discovering truth and living more authentically is worth the potential loss of relationship, community, and identity.
We often find community with the people we have things in common with. It might be shared genetics, shared experiences, or common values. When those things change, or the value you place on those things changes, you might find yourself no longer fitting where you fit before, and you might choose to walk away, or you might get kicked out.
Ideally, we can believe different things and still get along. Sometimes that works out, sometimes it doesn’t. We have to acknowledge that outcome of our doubts and subsequent wrestling will likely affect our relationships in good or bad ways.
- We fear change.
Some people are just afraid to change. Change is hard because it almost inevitably involves loss of some kind. Even when we rejoice in the new thing we’ve gained, we often mourn the old thing we’ve lost.
Change means walking on unsure footing until we’re confident with our new surroundings.
It means not being as comfortable as you once were, at least initially.
I don’t run toward change, but I’ve learned not to run from it.
How do YOU respond to doubt?
Doubt is inevitable. It’s how we deal with it when it comes that matters. Fear will probably probably influence when and how we address our doubts.
Which of the above fears resonated most with you in this season?
Now that you can see it for what it is, how much power do you want to let it have?
What has been hidden that needs to be revealed?
What are you ready to be honest about now that you feared before?
Next week we’ll talk about the gifts doubt provides and tips for dealing well with doubt. Then, in the new year, we’ll jump into talking about actual doctrine, the specifics of what we believe and why.
Are you ready?