Being Good Stewards of Doubt

246796.value-of-doubt-4.27.14All honest Christians experience doubts. Most of them aren’t very dramatic. They’re the sort of mundane wrestling with concepts and ideas that are hard to believe, hard to understand, or simply hard to embrace. It’s an experience common to humanity. Christians who say they’ve never doubted anything are either not being very honest or not being very thoughtful. Doubt is normal. It’s can also be helpful if we know how to steward our doubt. If we are willing to see it and willing to approach it rightly doubt can be a great gift of God driving us to more and more godliness.

There are many who fear doubt as some great enemy. To question anything is to sin, they suppose. So, such people, never allow themselves the freedom to wrestle with God’s Word, to wrestle with their own thoughts, to wrestle with their understanding and their friends. They cannot ask those questions that haunt them for fear of judgment, or fear of failure. But attempts at suppressing doubt often only increase them. It is true, of course, that some doubt can be sin, but even the Bible recognizes that not all doubting is sinful. John Frame helpfully clarifies:

We should not conclude that doubt is always sinful. Matthew 14:31 and Romans 14:23 (and indeed the others I have listed) speak of doubting in the face of clear special revelation. To doubt what God has clearly spoken to us is wrong. But in other situations, it is much less wrong to doubt. In many cases, in fact, it is wrong for us to claim knowledge, must less certainty. Indeed, often the best course is to admit our ignorance (Deut. 29:29; Rom. 11:33-36). Paul is not wrong to express uncertainty about the number of people he baptized (1 Cor. 1:16). Indeed, James tells us, we are always ignorant of the future to some extent, and we ought not to pretend that we know more about it than we do (James 4;13-16). Job’s friends were wrong to think they knew the reasons for his torment, and Job himself had to be humbled as God reminded him of his ignorance (Job 38-42). (Systematic Theology, 670).

We must recognize the limitations of our knowledge, and the reality of our own finitude. To doubt some things, even many things, is not sinful. Furthermore our questioning and wrestling with subjects, ideas, and even the Scriptures can be of immense value to us. If we know how to steward our doubts well they will drive us towards greater spiritual growth. There are two particular ways that we can steward our doubts well.

First, if we allow our doubts to humble us we will continually be in a place for God to work in us. The Scriptures are clear about the dangers of pride:

When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with the humble is wisdom (Proverbs 11:2)

The Lord tears down the house of the proud but maintains the widow’s boundaries. (Proverbs 15:25)

Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall (Proverbs 16:18)

Haughty eyes and a proud heart, the lamp of the wicked, are sin. (Proverbs 21:4)

One’s pride will bring him low, but he who is lowly in spirit will obtain honor (Proverbs 29:23)

“God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” (1 Peter 5:5c)

Arrogance is a serious sin to God. Doubt, if used well, can remind us that we are not God. It can be used to keep us humble and dependent upon God’s Spirit. When it comes to studying the Scriptures we must rely on God’s Holy Spirit to illuminate us and give us understanding (1 Cor. 2:14). When I doubt it is an opportunity to remind myself that I desperately need God to grow. I cannot produce fruit on my own, it is the fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22). I do not know all things, only God does. I need Him to distribute knowledge, something he delights to do (James 1:5). Doubts are a gift of God that remind me to be humble. They remind me that I need Him, that I am not omnicompetent, all-knowing, and all-discerning. I am prone to error, to misunderstanding, and confusion. I do not have the same level of certainty, even, that God does. So while I may truly know the things of God, I want to also possess a level of theological humility on issues and matters that are not as clearly spelled out in Scripture. Such humility is crucial for growth in godliness. The arrogant do not grow, doubts if stewarded well, can keep me from becoming conceited.

Secondly, if I am discontent with my doubts they will always drive me back to God. My friend Nick Rynerson has written a very helpful piece on doubt. In it he urges us to see doubt as an opportunity. He writes:

Doubt can certainly lead to sin, but doubt can be an opportunity to trust and seek God. Encourage yourself and others to “see doubt as the door to that which is unknown, but must be known.”

In another beautiful reminder he assures us that God loves to transform doubt. He writes:

Thankfully, God does not leave doubters in their doubt. God has a long record of intervening in human history and radically transforming even the strongest doubters. From Moses (Exod. 3) to Job to Jonah to Thomas, God works through those who have deep doubts about God and their call.

He points to Sarah, noting how God transformed her laughter. He points us elsewhere in the piece to Thomas, whom Jesus does not rebuke, but draws closer to see and believe (John 20:28). If we are discontent with our doubts they drive us deeper into God’s Word, drive us closer to Christ that we might know. Don’t settle for doubting, but press in to doubt that it might drive you to pursue answers, to pursue truth. Rynerson quotes George MacDonald saying:

Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest. They are the first knock at our door of things that are not yet, but have to be, understood…Doubt must precede every deeper assurance; for uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed”

John Frame adds his own thoughts, he writes:

We should not be complacent with doubt, but we should use all the abilities God has given us to advance in knowledge of his Word. Besides following clues, noticing patterns, and the like, we should employ our spiritual resources: prayer, sacrament, teaching. In all these, God comes through to us. That is to say, as we obey the revelation of which we are certain, God grants us certainty about other things. (670)

Being a good steward of our doubts means not being content with doubting, but allowing it to drive us to study, prayer, and deeper communion with God. Doubts can very naturally lead to discipleship if we allow them.

It is not a sin to doubt, at least not always. And if we use our doubts well they can be a great asset to us. Doubting is normal, stewarding our doubts well is faithful.

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