Sometimes people in my church ask me sheepishly, “Pastor, have you ever had doubts?” I always say “no” just to mess with them.
Every year I teach a class for college students at our church on the “hard” questions of the Christian faith. I started one class by saying, “If you’ve ever doubted the truth of Scripture, that demonstrates the depravity of your heart and proves that you’re not really a Christian.” I let it hang there for a minute as a general sense of panic settled in. Then I said, “Of course that’s not true. Every thinking Christian I know doubts.”
In fact, many of the greatest Bible heroes doubted—and some quite dramatically. Moses doubted God after God appeared to him at the burning bush. Think about that. A piece of shrubbery was talking to him, and Moses talked back disrespectfully. David filled his psalms with outbursts of frustration and confusion toward God, psalms that never seem to make it into the lyrics of popular Christian radio songs. Imagine singing this one next Sunday to the tune of “Friend of God”:
Why, LORD, do you reject me
and hide your face from me? . . .
You have taken from me friend and neighbor—
darkness is my closest friend. (Ps 88:14, 18)
Job asked so many doubt-laden questions that God finally had to say, “Enough! Stop talking,” like he was quieting a toddler. But then he made Job write down all his questions so later generations could recognize their questions in his. John the Baptist, Jesus’s cousin, doubted whether Jesus really was the Messiah (Luke 7:18–19)—this after seeing the Spirit of God descend upon him like a dove and hearing the voice of God from heaven declare, “This is my beloved Son” (Matt 3:17 ESV). After seeing a manifestation of the third person of the Trinity while standing in front of the second and hearing the voice of the first, you can doubt? Maybe there is hope for me.
My favorite account of doubt in the Bible is Matthew’s description of the disciples as they watched Jesus ascend back to heaven:
“And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matt 28:17 ESV).
Think about this: Jesus is floating in the air, and some are still saying, “I don’t know. I’m still undecided.”
You ask, “But how could they doubt then, after they’d seen the miracles, heard the voice from heaven, and watched him fly away like Superman?” It’s because some of the things Jesus did—or didn’t do—were baffling to them (Luke 24:21; Acts 1:6). If he really was the Messiah, why wasn’t he overthrowing the Romans? Surely the Messiah would at least do that. Why was he leaving when there were still sick people? And had he really just given them the task of testifying about him to every nation and then left without so much as providing them with a travel budget?
They had thrown their stick into the fire. They had walked the aisle. They were all in. But Jesus’s behavior was making it hard to keep believing.
I have good news for those of you who struggle with doubt: doubt in the Christian life is not only normal; it is divinely orchestrated. At least the questions that lead to doubt are. Charles Spurgeon, the famed British preacher of the nineteenth century, once told his congregation that doubt was like a foot poised in the air, prepared to step either forward or backward. Yes, doubt can drive you backward into unbelief, but you can never go forward in faith until you raise your foot. God therefore puts us in situations that make us ask the questions to get us to raise our foot. Sometimes it’s the only way we will ever take a step forward in our knowledge of him.
Doubt happens when the superficialities of your faith meet the realities of this world. Many of us inherited our faith—from our parents, friends, or even the surrounding culture. But God doesn’t want secondhand faith. Each of us has to learn to trust God on our own. At some point, you must choose to step out of the boat like Peter, trusting Jesus to hold you up. You can’t ride piggyback on someone else’s shoulders.
Doubt, as I hope to show you in this book, reveals those places you have shrunk God down to your size. Doubts can help you see where you have put expectations on God that arise out of what you think he should do rather than what he has said he will do.
I’ll be so bold as to say that if you’ve never doubted, you’re probably not that deep in your faith. So, in that sense, I hope I can help you learn to doubt a little—to boldly raise your foot so God can draw you forward, deeper into him. Doubt can lead you to awe, and awe can lead you to worship.
J. D. Greear and David Jeremiah, Not God Enough: Why Your Small God Leads to Big Problems (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2018).
We have just released a new Bible Study based on J.D. Greear’s newest book, Not God Enough. These lessons are available on Amazon, as well as a part of my Good Questions Have Groups Talking Subscription Service. Like Netflix for Bible Lessons, one low subscription gives you access to all our lessons–thousands of them. For a medium-sized church, lessons are as little as $10 per teacher per year.