Is doubt a sin? I mean, when it comes to God and the Bible and all things religion, is it a sin to doubt any of these things? The Bible seems to imply so.
James, for instance, tells us that “when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” (James 1:6).
Jesus himself also leaned on the side of sinful doubt when he said: “if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, ‘Be taken up and thrown into the sea,’ it will happen.” (Matthew 21:21)
Jude also seems to agree when he asks God to “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 1:22)
Evidently, the Bible teaches that doubt is something Christians should “not” have. We are called and urged to believe and not doubt, and we are rebuked when we doubt.
I admit that I don’t always live and act as if doubt is something that I should be concerned about when it comes to God. I have often rationalised that since I am human and I have finite understanding of everything, there is surely no way I could be certain about anything — not even God. In other words, I have argued myself to think that doubt is okay and justified since I am not omniscient.
Furthermore, isn’t this obsession with demonising doubt the reason that cults exist? How can one ever correct false (and dangerous) elements about their own religion or faith if they never allow themselves a healthy dose of doubt and skepticism?
However, I recently revisited that famous story of “doubting” Thomas and I was quickly rebuked about my complacency on this matter of doubt. Thomas did not believe his companions when they told him that Jesus had been raised from the dead. He wanted to see it for himself.
“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe,” he told the other disciples (John 20:25)
I often identify with Thomas. Many of us do. However, something happens in this encounter that is often overlooked when we use this passage to justify our own doubts. When Jesus appeared to Thomas eight days later and told him to touch his hand and side, Thomas actually never did it. Instead, the Bible says that Thomas replied “My Lord and My God!” (John 20:28)
In other words, even though the evidence was before him and he had the opportunity to finally use his “senses” to verify the claims of his companions, that’s not the “reason” he ended up believing. Something supernatural happened in that encounter. Thomas ended up believing “despite” of the evidence and not “because” of it.
This may seem like a benign observation, but it has had monumental implications for my own life of faith. For some strange reason, I had made the common but false assumption that the opposite of doubt is certainty. In other words, you are either 100% sure something is true or you are doubting.
Yet, a closer examination of what biblical faith means shows that it is something radically different from our modernist idea of empirical certainty. Biblical faith looks more like trust, more like confidence rather than certainty. This confusion is the reason why those who speak against doubt are often labelled fundamentalists.
But as the writer of Hebrews puts it: “Faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” (Heb 11:1, NIV). The ESV translation uses the word conviction.
Back to Thomas’s encounter with Jesus. When he saw Jesus, suddenly the empirical proofs that he wanted took secondary place. Mind you, it is not that these empirical evidences were not important, it is just that they were not necessary for faith. That is why we don’t need to have perfect understanding of anything God does in order for us to believe Him.
This distinction is why I am once again back in the conviction that doubt as the opposite of faith is neither a good nor an admirable thing. I am also convinced that the path out of doubt is not through gathering more evidence and acquainting yourself with more arguments in defence of faith (these are helpful but they should never be determinative).
The way to faith is through a more relational path — showing up. Get in the Word and pray for God to restore your faith. Keep doing the acts that the Bible says are pleasing to God even as you wait for your faith. Love your neighbours, forgive your enemies, repay evil for good, be kind.
Faith is a gift, not a reward. It is a leap, not a climb.