It’s Okay to Doubt Your Faith

Doubt can hit us at the most unexpected times, through both grief and celebration. But God is waiting for us on the other side of that doubt. We limit our concept of the Divine if we are to only remain in certainty.

The first time I ever doubted my faith was in middle school. 

It would be an exaggeration to say that I was having a crisis of faith. It was more like, “My parents made me move across the country and I’m mad at them and God. How can I trust that God loves me? How can I trust His guidance in my life? How can I really trust that God is even real?” 

I started to wonder if everything I was being told was true. I had more questions than answers. For the first time ever, I wasn’t satisfied with the seemingly neat and clean answers that my parents and pastors and Sunday school teachers gave me to the questions I was willing to ask aloud. The answers I got to those questions made me feel that there were questions that weren’t simple or acceptable and if I wanted to avoid conflict, it was best to keep those thoughts to myself. 

Despite the nagging feeling that faith and religion were more complex than I believed as a child, the constant presence of people who shared my faith tradition settled my questions and doubts – at least for a while. When I listened to my peers and elders, the messaging I received, made it sound like true faith didn’t question what we were being taught. There was no space for disagreement or nuance. Any debate over theological issues (or even the kind of hymnal the church was going to use) was a pathway to sinful unbelief. 

So I sat for years and silently listened and observed and studied, convinced that not challenging the status quo would lead me to a deeper faith and understanding of the Divine. 

The Doubt Binary 

My spiritual teachers spoke of doubt as a binary. To question one thing was to question everything. You either believed in God or you didn’t. You either believed you were a sinner in need of salvation or you didn’t. You either believed in Jesus’ death and resurrection or you didn’t. And while those are all essential cornerstones of the Christian faith, there was very little space left for asking questions within the context of my strong belief that God is real, I am a natural-born sinner, and Jesus died for my sins and conquered death through His resurrection. 

I felt that I couldn’t ask questions about the origins of life, the roles of men and women in the church, and why I couldn’t have sex outside of marriage—even if I was engaged to be married to the man with whom I was planning to spend the rest of my life. I silenced my questions over these issues because voicing them out loud felt like a rebellion against God.  

But after four decades of life in the church, this is where I’ve landed—doubt can be a natural human response to the world around us. When we see suffering, some question a loving God that would allow that suffering to happen. When it feels as if our prayers continue to be unanswered, some may wonder if God is even listening.  

A healthy portion of doubt 

Doubt is often a healthy component of our faith journey because it leads to curiosity and a quest for better understanding. We are sinful and imperfect human beings trying to learn about the divine from other sinful and imperfect human beings. When we question what we have been taught, thought, or believed for our whole lives, it doesn’t have to be a pathway to disbelief. Instead, asking questions and seeking answers from our own reading of Scripture and studying the theological work of others can lead to a stronger and more intimate relationship with God.  

I personally have far more confidence in spiritual leaders who admit to having their own doubts than those who wear a cloak of certainty. I want to know that my leaders have wrestled with questions, just as I have. 

Doubt in itself is not unbelief. Just because you start to doubt a “truth” that you have always believed doesn’t mean that you lack faith. In Mere Christianity, C.S. Lewis wrote “Faith … is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing mood.” Our feelings may change. We will experience grief and joy, both of which can cause us to doubt everything we’ve ever been taught about the world. Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Doubt does not mean a loss of confidence but can instead lead to a search for a fuller understanding of the hope that we do have. 

My personal doubt mantra 

In recent years, I have found great comfort in the principle, “On the days when I believe.” For me, those words have never signaled a loss of faith, but instead, give me permission to admit that there are days I have doubts about aspects of my faith. And on those days, I don’t pray that the doubts will go away. I pray for the wisdom to lean into those doubts and find the answers that will lead me to a stronger, more complete understanding of my Christian faith. 

Doubt can hit us at the most unexpected times, through both grief and celebration. But God is waiting for us on the other side of that doubt. We limit our concept of the Divine if we are to only remain in certainty. Just like we limit our understanding of other people online when we only look at one part of their complicated whole.

When embraced and challenged, doubt can lead us down a much deeper path to the Grace freely offered. It invites you to an intimacy with the Almighty that will guide you through the next inevitable spiritual valley. On the hardest days, doubt spoken out loud can be the first reminder you’re not alone.

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