Theology

Is doubt bad?

October 30, 2009
[Originally posted Tuesday, October 17, 2006 at 11:49pm]
This summer I was blessed to be able to work at an amazing camp (TbarM) for the first half of the summer. One of the most anticipated nights for me was campfire night, when we would take our cabins to a campfire and have a time of open sharing with our campers. And almost without fail, every campfire we would come upon the same problem that campers had: doubting that they were really saved. They knew about salvation and what that meant, they just found themselves doubting at times and thought that perhaps they weren’t saved because of that, or at least did not trust God as much as they ought to.

By God’s grace I was given an answer, through my brother, to this question. He had shared with me a quote that stuck out to him just before I left for camp and it stuck in my mind. And yes, it was by none other then George MacDonald (I continue to find new insights and truths in his works). He says,

“With all sorts of doubts I am familair, and the result of them is, has been, and will be a widening of my heart, soul, and mind to greater glories of the truth… I cannot say I never doubt, nor until I hold the very heart of good as my very own in Him can I wish not to doubt. For doubt is the hammer that breaks the windows clouded with human fancies and lets in the pure light.”

This is the answer I would give to my campers. I do not believe that doubt in and of itself is a bad thing — as it is often thought of. As MacDonald says, doubt very often is a hammer that breaks down our pride and confidence in truths that we hold without reason. If what we hold to be true is never attacked then we will never know how strong our foundation really is. Doubt does not make faith any easier, perhaps it makes it much more difficult. But Peter Kreeft wisely points out that “Only in a world where faith is difficult can faith exist.” The nature of faith is that it is not always easy, yet it can be when the object of faith is God.

This is one major thing, I believe, that distinguishes Christianity from every other religion. I believe it is the only real “faith.” The reason is this: every other religion is based upon our actions, things WE do. The focus is ourself. Salvation is by OUR works. But in Christianity, we must trust in God, not ourselves. As such we have no control over the outcome but to trust His character. Man desires to know and see, God asks us to trust. Other religions are appealing because you can KNOW and see that you are doing what is necessary. They are inherently selfish, which faith is not. Faith looks elsewhere, at an object, and puts subject aside. “Faith is the conviction of unseen.” (Heb 11:1) Faith is NOT knowledge, and it can never be, because once we know something we no longer need to believe it, we know it. Perhaps some level of doubt is always present where there is faith.

And that is why I think doubt is in some ways a good sign; because it breaks down our desire to know based on our actions. It forces us to trust in something outside of ourselves. It shatters our human pride and forces humilty.

Now, I say that doubt may be a good thing, but the thing to watch for is yielding to doubt. Letting doubt rule your life (being “driven and tossed by the wind” — James 1:7) is not a good thing, and should never be your state. But the presence of doubt should not bring fear or cause one to think he has done something wrong. George MacDonald, again, points out this problem.

“I say yielding; for a man may be haunted with doubts, and only grow thereby in faith. Doubts are the messengers of the Living One to the honest… Doubt must precede every deeper assurance; for uncertainties are what we first see when we look into a region hitherto unknown, unexplored, unannexed.”

Ironically, right now I am doubting whether or not I ought to post this…

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2 Comments

  • Reply Bridgett Marriott September 29, 2016 at 1:53 pm

    🙂 I’m glad you did. I’m starting to like this MacDonald fellow. Where can I find him? I’ve never heard of him unless he’s the one who had a farm? Lol.

    • Reply Jason Custer September 30, 2016 at 6:01 pm

      I found out about George MacDonald from CS Lewis. Lews says his imagination was “baptized” by MacDonald’s book “Lillith” – which might be a good place to start. Most of the quotes in this post are from his collection of “Unspoken Sermons.” He was a Scottish pastor/theologian, I believe. If you’ve read CS Lewis’ book “The Great Divorce” (which is one of my favorites of his, and a must read!), he has George MacDonald be his guide in the story, much like Dante chose Beatrice in his “Divine Comedy.”

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