As we wrap up talking about the importance of embracing our doubt, I want to talk about one key clarification that if ignored can result in a massive amount of spiritual pain.
There are two types of doubt; one type can transform you, the other can destroy you.
Over and over again we see two types of “doubt” in scripture. One type God loves and invites us to embrace. The other will destroy our connection to Him. I want to explore this by comparing a few powerful biblical stories.
Napping in a Boat
There’s this scene in Mark 4 where Jesus calls the disciples out. He was sleeping during a storm, and they were panicking. They wake Jesus and he calms the storm, but he gets on the disciple’s case for having “little faith.”
He isn’t getting on them here because they didn’t calm the storm themselves, or because fear in a ship-sinking storm is somehow inappropriate.
He is calling out his friends for not trusting in Him.
This is pretty early in His ministry, but even now Jesus’ disciples have seen him do tons of miracles. Casting out demons, healing invalids, all sorts of stuff. The disciples however still doubted that Jesus was truly to be trusted over creation.
They brought their doubt to Jesus, and He met them with an encounter that transformed their perspectives.
The Doubting Seeker
This story used to bug me a lot.
So Jesus walks up to his disciples who were out and about doing the works Jesus was doing, like casting out demons and healing the sick. They are arguing with some scribes and a bunch of people are standing around listening. Jesus’ disciples couldn’t cast a demon out of this man’s son and now an argument has started about it. This argument gets Jesus upset.
He calls the people an “unbelieving generation” that he has to “put up with,” and then asks for the boy.
The boy’s father explains everything and Jesus essentially says he can take care of it, if the father believes. To this, the father says
“I believe; help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:24)
At this, Jesus casts the demon out and the boy is made whole.
Here, the crowd (which includes religious scribes who are almost certainly “anti-Jesus”) is rebuked for unbelief, but the man who admits his unbelief and asks for help is helped. Jesus doesn’t rebuke and abandon him, or refuse to help him because he has doubt.
To doubt is not to oppose something; it is to seek deeper knowledge.
The crowd was opposing the Truth, whereas the father was simply doubting it. He knew he had doubts, and he invited the very thing he was doubting to help him discover what was really true. The genuine doubter is a seeker of truth. Jesus invites all who seek Truth to do it passionately, and promises that they will find it.
Luke 11. Jesus is with his intimate friends, and he is teaching about the Kingdom of God. He’s probably on a hillside somewhere because people begin to gather around and listen in.
Some of these people start demanding a sign.
“Prove it Jesus. Show us something so we will believe.”
Jesus is not having this one bit. He calls the crowd “a wicked generation, because it seeks a sign.” (Luke 11:29)
Much like those in the last story who were rebuked for their “unbelief,” Jesus here says those who won’t believe without a sign are wicked. He actually ups his game here.
He isn’t just mad about unbelief; he calls it wickedness.
Doubt and Rebellion
So why is each type of “doubt” or “unbelief” responded to so differently? Because wickedness is determined by the motive the heart is doubting from, not by doubt itself. Let me say that again:
Wickedness is determined by the motive the heart doubts from, not by doubting itself.
The disciples doubted Jesus was powerful enough to protect them, but they were his friends, and they sought Him in their doubt. The father whose son was possessed doubted Jesus would save his son, but he was honest about his doubt, and he asked Jesus to help him with it.
The unbelievers, however, had let their doubt take them away from Jesus. They let it close them off to any Truth He had to bring.
They used doubt as a way to rebel against Truth, not as a way to discover it.
One type of doubt is seeking to believe.
The other is seeking “unbelief.”
Like when an athiest angrily declares “If God shows up right in front of me and proves himself, I’ll believe and follow Him, but if not then I’m gonna keep dong whatever the hell I feel like.”
Like when a Christian declares “There is only one right way to live when it comes to (insert controversial lifestyle choice here), and if you want me to consider another perspective you better prove it!”
Like when a lover says “I doubt your love for me, until you prove it by…”
All of these are not genuine God given doubt. They are the active choice of the heart to refuse or “test” belief. That’s why Jesus says that even if a sign is given, these ones still won’t believe.
Your Doubt, Your Heart
Each of us have a sacred responsibility to steward our doubt.
Each of us has the duty to honor our questions.
As we doubt, we can either do one of two things. We can do as the disciples and the father of the boy did and invite God into that journey, refusing to let go of the relationship we feel in our heart that no question can ever take from us.
Or we can use our doubt to harden our hearts to Truth that doesn’t look like what we already believe. We can doubt our way away from God, and away from Truth from any source other than those that already embrace our dogma.
If you have let your down turn into unbelief I encourage you to right now, this minute, return to the Truth you know in your heart–even if you don’t intellectually understand it (More on how to do this is in I Don’t Believe in Jesus Christ II).
Re-invite the parts of truth that don’t fit your current box back into the conversation. Commit to doubting with the things you oppose, not doubting against them.
More than anything, go to Jesus with your doubt.
Be honest with him. Tell him you don’t believe, and to help you with your Truth discovery journey. He likes you, He wants to, and He won’t let you down.
Keep doubting, and keep hoping. You are loved.
The Doubt Manifesto
Ultimately, this content is going to be expanded upon, illustrated on deeper scriptural levels, and explored from new angles in one of my upcoming books. However, if you are reading this here now, then you have exclusive access to the core manifesto right now. The following is a list of each “chapter” in the story of doubting your way to a better spiritual life:
Please tell me in the comments how this post affects you. You’re here, and you belong in the conversation. Thank you for being a part of this community, and I can’t wait to hear a bit about how you are learning to steward your sacred gift of doubt.