As Christians How Do We Handle Doubt?
The Bible tells us that the “just shall live by faith” (Rom.1:17). However, oftentimes, doubt invades our hearts trying to expel faith and control our life. Christians must learn what doubt is and how we can handle doubt.
We must understand that doubt is not rational questioning of false beliefs, hasty conclusions or theories. Doubt is a choice to disbelieve in face of sufficient reasons to believe. Doubt is an attempt to find reasons, unreal as they may be, to believe in anything else than what has been made clearly evident by God; in that, it is idolatrous since it finds a false alternative to God’s truth. Doubt is an action inconsistent with belief in God.
There are chiefly seven Greek expressions that have been translated as “doubt” in the New Testament (KJV): aporeo (Jn. 13:22; Gal.4:20) meaning “to be perplexed”; diaporeo (Ac. 2:12; 10:17) meaning “to be thoroughly perplexed”; meteorizo (Lk. 12:29) meaning “to suspend as in mid-air”; airo psuche (Jn. 10:24) meaning “to keep the soul in suspension as in air”; dialogismos (Rom. 14:1; 1 Tim. 2:8) meaning “to reason” or “to argue”; diakrino (Mt. 21:21; Rom. 14:23) meaning “to judge differently” or “to discriminate”; and distazo (Mt. 14:31; 28:17) meaning “to waver”. We can clump these into four groups in order to understand each kind of doubt and how we can handle it.
1. Doubt as Uncertainty (aporeo, diaporea). This kind of doubt arises from lack of sufficient information. This leads to lack of certainty and inability to take a confident decision. It can best be understood as “uncertainty” or “perplexity”. A Christian may find himself in a state of uncertainty or loss of answer; however, he never allows that situation to make him lose his hope in God. Thus, Paul confessed that though the apostles were at times perplexed (aporeo), they were never in despair (2Cor.4:8).
2. Doubt as Suspense, Anxiety, and Fear (meteorizo, airo psuche). Several times, doubt sets in not because God hasn’t given us reasons to believe, but because we are too unwilling to believe in His Word. In some believers, this doubt takes the fearsome form of anxiety and fear. They are in a may-or-may-not-be situation. Thus, they are afraid when their children go out, staying in suspense and anxiety until they hear from them or find them back home. They are in anxious doubt about what is going to happen the next day. Jesus told His disciples to not have an anxious mind with regard to things of this world. If the Kingdom of God is assured for us, things of this world are far less to worry about (Luke 12:29-32).
3. Doubt as Rival Argumentation (dialogismos). This is a more active form of doubt that involves aggressive anti-faith reasoning or speculation on the part of the doubter. Futile imaginations and sophist speculation are foolishness in the sight of God (Rom.1:21; 1Cor.3:20). We see a contrast of true faith and futile reasoning in Luke 5. The people who brought in the sick man had faith (Lk.5:20), but the Pharisees only had doubtful reasoning (Lk.5:21,22). Obviously, the unwillingness of the Pharisees to accept Jesus as God-incarnate led to their accusing Him of blasphemy. Many times human or tradition-inherited speculations prevent people from accepting the faith of God. For instance, traditional views that object to the present active work of the Holy Spirit will make people skeptical of the manifestations of the Spirit in modern times. Sometimes, lust and pride makes it difficult for people to humbly submit to the simplicity of God’s Word. As a result, they end up in wrathful disputations and foolish thinking.
4. Doubt as Double-mindedness (diakrino, distazo). A double-minded person is utilitarian in nature. He keeps both options at hand, so that in case one doesn’t work, he has the other handy any way. This double-mindedness is the greatest enemy of faith, because it actually is nothing but sinful doubt. Therefore, the Bible says that a double-minded person can receive nothing from God as he is unstable in all his ways (James 1:6-8). This kind of person has no faith; he can neither believe nor is reliable for anyone to believe in him.
How to Handle Doubt
1. Do not neglect faith because of the uncertainty of doubt. The Bible says that “faith is substance”. In other words, absolutely certainty is in the nature of faith. God’s hope, faith, and love guards our heart against all uncertainty of doubt.
2. Keep a healthy conscience against double-mindedness. Double-mindedness is unfaithful and adulterous thinking. It is like a person who claims to be married to his wife but has affairs with other women, lacking any sincerity and commitment to his own wife. Faith in God and faithfulness to Him go together. A person who prays to God for something, and then goes about to other sources is wishful, independent, and faithless in his prayer life. He has a doubtful mind. His conscience is defiled (Titus 1:15). God calls us to keep our conscience clean (1Tim.1:19).
3. Cut off sources of unbelief. Avoid negative company, anti-biblical literature or media, carnal talk, coarse jokes, and anything that tries to plant in the mind seeds of unbelief. “Do not be unequally yoked together with unbelievers. For what fellowship has righteousness with lawlessness? And what communion has light with darkness?” (2Cor 6:14)
4. Listen to the Word. Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of the Lord (Rom.10:17). What a person fills is heart with is what will work in his life. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks” (Luke 6:45). Therefore, God wants our hearts to be filled richly with the Word of Christ (Col.3:16).
5. Look to the cloud of witnesses (Heb.12:1). The Bible recounts life stories of men and women of faith. There are also testimonies of people of God around us that help us in our faith. Biographies of faith abound. When doubt hits your heart, get encouraged by God’s work in your own life and the life of the people of God.
6. Run forward looking unto Jesus (Heb.12:2). He is the author and finisher of our faith. The fact of the incarnation of Jesus, His death, and resurrection is the strongest basis for our faith. His teaching and His works fill us with faith.
7. Don’t allow the trap of human wisdom against the power of God. “And my speech and my preaching were not with persuasive words of human wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not be in the wisdom of men but in the power of God.” (1Cor.2:4-5).
8. Act in accordance to faith, not doubt. Refuse to allow doubt and the visible appearance of things to gain over faith and the invisible realities of God. “For we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2Cor 5:7). If Abraham had responded to God according to what he saw about his body, he would have wavered and never could have believed in the power of God. But, he didn’t consider the condition of his weak body as a problem for God, and therefore he saw the miracle of God in his life. When God makes a way, He doesn’t care if He has to make it through the Red Sea. Let’s act according to faith, and not according to doubt.