Faith & Doubt

As I think about faith, I do so with a question about doubt.  Doubt has many forms and degrees: from the promise of God being so wonderful we can hardly imagine it really being true, to the fear that God doesn’t exist.  Many people see doubt as the only alternative to physical proof.  We call Thomas, “Doubting Thomas” because of the events of John 20.  We have not been impressed with Thomas…maybe Thomas was not impressed with himself.  But Thomas was not rejected…admonished, yes…but not rejected.  Most of us are more like the man of Mark 9:24 who said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Unbelief, in this context, is really faithlessness.)

  Many have settled into a rut of non-commitment.  In the latter part of the nineteenth century, there was an agnostic by the name of Thomas Huxley.   As a matter of fact, Huxley is given credit for having coined the term “agnosticism” in 1869.  Huxley states, “Agnosticism, in fact, is not a creed, but a method, the essence of which lies in the rigorous application of a single principle…the fundamental axiom of modern science…In matters of the intellect, follow your reason as far as it will take you, without regard to any other consideration…In matters of the intellect, do not pretend that conclusions are certain which are not demonstrated or demonstrable.”  Essentially, Thomas Huxley argued for a total refusal of commitment…except of course to his commitment that ultimately no one can really know for sure.  Many people say, “There are so many smart and learned people that can’t agree…I may as well not even try.  How can I ever be sure when everybody seems to disagree?”  The truth is, faith comes from evidence…not proof.  Think about the story of Gideon in Judges 6.  God had shown him that he was going to use him by way of an angel and cakes.  But Gideon wanted God to assure him with a wet fleece.

“I believe; help my unbelief.”

Belief is not about being smart.  Intelligent people miss Jesus completely (and sometimes intelligence gets in the way of submission).  The more we trust in our own abilities, the less we trust in God.  One of the draws of atheism is that, if true, it gives us license to do what we want…and that’s a powerful motivator!  Thomas had seemingly never been very strong.  We see three stories about Thomas in John’s gospel; the other gospels only include him among the twelve.  In John 11:16, Thomas says, “Let us also go, that we may die with him.”  In John 14:5, Thomas asks, “Lord, we do not know where you are going.  How can we know the way?”  And in John 20:25, Thomas declares, “Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe.”  Thomas is saying, “Unless you show me proof!”  

“I believe; help my unbelief.”

  Many do not disbelieve; they have simply settled into doubt.  There has been a lot of debate through the years about doubt.  William Clifford, in Ethics of Belief, said it’s always wrong to believe anything on insufficient evidence.  Clifford was pointing toward God, so the conclusion is doubt.  William James, a noted philosopher, said that doubt is wrong when three criteria are met:  1) when we have live options, 2) when the stakes are momentous, and 3) when we must make a choice.  If we are looking for physical certainty, then there’s one road to certainty – death.  Once we’re born, the clock of our life is ticking.  Trying to put off deciding about God is like jumping off a diving board and then trying to put off actually entering the water.  

  Lesslie Newbigin said, “We live in an age that favors doubt over faith.”  Thomas was called Didymus, which means twin or double.  What significance did this name carry?  Jesus chose Judas for a reason, maybe he chose Thomas for another reason.  Sometimes we look for designer beliefs that, like designer labels, will show how cool we are.  Disbelief is chic today…it’s cutting edge…it’s rebellious.  Institutional religion, or church, seems to be old hat.  But we’re talking about Jesus.  In 1 Timothy 3:16, Paul says of Christ, “…He was manifested in the flesh, vindicated by the Spirit, seen by angels, proclaimed among the nations, believed on in the world, and taken up in glory.”  Faith is a choice – and God is asking us to choose.  God has not provided all the answers for which we have questions (at least it seems so).  But in simplicity, he has given us his scheme of redemption.  Many have rejected God because they can’t PROVE where God came from.  Skeptics may argue it’s impossible to prove that chairs exist…but they still sit down in them.  God asks us to choose faith.  Not blind faith—just faith.  Faith in Him.  Thomas’ doubt melted into belief when Jesus called on him to touch the nail marks (John 20:28 – “My Lord, and my God!”)

“I believe; help my unbelief.”

  What do we do about doubt?  Some say doubt is good and God loves doubt because it builds faith.  I wouldn’t say that all doubt is good.  God asks for faith that doesn’t waver.  Jesus certainly doesn’t praise Thomas’ doubt.  Listen to Jesus’ words in John 20:29, “Have you believed because you have seen me?  Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”  He praises those who believed without having to touch the nail marks.  God gave Gideon a wet fleece and a dry fleece.  Why did he put up with that?  God asks us to believe and still allows some space for our doubts.  Some have asked, “Why doesn’t God make more noise?  If believing in God is such a big deal, why doesn’t he make himself more obvious.”  God isn’t trying to force us to admit that he exists, he asks us to believe.  Room for doubt makes trusting possible.  To remove all uncertainty is to remove trust.  

  Paul says in Romans 8:24, “Now hope that is seen is not hope.  For who hopes for what he sees?”  Have you ever thought about the last words Matthew uses in relation to the apostles?  “Now the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain to which Jesus had directed them.  And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted” (Matt. 28:16-17).  The last word Matthew uses to describe the apostles is “doubt.”  Is he talking specifically about Thomas?  Thomas will be mentioned just one more time in scripture (Acts 1:13).  He was in the upper room with the disciples, waiting for the promised Holy Spirit.  The New Testament will never mention him again.  I often wonder why…  “And when they saw him they worshiped him, but some doubted.”

 

“I believe; help my unbelief.”

Keith Harris serves as the Preaching Minister at WindSong Church of Christ in Little Rock, AR. He enjoys life in Little Rock with his wonderful wife and two great kids. Keith holds Bachelors and Masters Degrees from Harding University, as well as a Master of Science degree in Ministry from Lubbock Christian University. He enjoys playing golf, traveling, and the Arkansas Razorbacks.

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