Is it normal to doubt your belief in God?
It depends. So you want to believe in God but have doubts?
It’s not what we strive for, but it is the story of many believers. I’ll explain.
If you doubt something, does that mean you’ve stopped believing? Or does it mean you are still learning –and weighing the evidence?
Many times doubts come because we are still weighing the evidence.
Whether we’re struggling with doubt -or just wrestling with our circumstances- the path to confidence is in studying the solid evidence of the Christian faith found in the Word of God and the other evidence that our God is at work in our lives just as he was in the heroes of the faith.
When we read about heroes of the faith, we find they had ups and downs in their faith just as we do.
It’s the same -yet different- for us.
What makes it the same for us? We’re human just as the heroes of the faith were.
What makes it different for us?
When we look at the heroes of the faith, we see it from the perspective of a finished work.
But our lives are still moving ahead.
We are still living in this world, and we often encounter uncertainty.
Questioning the Difference between Doubt and Unbelief
One important distinction before we move further ahead.
Let’s clear this up before we go any further!
There’s a big difference between doubt and unbelief.
We’re talking big. Really big!
Doubt is when we are still figuring stuff out. Maybe we are really trying to make sense of things and applying God’s word to our lives and following the best we can and we experience things that cause confusion.
That can cause doubt.
Unbelief? Now that’s a whole different thing.
Unbelief is staring the evidence –right in the face- and disbelieving it as if it didn’t even exist.
Doubting Thomas? –No- Make that Unbelieving Thomas
Jesus had a conversation with Thomas that left this disciple with the nickname “Doubting Thomas.” This nickname is actually quite kind if you properly understand it.
Now Thomas wasn’t the only believer who had to face doubts. Not even close! We’ll talk about some other doubters soon –you’ll be amazed!
Let’s take a look at the familiar story of Doubting Thomas from John 20:25 (NET).
The other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he replied, “Unless I see the wounds from the nails in his hands, and put my finger into the wounds from the nails, and put my hand into his side, I will never believe it!” John 20:25 (NET)
Thomas was a disciple of Christ who had gone through the traumatic events of the death and burial of Jesus Christ, but he was not with the other disciples when Jesus Christ’s resurrection had first come to light.
Questioning God in Hard Times
Let’s try not to be too rough on Thomas. This was a very difficult time.
Thomas made a big mistake.
Thomas had evidence of Jesus’ resurrection.
There was eyewitness testimony of Jesus’ resurrection -from people Thomas knew very, very well.
People who had walked with Thomas and Jesus for over 3 years through many fascinating experiences were saying –right to his face- that they had seen and spoken to the risen Savior.
People with integrity. Fellow disciples. People he could trust.
Thomas’ big mistake was that he disregarded clear evidence from eyewitnesses. Thomas had passed from faith –to doubt and then all-the-way-to unbelief.
How can we be so sure Thomas passed all-the-way through doubt into unbelief?
John 20:27 (NET) Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here, and examine my hands. Extend your hand and put it into my side. Do not continue in unbelief, but believe.” Thomas replied to him, “My Lord and my God!” –John 20:27 (NET)
Jesus Christ –God Incarnate-God in human flesh- tells us so.
When Jesus says “Do not continue in unbelief, but believe” he is saying Thomas was living in unbelief and needed to repent of it and begin believing.
But wait! There’s more to this story! Thomas makes an amazing, immediate recovery.
When Thomas immediately replied, “My Lord and my God!” what does Jesus say?
Let’s skip over to the book of Acts for a minute.
In Acts 10:25-26, Cornelius meets Peter for the first time:
25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
Do you see the difference? What does Thomas –in John 20:28- call Jesus?
28 Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!” (John 20:28 NET)
What does Jesus say then? It’s a very different response than we got from Peter:
Then Jesus told him, “ Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are the people who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29
Peter –rightly so in Acts 10- did not accept worship from another man.
Jesus –rightly so in John 20:27 – accepted and encouraged worship from men.
Thomas made a great recovery from his brief encounter with unbelief.
History tells us (not the Bible) that after his encounter with the risen Christ, Thomas traveled all the way to India and preached the Gospel there. Millions of Christians in India today trace their spiritual heritage back to Thomas.
Thomas had plenty of company in both the Old and New Testaments. Many believers (Christians) have wrestled with the question of doubt, and for good reason.
People who believe will have their beliefs tested, and those tests can get pretty intense.
Tests take us to the edge of our comfort zone –to the place where we can acquaint ourselves with doubts.
If we are prepared for the times of testing, we will pass through it and come forth as pure gold from the refiner’s fire.
Thomas wasn’t the only one.
If you are going through a time of doubting, you’ve come to the right place.
Jesus came so that we could know that God did not just look at our plight from a far-off place. He came here –as Emmanuel-God with us.
He is not only True God. He is also true man. Jesus understands how we feel. He understands what we go through.
We need to consider the evidence that backs up our faith.
Heroes of the Faith
Doubts enter the minds of every human being. It’s hard to imagine anybody being free of doubt, though some are clearly better than others.
How did heroes of the faith respond to their doubts? And what can we learn from them?
The most famous Bible passage on the heroes of the faith is Hebrews 11. We read of their exploits. Each hero needed to take a step of faith, being completely sure of their hope, yet not immediately seeing the result.
Now without faith it is impossible to please him, for the one who approaches God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him. (Hebrews 11:6, NET)
Here’s a quick list of some heroes of the faith from Hebrews 11:
-Abel gave a sacrifice greater than Cain
-Enoch pleased God with his faith and did not see death, but was taken up
-It took Noah over 100 years to build the ark and deliver his family
-Abraham lived as a stranger in a strange land, looking forward to a city with firm foundations
-Sarah –by faith- recovered her ability to bear children even when she was far past the age of childbearing by regarding the trustworthiness of he who made the promise
-Moses parents hid him from Pharaoh for three months after he was born
-Moses himself –when he was grown- chose to be ill-treated with the people of God rather than enjoying the treasures of the good life of living in Pharaoh’s house
-The Israelites crossed the Red Sea as on dry ground , and
-By faith they watched the walls of Jericho fall
And there are many more examples. Few of these heroes were without doubt. Can you see yourself going through what they went through and not having a few doubts?
Through it all, Jesus is there –just as he was with Thomas- gently encouraging your faith.
Was Job Wrong to Question God?
Job had very good reasons to doubt. He went through a severe trial that affected him on multiple levels. He lost his children, his finances, and even his health.
Job even cursed the day he was born.
But we learn that in all his expressions of grief, Job never sinned against God.
“ In all this Job did not sin, nor did he charge God with moral impropriety. ” Job 1:22 NET
In the end, God restored everything Job had lost, and Job ended up with a double portion of what he once had!
“ So the Lord restored what Job had lost after he prayed for his friends, and the Lord doubled all that had belonged to Job.” Job 42:10, NET
The Doubts of Eve
In Genesis 3:1 the serpent deceives Eve by nudging her into doubt:
3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”
Eve’s doubt led her and Adam to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.
But then God told her the first prophecy of the Bible in Genesis 3:15.
“And I will put hostility between you and the woman
and between your offspring and her offspring;
her offspring will attack your head,
and you will attack her offspring’s heel.” Gen 3:15, NET
Even as God was pronouncing his righteous judgment on what had taken place, he was also announcing the amazing prophecy that the seed of a woman would one day come to right this wrong.
If God could bring judgment and mercy here, then he can do it anywhere else. This is the great hope we have in the Living God.
The Story of Gideon
In the book of Judges, chapter 6, Gideon lays out the fleece before God to make sure that what God told him was true.
But even before that, his doubt led him to thresh wheat in the wine press. Wheat is usually threshed out in the open where there’s no cover. It’s done in open air where a breeze helps separate the wheat from the chaff.
But Gideon was threshing wheat in the wine press. The wine press is an enclosed area that offers cover. You can be in a wine press without being seen from outside, but its harder to thresh the wheat because there’s no breeze to help.
Gideon was cowering in the wine press out of fear of his enemy.
By Judges 7, Gideon recovered from this to lead his people to victory over their adversaries. Gideon led 300 men to victory over an enemy 120,000 strong!
Where will your victory be?
Peter Denies Jesus
We think of Peter as the rough, tough hardworking fisherman who was never at a loss for words.
But what about his denial of Jesus at his most vulnerable time?
The girl who was the doorkeeper said to Peter, “You’re not one of this man’s disciples too, are you?” He replied, “I am not.” -John 18:17, NET
Was Peter’s denial not due to doubt?
And then the bitterness he felt when he heard the rooster crow after he had denied his Lord.
Jesus then restored Peter after the resurrection and Peter became a changed man who fearlessly preached the good news of the kingdom of God to a lost and dying world for the rest of his days.
He preached under the threat of death and persecution and was eventually put to death for preaching of the risen savior.
The Doubts of John the Baptist
John was the one who said to Jesus “Are you the promised one or should we look for another?”
John was the cousin of Jesus and he was also the forerunner of the Messiah introduced in Isaiah 40:3 and Malachi 3:1. John baptized Jesus and heard God speak from heaven about his beloved son in all 4 Gospels. (See Matthew 3:13-17, Mark 1:9-11, Luke 3:21-22, John 1:29).
But John was jailed for his faith, and the ministry of Jesus wasn’t going the way many thought it would. Jesus hadn’t taken over the government. He didn’t fight against the Romans and drive them out.
So John –from his jail cell- sent some of his followers to ask Jesus:
“Are you the one who is to come, or should we ask for another? Matthew 11:3, NET
Jesus’ reply is very telling. Jesus tells John he should look at the facts. The evidence. The sick are made well. The lame walk. The blind see.
When do Doubts Happen?
Have you had a recent victory where everything went right for you? Elijah had a moment like that when he defeated the 400 prophets of Baal.
Next thing you know, he’s running away from one silly woman named Jezebel.
Have you had a series of trials? Trials often lead us to question our faith.
Why am I questioning my faith?
If you are facing a season of doubt right now, there are basically two main sources:
1. Honest questions about the basis for our faith
2. A time of trials and testing
Should a Christian have doubts? Or to put it another way, should a Christian ask questions?
The answer is yes. Of course we should ask questions. Jesus says:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke on you and learn from me, because I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and my load is not hard to carry.” Matthew 11:28-30
How to overcome your doubts
Recognize that you aren’t the only one dealing with doubts. Many heroes of the faith wrestled with doubts.
Read their stories of faith and see their victories in the Bible verses above.
Ask God in prayer how you should act like a person of faith and see God do great things for you.
Put your faith into action.
Expect God to work in your life and let your patience be perfected in his perfect timing.
Now it’s time to join those heroes of the faith because you have now put your faith into action just as they learned to do.