When I was a kid I watched a lot of wrestling with my dad. “Is this real Dad?” “Of course it is.” “Wait a minute. You also said that you walked to school barefoot, in the snow, uphill both ways. And I’m starting to question that.” So it’s safe to say that I developed a healthy affinity for doubt even at a young age.
I’m convinced that the church, by and large, does not handle doubt very well. I’ve spoken with skeptics of various degrees and many others who have stepped away from church. In their responses, a common denominator is they have doubts. I know I know. I’m not exactly blowing your minds with that shocking revelation. It’s not the fact that they are having doubts that I want to draw your attention. The question I want us to answer is: how do we handle doubts? Let me make a critical distinction here. There is a difference between doubt and unbelief. Obviously unbelief is connected to doubt. The way I am distinguishing them is that doubt is just wrestling with some of the tenets of Christianity, or the ways of God and His existence. But it doesn’t necessarily mean that they’ve come to a set position against Christianity. Unbelief, on the other hand, would typically mean that you’ve weighed the evidence you have against your doubts and you’ve come to the conclusion that you don’t believe. Now, I in no way think that someone who has come to a position of unbelief is a lost cause, or that the church should have nothing to do with them. Many people have come from unbelief to a real life-changing belief in Jesus. But that is for another topic. I simply want us to reexamine how we deal with doubt in the church. Do we allow space for it? Is there a time and effort put into giving people the opportunity to work things out in their mind, heart, and faith with God?
Doubts are not shunned in the Bible. In fact, many expressed their doubts. In Psalm 77, Asaph expresses his doubts about the care and concern of God. “Will the Lord reject forever?” He lists six doubts and questions about where God is and why He isn’t doing anything. But then we see the progression of his faith working through his doubts. He remembered what God had done before, which brought him great confidence.
Habakkuk also sought answers and probed God for answers. “How long, Lord, must I call for help, but you do not listen?” Habakkuk was asking things that people today are asking. “Why does God seem indifferent in the face of evil?” For Habakkuk, God did respond. He didn’t chastise Habakkuk for asking questions. He didn’t throw him out of His sight for daring to ask a genuine question. But He answered Him.
We can dispel people’s doubts by listening to them, answering questions, praying with them, pointing out the encouraging truths in God’s word, and simply reassuring them that doubts are ok. Working through them is actually a very healthy way to grow. Create a space for them to express them in a healthy environment that leads towards them finding answers. One of the ways we do this is by having Seeker Groups. These groups are specifically designed for people who are searching, seeking, questioning, and just need to know someone is there. It’s been my experience that people have a greater willingness to listen and much higher openness to the truth, if they know that their questions and doubts are not ignored, or discredited.
So my advice to the church is, let’s not run from questions and doubts. I heard someone once say, “If you’re against apologetics, then you are not out there talking to people doing evangelism.” The point of that statement is not to start an argument, but to wake a church to see the tremendous opportunity and responsibility it has. People are open to talking. People are willing to discuss truths and the greatest truth of all–Jesus and life through Him. So seek out those opportunities. And when they present themselves, don’t run from them, or shut them down. But build an atmosphere that welcomes people to grow, ask questions, and learn.