It happened at the very beginning, when that crafty serpent whispered, “Did God really say . . . ?” Doubt crept into Eve’s heart, and she saw the shining object of her desire that had been forbidden to her, and she reached out her hand and took it.
The questions begin right there, don’t they? All the whys swirling up like choking vines. Was God really good? Why would he allow this? Was this really love?
The truth is that evil entered the world, and we will never fully understand. I have never met anyone who can answer every single why with absolute certainty.
It seems to me that doubt is inevitable. We are creatures made for the light of God’s presence and we are living in the shadowlands, and the shadowlands don’t make sense. The pain of this dark world is not something we can easily reason into something acceptable. To do so, I think, would make light of our sufferings. We doubt much because we suffer much. Of course a person who longs for the light would struggle when the shadows seem so dark and the valleys seem so very long. Of course we want the pain to cease, and when unthinkable evil occurs, we must ask why.
I’ve been asking why about a lot of things lately. Some of my whys have been answered, some not. I’m coming to think that the whys are unavoidable, and it is what we do with the whys that matters.
God is not afraid of nor surprised by our doubt. I don’t believe he even condemns our questions. But he wants us to bring our questions to Him.
There are many in the Bible who struggled with doubt. Some of them had to stay in those struggles for a long time. But in the end God’s mercies were always big enough, even when their faith sometimes wasn’t.
He ran from everything and hid away in the wilderness for 40 years. Of course, God found him. God gave him a huge task even as Moses was filled with fear and doubt that God could come through for him. He asked what if after what if, and God sent him back to Egypt anyway, still filled with doubt. Moses did what God asked, shaking with fear, and God showed up, again and again and again.
He’s one of my favorites. He had just pulled off the most spectacular defeat of God’s enemies, calling on the Lord with such mighty faith that God came down with fire and licked up not only the bull, but the entire altar and the water that drenched it (1 Kings 18). Afterwards he saw God bring rain to a famine-scorched land. But in the very next scene, we see weary Elijah running for his life into the wilderness, filled with fear. He tells God he has had enough and sits down to die. This mighty prophet of God gives up. God does not condemn him but feeds him and lets him take his sweet time wandering around on his way to Horeb, the mountain of God. But Elijah does end up at the mountain at last, and there, God patiently listens to Elijah’s complaints, meets him in the still, small voice, and brings him help.
The psalms are full of David’s doubts. This man, the man after God’s own heart, doubted his God as often as the trusted his God. Consider Psalm 13:
How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I take counsel in my soul
and have sorrow in my heart all the day?
How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God;
light up my eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death,
lest my enemy say, “I have prevailed over him,”
lest my foes rejoice because I am shaken.
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me.
David takes his complaints and his doubts straight to God, brashly asking his questions. But he ends with a statement of trust, even though his questions have not yet been answered.
John the Baptist
Even Jesus’ fiery cousin, the very prophet who proclaimed him and baptized him, doubted. He had spent his life preaching about Jesus and preparing the way. He had boldly done all that was asked of him. Then he was hauled off and put into prison, where he had time to wonder. What was taking Jesus so long? Why would John’s life end like this if Jesus was who he said he was? Where was the mighty deliverance? He sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you really the Messiah we are waiting for?” Jesus didn’t condemn his question. Instead he gave him evidence to help him keep believing.
There are so many more. The Bible is full of people like us who struggled to believe. But those who brought their doubts and questions to God were answered in the end. Maybe they didn’t receive full understanding, but they did receive God. And that was more than enough.
At the end of his journey, Moses was meeting with God face to face and glowing with the light of God’s presence.
Elijah never even had to face death. God came to get him in a chariot of fire.
David’s questions were not always answered, but he chose to look at what God had done for him already. He chose to sing and to worship anyway. And in the end, God defeated every enemy.
John never left prison. But what Jesus gave him was enough for him to keep proclaiming truth, all the way to death.
There’s a whole chapter of people who clung to “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1). Not one of them received full understanding. All of them suffered, and their sufferings made them doubt. But they all pressed on and clung to the promises they had received, even while doubting. Even while suffering. They did not let the questions pull them from God. Instead, the questions drove them to him all the more desperately.
Your doubt does not condemn you. It does not surprise God, nor does he reject you for your questions. He has what you need to help you go on even in the midst of the doubt, if you will only watch and wait. He is with us here in the shadowlands, and one day he will bring us out to glorious light. In the meantime, can you keep praying, “I believe, help my unbelief”? He is the one who helps us believe. He has what you need to help you take the next step of faith, and the one after that, and all the steps on this upward path to home.
Don’t be afraid of the doubt. God can use it to begin something new in you, if you will let him.
Doubt eats away the old relationship with God, but only so that a new one may be born . . . The most destructive thing we can do to those passing through periods of crisis is to attempt [to stop] these legitimate doubts and encourage their repression. Repressed doubts have a high rate of resurrection, and doubts that are plowed under will only grow new roots. One thing is certain, that passage through the darkness of doubts and crises, however painful they may be, is essential to growth in the process of faith.*
* From A Reason to Live! A Reason to Die! by John Powell