When a serious believer doubts his faith, it can be a good thing. Doubting can test our faith, and testing can build it up, as long as our doubts don’t prevent us from acting in faith. Romans 5:3-5 speaks of rejoicing in the midst of our sufferings because, “suffering produces perseverance”. So, the suffering caused by our doubts can actually make our faith grow stronger if we just hang in there (persevere). Having faith is being faithful. It’s something we do. Being faithful, or acting on faith means obeying God’s commands. So don’t be confused about testing your faith. To test your faith, you need to act in faith, in spite of your doubts. But to be clear, we are not to put God to the test (Matthew 4:7 or Luke 4:12).
Doubts are like questions — uniquely personal questions — that must be answered in order to make faith our own. If we never confront those questions, then our faith can’t be something we can trust in or depend on. It’ll only be something you heard someone else talk about. If faith is to be important enough for you to commit your whole life to it, you have to be sure. You have to know that what you believe is so real, so fixed, that no matter what happens you will always stand firm and always keep going. Fantasies, like Santa Claus or the Tooth Fairy are fine for young children, but substantial faith must answer our deepest questions.
We can either see ourselves at the apex of God’s creation, given the freedom to choose whether or not to glorify God, or as gods in our own right, who have the power of creating our own lives however we see fit. Either God gives us the freedom to choose for ourselves, or we, by virtue of our own existence, have the authority to do as we please. Either the greatest importance is our Creator who has provided us with infinite possibilities, or we ourselves, and how we take control of our own infinite resources.
This calls for honesty. I have noticed that some “stiff-necked” persons ask questions without any intention of looking for an answer. They are actually placing a defensive wall between themselves and the truth because they would rather remain ignorant. The “questions” they ask are more like imponderable enigmas or paradoxes, designed to imply there is no answer. They are protecting themselves from accountability and do not want to hear answers. If you give them answers, they will dismiss them or argue against them. They aren’t being honest. Such persons do not have much of a faith.
The core problem with faith is that we live in a physical reality, while we believe in a spiritual reality. We can neither prove nor disprove the existence of God empirically. To overcome this dilemma, religions have provided detailed instructions and explanations which are reinforced by group dynamics. The doubting believer is confronted with the question, “Could millions of people be wrong about this?” Yet, a doubter is not content to just go along with the crowd.
Normally, you either identify with a religion without questioning the substance of your faith, or you reject it altogether. But there is a third option. It’s possible to confront your beliefs head on and see doubt as a good thing — a means for testing and honing your faith into something that merits your total commitment. This process is a fight for faith that feels more like giving up, because it’s counter intuitive. It requires honesty and humility and isn’t for the faint-hearted … sort of like intense psycho-therapy.
The story of Job is an example of this process of dealing with doubts. Of course, in the case of Job, God actually spoke to him. In fact they had quite a conversation. Wouldn’t we all like to be so lucky? Perhaps. Perhaps not, when we consider what Job had to go through to get to that point. Job is described as blameless and upright, God-fearing and shunning evil. Yet God, who loved him, allowed Satan to kill his children, take away his wealth and destroy his health. So what is the main point of Job’s story? His suffering? His patience? The drama that plays out is of a man who struggles with doubt when his entire world comes crashing down. Job blames God for his misfortunes while his friends counsel him that his own sin is to blame.
Blaming God vs. blaming sin is a classical argument. But within the structure of the story, we learn both sides are wrong. It couldn’t be Job’s sin. Even the Lord described him as blameless and upright. God allowed Satan to inflict Job with pain, loss and suffering. But that does not imply God’s approval. God knew that Satan’s attacks on Job would lead him to a crisis of faith, which he would have to work through. And even though at first Job blamed God for his misery, accused God of being unjust and claimed the right to argue his case before God, in the end he understood his right relationship to God and his faith was not only restored but strengthened.
Satan’s objective was to make Job curse God for all his grief. But because Job’s eyes were opened and he repented, God was glorified in the end. Job’s spiritual journey brought him to the battlefield of doubt. But the result was a victory for God over the wiles of Satan. Job’s reward for his part in this victory was that God blessed him twice as much as before, giving him more wealth, more children and long life.
The arbitrary and contradictory nature of life often leads us to doubt. The fact that good people suffer terrible things while bad people enjoy every pleasure, can cause a variety of responses. Some will blame God. Some will doubt the existence of God, asking, “If God really exists, why does he let these things happen?” Others will see life as pointless, amoral survival — take what you can and enjoy it now. But there are two concepts that hold the clutter of this dilemma together like a pair of bookends, and helps us to understand it: Freewill and Authority.
Freewill means that no matter what happens in your life, you are free to choose for yourself what to think and what to do. We are not puppets, not automatons. God obviously values humans very highly to give us each our own unique will. While animal behaviors are characterized by instinctive patterns, humans, through freewill, learn to make choices and anticipate consequences. How we live and what we become are products of our freewill interacting with the opportunities of circumstance and environment.
However, we are answerable to God for the choices we make. His authority gives him the power to judge us. So, while we are free to live as we please, there are still consequences. We may either praise him or turn our backs on him. Either way, it’s voluntary. To the extent we choose to give him praise, God is glorified. But to the extent we turn our backs on him, we will be held accountable to his authority. To believe in God, we must accept his authority over us and conduct our lives accordingly.
Choosing to be sensitive to what pleases God helps us to be obedient and godly. In that way, God’s authority doesn’t limit us but makes us grow according to his plan for us. So, in the end we may say, “I became what God created me to be.” rather than, “I did it my way.” And if that is the case, then God is glorified and you will be rewarded.
The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” Psalm 14:1
“Be still, and know that I am God…” Psalm 46:11