Faith and Doubt (and how they coexist)

Doubt is not the enemy and not something that needs to be fought. It needs to be understood, expressed, and used.

I’d bet that at some point every person has had some doubts about their faith. But despite the prevalence of doubt in our spiritual walks it’s rarely talked about or acknowledged. And when it is, often I hear doubt talked about negatively. You shouldn’t doubt. You can’t question that. You know what the Bible says is true. We downplay this pivotal piece of our faith journeys.

We tend to view doubt as a negative thing. But the Bible does quite the opposite, it highlights the doubters. It seems God has more of a tolerance for doubt than most churches do. We should not deny or fear our doubt, but express it.

Let me clear the air. I have doubted my faith. I have doubted what is said in the Bible. I have doubted God. Not only have I doubted, but I DO doubt. And I don’t think that’s a bad thing. Doubt has played a pivotal role in the growth of my faith and helped make me who I am today.

Faith is often seen as the opposite of doubt. But that perspective needs to be flipped. The opposite of faith is certainty; where there is certainty there is no room for faith.

Paul Tillich puts it this way, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is one element of faith.

Anne Lamott builds on Tillich’s quote, “The opposite of faith is not doubt, but certainty. Certainty is missing the point entirely. Faith includes noticing the mess, the emptiness and discomfort, and letting it be there until some light returns.

Doubt is not the enemy and not something that needs to be fought. It needs to be understood, expressed, and used.

Let’s give a closer look at doubt.

Doubt in the Bible

The Bible is full of stories of doubting people. Oftentimes the “heroes” of the Bible did not earn their title because they believed without doubt. Rather they earned their title because they had faith WITH doubt. At the same time there are also plenty of stories where doubt led to trouble. The book of James points toward doubtladen prayers not being answered and Jesus told his followers to pray with confidence.

Abraham and Sarah doubted God’s promise of a child; actually they laughed at it.

Job doubted God’s goodness.

Moses doubted God could use him to lead Israel out of Egypt.

Gideon doubted God could use him to turn the tide against Israel’s oppressors.

The Nation of Israel seemed to be in a constant state of doubt.

Thomas, Jesus’ disciple, doubted Jesus rose from the dead.

I could go on, but the point is the Bible is full of people that doubted. And not just people, but the main characters. If you took all the stories of doubt out of the Bible you wouldn’t have much left.

The real issue isn’t doubt, but it’s what we do with our doubt. Doubt can keep us from following God. Or it can increase our faith by saying even though I’m not sure I will still trust you. What made the stories of doubt in the Bible great was that they acted despite their doubt. God isn’t scared away by doubt.

“One bold message in the Book of Job is that you can say anything to God. Throw at him your grief, your anger, your doubt, your bitterness, your betrayal, your disappointment—he can absorb them all. As often as not, spiritual giants of the Bible are shown contending with God.” – Philip Yancey

What Doubt Isn’t… A Sin

Doubt and disbelief are two separate issues. God doesn’t condemn us for asking questions. Jesus didn’t condemn Thomas for wanting to see the holes in his hands. Moses wasn’t reprimanded asking why him. And Abraham and Sarah still received God’s promise despite laughing in doubt.

God is interested in our hearts, not some phony relationship. Sometimes what’s going on inside of us is doubt. We cannot hide it from God, and that’s not what he wants. An authentic relationship means that we need to be real with God and tell him what’s going on in our hearts, including our doubts.

Doubt Helps Our Faith

“Through doubt we can learn more than through naive trust, truth can be trusted. Doubt is the fire through which it passes. But when it has been tried, it will come forth as gold.” – Mark Littleton

A common misconception is that doubt is damaging to our faith. However God can use our doubts to produce a more rich faith.

I once heard doubt compared to getting an immunization. In order to help your body fight off future infections/diseases a doctor will give you a small dose of the virus. That way your body can build up the antibodies that will fight off the virus. This makes your body stronger and healthier.

The same can be said of doubt. When you are infected with doubt it forces you to seek answers for your questions. Ultimately you will end up stronger because your faith has been confirmed.

Doubt always coexists with faith, for in the presence of certainty who would need faith at all? – Philip Yancey

Living Out Faith With Doubts

The reality we all have to come to is that we cannot be 100% sure of almost anything. We are finite beings trying to grasp at things way beyond our comprehension. And while some people are convinced that beyond a shadow of a doubt they are correct, the reality is faith is believing in things we have not seen. We cannot know, rather we trust what God has told us.

Here’s a working definition of faith for me.

Faith is the assurance of an unseen world, which is willing to risk, or bank, all on the reality of the unseen world. Faith is not based on physical evidence, rather a conviction that I am willing to stake my life on.

I can’t prove my faith in quantifiable means. But I can say that the claims that Jesus made, the evidence for a resurrection, and the encounters I’ve had with God lead me to put my faith in him. Do I have doubts? You bet I do. But I’m willing to stake my life, to risk everything on the conviction on the reality of the unseen.

Sometimes I wish I could go back. Early on in my journey things were more black and white. Right and wrong. You were either in or out. Sometimes I think it would be so nice to go back to when things were so clear. But at the same time my doubt has grown and deepened my faith in a way that I wouldn’t trade for anything. 

How have you experienced doubt in your life? What have you done to wrestle through your doubts?

54 comments on “Faith and Doubt (and how they coexist)

  1. Reblogged this on The Biker's Wave and commented:
    Great article on the subject of doubt.


  2. Hi, Jeffery! I appreciate your words on doubt. We don’t have to have it all together. God is bigger than our questions and doubts. Thanks for sharing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. This is an excellent post

    Liked by 1 person

  4. This was really, really, really good to read. I am a very analytical person, so I want to understand everything I can. This means that I put myself in the shoes of a lot of people so that I understand their position. This can get me into trouble when I don’t have a good way to rebut their ideas. I also have a strong dislike of pursuing worthless ends and wasting time. Thus, I constantly analyze what I believe so that I know it’s the truth. I went through an intense period of examining my faith about a year ago, coming up with what-if situations for Christianity. What if it’s actually a conspiracy, a fake, a lie that we’ve been indoctrinated into? It was really hard, and I struggled mightily for a long time. It all culminated during a staff Bible study this past summer when we were reading through and praying Psalm 139. All the doubts I had pushed away or half-explained came pouring and pounding into my head, and I realized it was a make or break moment. Either I let the doubts destroy my faith because it was an irrational faith, or I needed to follow the doubts to their logical end and destroy THEM once and for all. I cried a lot that night, and I didn’t shy away from the doubts but let them try their very best to destroy me. They couldn’t. They fell short of our great God. I was set free that night from the overwhelming doubts, and I have a new unshakeable confidence in credulity of the Bible.
    I still have to ward off the little doubts on occassion, but that comes with being right. 🙂
    Would you mind if I reblogged this post? I would like to share this comment as an introduction or epilogue (not sure yet), and I think that others could really benefit from the truth in this post.
    Thank you!

    Liked by 3 people

    • Doubts can lead to a great refinement of our faith. While seasons of doubting can be very difficult, what it produces can be invaluable.

      You can share this post! Thanks for reading and sharing a little of your story!

      Liked by 2 people

    • My last comment on this post is reply to your comment… i hope you will read… by mistake i posted into direct comment rather thn reply in ur comment… 🙂


  5. Pingback: Doubting Doubts Gives Us Faith – Squid's Cup of Tea

  6. Thank you so much for writing this. I have been doubting God a lot lately. I had this thought came to me this week, “What if our hard questions are a part of our worship.”

    Thank you again for writing this. I needed it.


  7. Reblogged this on Not Born Fearless and commented:
    This is a great read! I’ve been thinking about this exact thing this week.


  8. Good stuff, thanks for posting Jeffery.

    “It seems God has more of a tolerance for doubt than most churches do. We should not deny or fear our doubt, but express it.” I really like this cause its spot on dude.

    I think we need to be really ok with holding our doubts in one hand and what we firmly believe in the other, while trusting God is big enough to manage our stuff.


  9. “The Nation of Israel seemed to be in a constant state of doubt.” The Nation of Isarael was in a state of unbelief, not of doubt. Unabelief,not certainty, is the opposite of faith. Aside from this, this was an excellent post.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I can see that point. I thought about it after I wrote it. Israel certainly lived in unbelief for much of their existence. I think there were some doubts too. I think both unbelief and certainty are on the opposite spectrum of faith. I can see how unbelief could be an opposite.

      Thanks for the thoughts!

      Liked by 1 person

      • There is a danger in using a group of people in the context as one. Some in Israel doubted, some did not believe; just like today. When we try to group people, we loose the individual. God calls individuals, not groups.


  10. Beautifully written and so instructive. Thank you!


  11. Mary Ellen Quigley

    Excellent post and so true. Doubt is the reason I now believe. I asked questions and went in search for answers. It can be a good thing to doubt.

    Liked by 1 person

  12. Jeffrey, thank you for visiting Garment of Praise. I find your stated purpose here and your posts most worthwhile. I’ve read several. It looks to me like we are on the same page, if not the same generation. You and I seem to echo each other – just from the different perspectives of an old lady and a young man. Keep up the good work. Your generation is in dire need of your voice.

    Liked by 1 person

  13. I actually think doubting is a faithful search for God’s truth. When I experience seasons of intense doubt, I make sure I am in connection with my small group of fellow Christians who “get me” and won’t freak out. It is a season, and it is usually God pruning me.


  14. elfkookie

    Amen, brother. It is important to be real and not try to hide the truth from God–to let him do his work in us.


  15. My favorite song writer/ wordsmith is Michael Card. He wrote in a song, “Sometimes the questions tell us more than the answers ever will”. Isn’t doubt simply a question? Thanks for you thoughts Jeffrey:)

    Liked by 1 person

  16. I completely agree. If we don’t doubt, why would we need faith? I think the doubting you are talking about if really more of a searching and I think that is always good. I feel the same way about fear. Without fear how would we ever learn about trust? I agree, we are to be “real” in our faith and we should be free to express those doubts and fears without being judged by our fellow believers. Good post. God bless.


  17. This is so, so good!!


  18. hearmorefromgod

    “I believe, help my unbelief!” Thanks for this – and the like at May God fan the flames of your gift to reach people with His truth.


  19. Nice post. I liked reading… I would like to give my view, read it and if have your views please feel free to write.

    Actually, In general Faith independent word but it can be divided into three parts based on its meaning on different levels…
    1st is BELIEF–which simply means lie, To believe something means you don’t know it and yet you believe, belief may be because of greed or fear…
    Then comes,
    2nd -It is FAITH, The real meaning of is Faith in oneself. Faith means a confidence, a respect for oneself. Belief is other-oriented: faith is self-oriented; faith has a beauty. Belief is ugly. Avoid believing, because believing is lying. Faith is a search, an enquiry. Faith is a search, an inquiry. Faith is a totally different world! It has nothing to do with belief…
    Faith and Doubt don’t belong together… it is true with Belief… if you replace the word “Faith” with the word “Belief” then that will be totally correct…..
    Belief always represses doubt; belief is a strategy to repress doubt. That’s why believers say, “I believe strongly.” Why strongly? There must be a strong doubt deep down; it needs a strong belief to force it, to repress it into the unconscious. Whenever somebody says ‘strong belief’ that simply means the doubt is big and has to be fought, and you will need a very strong belief to fight with it.
    .. That’s why believers become fanatics. The man of faith is very rational: the man of belief is utterly irrational. He cannot allow reason because he is afraid – reason may disturb his belief. The man of faith lives with open eyes, alert, watchful. Ready to inquire…

    ..Then comes…3rd that is -TRUST…..Trust means faith has arrived at the goal. Faith is fulfilled, one has come to know, then trust arises… TRUST, simply means “I KNOW” there is no question of “I Believe” nor any question of the doubt…

    Thanks for reading… 🙂

    For more visit my blog… 🙂


    • I’ve never heard the belief and faith defined the way you define them. Not sure I can really wrap my head around belief being a negative things. Beliefs have certain been used for negative things. But that doesn’t mean they are all inherently negative. Where do you learn this view?


      • Thanks for your view.. About belief I would like to make clear that belief is done where one do not want to do inquiry, blindly accept ideology…one simpley close eyes and do believe.. whereas the faith means to be open for everything no fear around.. For example so called religious persons believes whereas one scientist will be having faith not the belief for discovery of anything..he will not be worried about his openness… It cannot happen in case of belief.. Believer cannot be open, if it happens belief will vanish same moment.. There is very minute difference for Understanding the Faith and Belief that i tired to put into words.. 🙏


  20. I checked your comment and after reading i found….your some lines…”Either i let the doubts destroy my faith because it was an irrational faith”… I think if you replace the word FAITH with BELIEF and then read your own comment it will make many things clear… FAITH and DOUBT dont belong together…. When one have Faith, he/she is ready to inquire, open and watchful… whereas one beliver is closed and have fear, beliver will be closed always but not the one who is having Faith… i appreciate your comment and i will be happy to hear have your views back… do not hesitate to write… Keep smiling.. 🙂


    • So what you’re saying is that it would have been, in my words, “an irrational belief” as opposed to “an irrational faith.” In which case my belief was erroneous and my faith in truth is what let me destroy it. I actually kinda like that idea, where a belief is something you cling to and faith is what lets you cling to it. Belief and doubt would be opposites, and faith would be the lubricant between them. Very cool. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yes, dear… The faith is very rational and the belief is utterly irrational. The person of belief will not be open; believer has to remain closed in his/her own darkness -only then can he or she go on believing… Here I am trying to indicate very minute difference and that is the belief simply means you accept things just with blindness, have prejudice on one side…. Whereas Faith means accepting things and being totally open to know the truth to inquire, to question, a faithful person will be ready to listen; he/she is in every way ready to understand the opposite viewpoint. Who knows? The opposite viewpoint may be right. The person of faith has no prejudice to protect; he or she has no a priori idea; he or she is not rooted in any ideology at all. Is simply open, inquiring, searching, seeking and is Ready to listen to everything… This cannot happen with a believer, because of closeness… Belief and believer is irrational….
        One more thing I want to mention here is believers never reach the ultimate meaning, TRUST – only those who have faith reach TRUTH. Faith is the pilgrimage and trust is the destiny. Begin in faith, end in TRUST… Trust means you know so there is no question of belief- for what one will need to belief when have got TRUST.. Only those who don’t know believe…

        Your valuable comments highly appreciated… 🙂
        Keep smiling… Take care 🙂


      • Belief is not irrational. And faith can be irrational. Where are you learning this from or did you come up with it?


      • Dear it is my view and i given my reply based on life experince. By the way i am not imposing my views on Anyone, i tried to simplify and given detailed comments on Faith & Belief… Maybe you are right from your side with your Belief, it happens… Anyway stay happy Keep smiling.. 🙂


      • If you are interested to read more you may visit my latest post at the following link….


  21. My 2nd comment is replying to ” Squid” comment on this page…


  22. Nice post, well written. The other statement Philip Yancey makes on the subject is another distinction of opposites. I included it with a sketch of Yancey here…

    But this subject is so misunderstood by many well-meaning Christians who yearn for certainty (which as you stated, removes the need for faith). I love this quote from Leslie Newbigin: “The certainty of mathematical propositions, as Einstein often observed, is strictly proportional to their remoteness from reality…. What is clear is that the Cartesian confidence in mathematics as the locus of certainty is part of the same dualism that dominated classical thought, the dualism that separated a world of pure forms known by the mind from the world of material things known by the senses. Certainty belongs to the former, not to the latter. Only statements that can be doubted have any contact with reality.”


  23. Faith may be the opposite of certainty in semantic terms – but not in the spiritual world. “By faith we understand…” says the Hebrews writer. Doubts or unbelief (there really is no difference) are no more to be welcomed than measles or a broken leg. Yes you will recover and progress in that sense. Yes they are a part of life. But we would be better off without them surely!


    • Better off? Maybe… but it’s in our doubt that our faith can really grow. Doubt should not be feared and ignored. But embraced, understood, and used as an opportunity to grow our faith.


  24. re Job – he wallowed around and complained while he was trying to work everything out. But he got a good telling-off from God for it. This is surely not an example we would want to imitate…. What was his mistake? He didn’t pray and ask God for his perspective on it all. But then he learned. And we should surely learn from his example.


  25. I’m very happy to live without doubts, thank you very much. It’s much better – believe me. Doubt is unfortunate.


    • Doubt is not a choice. I would prefer to live without doubt as well… but it’s not just a switch. And there have been growth from doubt. Doubt is not negative.


      • Thanks for your replies. I do have sympathy with those who experience doubt. But I would discourage perspectives that suggest these are an intrinsically good or even necessary thing. Too post-modern in my view, influenced by our Western liberal Zeitgeist. Hope you understand where I’m coming from.


  26. I want to turn the question back to you. What is it you doubt? In searching my own heart, I can truthfully say, I do not remember a time when I doubted the goodness of God, the love of God, the truth of His word. I have not always understood and still don’t the workings of God. I’ve not always been happy with God’s answers. But even in those things He always brings me back to Him. And yes, I have asked the Lord to show me why something is such and such but not because I doubted Him. I doubted my understanding. And He has always answered my questions, sometimes with understanding and sometimes with His grace being sufficient for my weakness.


    • I understand what you’re saying believe4147. We need to be clear what we are talking about. Not understanding something and seeking for a better understanding is never doubt or unbelief in my book. Nor is disappointment, complaint or frustration. The sort of durable, rock-solid belief in God’s existence, benevolence, control and wisdom which you describe are the essence of faith. Keep that up – and many blessings on you! Such faith makes me proud to be in the same family. Truly.

      Liked by 2 people

      • Thank you for your kind and encouraging words. I too am thankful to know we belong to the same family. We can’t have too many brothers and sisters in Christ. I appreciate your follow too and hope it blesses you.

        Liked by 1 person

    • I’ve doubted God’s love, goodness, his plan for me, his plan for humankind. Outside that I’ve had doubts that stem from human interpretation and how we live our faith. Such as interpretations of heaven/hell, views of scripture, and what the role of the church is.

      Everybody has a different experience. But for me I’ve spent years praying and never heard or felt anything. It’s hard not to doubt and question in those times. At least for me. My faith is built solely on feelings, but they sure are apart of it.

      Doubt has played a pivotal role in the growth of my faith. I know many others have experience similar. While others have never doubted. That’s great if someone has never doubted! But misunderstanding of why someone doubts has lead to a belief that doubt =sin. And that’s not at all what I see in the Bible. Even if it is, I would trade the faith have now BECAUSE of my doubt.

      Liked by 1 person

  27. I had a massive stroke in 2012. This was the beginning of faith for me, my walk with the Lord. Before then I doubted God’s love because I was gay. I doubted His love because my best friend committed suicide. I doubted His love because I was raped. I found God because of the stoke. For the first time in 33 years, I am at peace.


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