On the Certainty of Doubt

By C. Michael Patton

Candles
Photo courtesy of J.Salmoral through Creative Commons License via Flickr

I have been in a conversation recently about doubt. Most specifically, the question that has risen is, "Can a true Christian doubt God at the most fundamental level?" A young woman just wrote to me and said that she envies Christians who don't ever doubt. I told her that there is no such thing. All people doubt!

Let me be clear (since this is something that many people would disagree with me on): I don't think that belief should ever be conceived of as "black and white." No, I am not talking about some form of relativism with regard to the nature of truth (i.e., there is no such thing as truth). What I am saying is that people vary with regard to the strength of their beliefs. And I am saying that this can vary from time to time. Belief can go up and down. In other words, belief is not something that you either have or you don't.

I have already revealed my proposition: a truly born again believer can doubt. Now let me define "fundamental level." What I mean is that a Christian can doubt to such a degree that he or she even doubts the very existence of God. Yes, I am assuming that you have done the same. I have and sometimes still do.

Where did this come from? I had a different conversation today when a lady, whom no one would ever expect, came to me in confidence expressing her inner pain. "I have recently been doubting the existence of God," she told me with much trepidation. I think that she was most surprised that I was not surprised (well, maybe a little).

A dictionary definition of a straight line is "the shortest path between two points." The definition of doubt, at least from one perspective, is the line that bridges our faith and perfect faith. I am under the assumption that no one has perfect faith. If this is true, then everyone's faith is lacking in some respect. This lack will take on different forms for different people and different circumstances. Sometimes it will show itself though particular habitual sins. Sometimes it is our own pride. Many times it takes the form of doubt at our most fundamental levels.

Temple1
Photo courtesy of J.Salmoral through Creative Commons License via Flickr

I don't believe that this is wrong. Let me step back and rephrase. In a fallen world with fallen people -- and Christians who are still battling the flesh -- should we expect anything else? Do you really believe that once you become a Christian doubt is no longer a foe? So it is wrong only in the sense that living in a fallen world is wrong. It is bad to the degree that being a resurrection short of full redemption is bad.

These are the words of another who sent me an email today: "I lived for so many years doubting as religion was crammed down my throat, and watched those very same people live in hatred and judgment...now I know that Christ is not about rituals, dogma, and I was so relieved to find out it was OK to question...I just didn't know what I didn't know."

My assumption is that many people, like the one above, are afraid to make a commitment because they have worked under the unfounded assumption that our faith must be perfect. J. P. Moreland once said if someone believes 51% and disbelieves 49%, they are a believer in that which holds the greatest percent.

Do Christians doubt? Of course we do. But this does not mean we don't believe. You may be at 63%, 95%, or 51%, but know that your ability to rise above 50% is of the Lord. He is with you and will hold you tight. Doubt is a necessary by-product of imperfection. It is a necessary evil that accompanies us on our road to belief.

C. Michael Patton blogs at Parchment and Pen. He earned his Th.M. from Dallas Theological Seminary and served as a pastor at Stonebriar Community Church in Frisco, Texas. His latest project is the Credo House of Theology, the headquarters for Reclaiming the Mind Ministries.

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