Doubt

Preaching and Worship Resources about Doubt

Doubt both accompanies true faith and threatens true faith. On the one hand, radical doubt could lead a person to disbelieve or dismiss the promises of God and the truths revealed in Scripture in a nearly wholesale fashion, leading to unbelief. On the other hand, doubt seems for now to be also an inevitable component of true faith as we see God and God's truths only "through a glass darkly."

In Scripture

You of little faith, why did you doubt? "Peter answered him, `Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.' He said, `Come.' So Peter got out of the boat, started walking on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he noticed the strong wind, he became frightened, and beginning to sink, he cried out, `Lord, save me!' Jesus immediately reached out his hand and caught him, saying to him, `You of little faith, why did you doubt?'" (Matt. 14:28-31).

If you have faith "Jesus answered them, `Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only will you do what has been done to the fig tree, but even if you say to this mountain, `Be lifted up and thrown into the sea,' it will be done. Whatever you ask for in prayer with faith, you will receive'" (Matt. 21:21-22).

"When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted" (Matt.28:17).

"They were startled and terrified, and thought that they were seeing a ghost. He said to them, `Why are you frightened, and why do doubts arise in your hearts? Look at my hands and my feet; see that it is I myself. Touch me and see; for a ghost does not have flesh and bones as you see that I have.' And when he had said this, he showed them his hands and his feet. While in their joy they were disbelieving and still wondering, he said to them, `Have you anything here to eat?' They gave him a piece of broiled fish, and he took it and ate in their presence" (Luke 24:37-43).

Doubting Thomas "Then he said to Thomas, `Put your finger here and see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it in my side. Do not doubt but believe'" (John 20:27).

"If any of you is lacking in wisdom, ask God, who gives to all generously and ungrudgingly, and it will be given you. But ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind; for the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord" (James 1:5-8).

Points to Ponder

Faith and Doubt: As you might predict, no one in the New Testament assails any and all doubt more forcefully than the always hard-hitting apostle James (cf. James 1:5-8). For his part, though, James's older brother, Jesus, seemed to go a little easier on his oft-doubting disciples and friends. True, Jesus regularly told the disciples not to doubt and wondered at times why they did let so many doubts creep into their minds. Still, he did not berate those who doubted their own eyes after the resurrection. For all we know, Jesus had a smile on his face when he confronted even "Doubting Thomas" a week after Easter. And even when Jesus was in the presence of both worshipful honor and dubious doubt as he gave the Great Commission in Matthew 28, Jesus did not on that occasion lash out at the doubters among the gathered group of disciples. True, if faith were as thick and substantial and firm as it could possibly be, then anyone with such faith could move mountains, Jesus said, and we can believe he meant it. Even so, Jesus never seemed overly surprised that no one did move mountains. In fact, if it's divine astonishment you are looking for in the gospels, Jesus expressed that mostly when he encountered strong faith!

An Element of Faith? The theologian Paul Tillich once asserted that doubt is not the opposite of faith but is in fact an element of faith. Faith's opposite would be agnosticism or outright atheism but not doubt. This is a doctrinal paradox, but that may not count against it in that Christian theology contains lots of fruitful paradoxes. A person who claims that he never doubts may be in some degree of denial. As many theologians have noted, a faith that is untouched by struggle, that never even pauses over Holocausts and cancers and pogroms of various kinds, may well be turning a blind eye to the most vexing questions ordinary people ask every day: Where is God? Why did God allow this or that to happen? Why do the evil prosper and the faithful suffer? "Doubts are the ants in the pants of faith. They keep it awake and moving" Frederick Buechner once wrote. Even where faith clearly has the upper hand in a person's life and is firm and solid and a source of tremendous comfort, there will be moments (and possibly now and then longer seasons) when doubts nag at the edges of faith, forcing the believer to ask hard questions but — like the psalms of lament — asking those questions of God.

Faith, Hope, and Doubt: Faith, as given by the Spirit, knows many things. But it does not know them completely and does not possess the fullness of God's promises yet. That is why we hope for things, but hope would be unnecessary if we could see everything clearly now, as Paul pointed out. Where faith meets hope and where hope encounters the hard questions and circumstances of life in a still-broken world, an element of doubt is always possible, even where faith remains strong.

Frederick Buechner: "Many of us have faith in God and yet we have doubts, too, and in the long run perhaps it is just as well that we have them. At least doubts prove that we are in touch with reality, with the things that threaten faith as well as with the things that nourish it. If we are not in touch with reality, then our faith is apt to be blind, fragile, and irrelevant."

Craig Barnes: "It's likely that at the end of their lives, Abraham, Sarah, the disciples, and Paul would all have agreed that receiving God's grace was the best thing that could have ever happened to them. There are plenty of indications, though, that along the way they had their doubts. Since most of life is lived along the way, we spend most of our time wondering what is so gracious about the grace we have received. It is a good question because it tells the truth and telling the truth always leads us back to Jesus."


Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.