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The Faith to Doubt

• Greg Boyd

Faith is sometimes understood as the lack of doubt. Doubt can be seen as the enemy of faith; however, doubt is not always the enemy. When wrestling with God, it is important not to doubt God’s character. We will always have doubt about questions on a broad range because we are human and finite, but God’s character need never be doubted.

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Faith is a complicated topic that can be misunderstood. Even worse, faith can be taught wrong and lead people to lives of judgment or pain. One of the ways in which this way of teaching faith leads people astray is through the idea that faith is the opposite of doubt. In this model of faith, if someone is to doubt anything about God or what they are taught, then they have no faith and are in need or repentance. Faith becomes like a gas gauge, and people are constantly left to wonder how much faith they need. This type of faith model is harmful for three main reasons.

The first reason is it can be disastrous to a person’s growth as a Christian. If faith has the absence of doubt, learning is extremely difficult because learning requires the element of doubt. A person following this model of faith can easily run their lives with the saying of “if its new, it can’t be true; if its old, it has been told”. This type of thinking works great if a person is the only person in history who was given the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth from the first day they were born. This type of thinking leads to narrow-mindedness and having to constantly protect oneself from every new piece of information that isn’t a part of one’s truth. Judgment is a natural consequence of this type of thinking.

The second reason is it gives a person an Us vs. Them mindset. If doubt is evil, then a person who doubts is evil. This puts a judgment on anyone that doesn’t think the same. It can quickly lead to the idea that anyone that thinks differently than another person or disagrees or questions is sinning. Commonly, a person that thinks this way needs to surround themselves with other people that think the same. If they don’t, it will cause a crisis of faith or judgment of others that think differently.

The final, and probably most important reason, is that this model of faith is idolatrous. This faith model requires a human to have certainty about everything they believe and know. This requires a psychological human effort—put another way, a person’s worth, security, and core identity are wrapped up in how much certainty they have or their group has in its belief. This is idolatrous because a person’s level of certainty becomes of greater concern than what they are trying to be certain of—namely, that Jesus is Lord. It doesn’t matter that someone believes Jesus is Lord–it becomes more important how much they believe it! Doubt, within this faith model, is seen as the opposite of faith because questioning anything about Jesus, God, or the Bible reduces that certainty and, therefore, reduces a person’s faith.

Faith is much more than doubt and faith can withstand doubt. Faith is a covenant term that is centered on commitment rather than psychological certainty. A commitment, or faith, in Jesus is to commit to having a relationship with Jesus. Similar to marriage, when we take our vows at the altar to get married, we are not certain about the future. We may feel certain that our spouse will treat us right and never do anything wrong, but one only has to look at the divorce rate to know that there is a good reason to doubt the happily ever. Does this mean that none of us should get married because we doubt? Of course not, and in the same way, we should not be worried about doubt in our covenant with Jesus because we can work through doubt just as we would work through doubt in a marriage. Faith in Jesus can withstand doubt.

Faith, then, becomes much more about doubt within a relationship than doubt outside of a relationship. When we see faith as having a commitment to Jesus, then we can have doubts and work them out within our relationship with Jesus. We may doubt when we see that the Gospels have differing stories, but we continue in our relationship with Jesus while we research and learn about the differing stories. We don’t immediately assume that having that doubt excludes us from having a relationship with Jesus. Our faith with Jesus is not dependent on having all the right answers, but is dependent on God’s love for us. When we live in this truth, then we have the faith to doubt and question without fearing we’ve lost God’s love or judging those around us.

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Topics: Blessings, Faith, Prayer

Sermon Series: Faith and Doubt

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Focus Scripture:

  • James 1:5-8

    If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.

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12 thoughts on “The Faith to Doubt

  1. Vinny says:

    God has used Greg’s sermons to convict my soul in some profound ways. I’m truly grateful for him having the faith to doubt and the courage to confront it head on!


  2. George Alves says:

    Another helpful message by Greg. Perfect title. Each time I hear one of your sermons another light comes on, another smoldering wick of my faith is ignited, another bruised reed in my soul is restored. Thank you Greg for your faithfulness to God and his creation and thank you Woodland Hills Church for sharing your teaching pastor with the world through the internet. The last few years of my life have been the toughest but my faith has grown the most – the Meetinghouse here in Canada with Bruxy and the other staff and Woodland Hills with Greg have been a God send.
    Keep plugging away brother! God Bless you all.

  3. Lindy Combs says:

    Hey George!
    I am in WA state, west side, Whidbey Island. I “ditto” your comments about Greg’s sermons.

    EVERYTHING YOU WROTE: “Each time I hear one of your sermons another light comes on, another smoldering wick of my faith is ignited, another bruised reed in my soul is restored. Thank you Greg for your faithfulness to God and his creation and thank you Woodland Hills Church for sharing your teaching pastor with the world through the internet. The last few years of my life have been the toughest but my faith has grown the most.”

    It is all good.

    Pasor Greg: I loved your humor!!!!

  4. Lilly says:

    Honest discourse does more to not alienate seekers than obnoxious surety. I had a pastor tell me one time that I was an unorthodox Christian because I differed with him on some particular beliefs. He was so sure and so right and so capable of alienating anyone who was not in his favored camp. I so enjoy the “real” that I hear on the site here. It is the kind of discourse we should have with our friends and neighbors–the kind of conversation that doesn’t declare I have all the answers, but rather says, let’s take this journey together.

    Thanks for your work and keep up the great work there in the frozen North! Love from CA.

  5. Nicole says:

    I’m reading a book titled ‘On Job’ by Gustavo Gutierrez. Just wondering if you’ve read this book, Greg. It is so good, it’s my third time through it. My pastor says it’s the best book on Job that he’s ever read. What you say about Job sounds like you may have read this book. All the best to you and your church in this new year.

    Greetings from Vancouver, BC Canada.

  6. Terry Glenn says:

    This subject has been immeasurably important to me. My father, a pastor since I can remember, died on Sunday, March 27th at about 10:30pm of cancer. As you can imagine, being a pastor, everyone around him had faith. He had faith. We had faith. We were surrounded by the “certainty” that would guarantee his healing. He died. I’ve never been so destroyed by anything in my life. I love my father as I can only imagine Jesus loves His. I would not and will not leave my faith over the matter. But those nagging questions cannot be ignored. What happened? Why? Is the bible true? Everything was shaken even though I promised my dad it wouldn’t be if he died. It was. Pastor Greg, thank you for this teaching. It means worlds to me. I am blessed daily by your understanding of God’s word. Be encouraged that what you have been called to do is important and appreciated not just on Sundays but every second of every day as people are set free by God’s wonderful wisdom. Thank you.

  7. Kathy Hude says:

    I really needed this message, and am so thankful I found you on facebook. I was in a head on collision De.31, 2008 leaving me a “Wreck”. I should not lived through this, but they but me back together and I am still here. So I think in my mind I thought since he saved me, rebuilt me, that he had a plan for me, so obviously He would heal me. Well here we are almost 4yrs later and NO I am not healed. I never prayed to be healed, I just believed. So about 6 months ago, I started praying to be healed, and things only are getting worse. I started with the sermon on Fear, then went to this sermon on belief, and praying. Now I don’t, know what to believe, because I was one of those that believed in James. And obviously I am not being healed. I won”t to be a good witness and ambassador of Christ, but all I do is lay in bed, see nobody, go very few places. So how can I be a good witness. I don’t know! where am I here! All I have ever prayed for was Wisdom, Understanding, and discernment. And I believe that prayer has been truly answer, however I have screwed up on this matter a time a two. And those 2 times changed my life and the life of my family for the worse. So it was a really bad misjudgement. You are right I don’t know, I am 65 and I still don’t know. but you are right I am committed to Jesus Christ! Since I am home bound, I truly thank you do sharing your wisdom of the scriptures over the internet, and I thank God for leading me to your website. Not sure what I will do when I run out of sermons I listen to them daily.
    And I too enjoy your humor! 🙂

  8. Bill says:

    Just more fairytales for the sheep!

  9. Jim LePage says:

    Hey Bill – Care to elaborate?

  10. Frank Bell says:

    This version of faith made the most sense to me. I hope more people accept it because it can lead to less division in the church by leading to greater honesty, tolerance and a mind open to healthy questions. There is too much black and white thinking in the church which can actually
    facilitate the loss of faith

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