Study Guide: The Faith to Doubt

Sunday January 9, 2011 | Greg Boyd

Focus Scripture:

Brief Summary:

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.

Extended Summary:

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.

Reflection Questions:

  1. What questions or comments did you have about the sermon and supporting texts?
  2. How have you dealt with doubts in the past? Did you feel a lack of faith—if so, why did you feel a lack of faith?
  3. In what ways do you see faith and doubt interacting? Does doubt erase faith or does doubt enhance faith?
  4. When you think about friendships and relationships in your life, in what ways did you move past doubt in that relationship? Which of these ways were healthy? Which ones weren’t?
  5. Who in your life can you share your doubts (about God, Jesus, the Bible, etc…) with? In what healthy ways can you share your doubts with these people?