“O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). These words spoken by Christ to Peter echo to believers today. Though our faith is granted by God (Philippians 1:29) and can never be taken away because it is from God, we would be honest to admit our faith in God’s Word and promises is not always as steadfast and unflinching as we think.
Doubt is introduced by Satan when he asks the first question in the Bible, “Did God actually say…?” (Genesis 3:1) to which Eve falls prey catapulting humanity to life in the presence of sin. Rapidly, we see great heroes of faith ensnared by the temptation to doubt. Abraham and his wife Sarah both laugh at the promise of having a child in their old age (Genesis 17:17; 18:12). Elijah runs away from Jezebel and begs God to take away his life (1 Kings 19:1-5). John the Baptist questions if Jesus is indeed the Messiah (Matthew 11:3). And sadly, even the disciples after being eyewitnesses to many divine miracles doubt the resurrection of their Lord (Luke 24:38).
The temptation to doubt is common among believers, but how do we understand the existence of doubt in the believer’s life? How do we minister and counsel those who are doubting? And does Scripture give us any guidance?
Doubt Is Not Necessarily Lack of Christian Faith
Doubt is wavering between two minds or lacking confidence, assurance, or complete trust in God. It is a deviation from the truth about God in thought or deed. James describes the man who doubts like, “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6). Doubt casts shadows on our faith and questions the trustworthiness of God’s word saying, “perhaps my sight or my reasoning is greater than my faith.” When we doubt, the factory of our mind manufactures a deviation and misrepresentation from the truth of God shaking our dependability to God in the core.
It will serve us well to understand that doubt does not necessarily nullify the existence of faith. The Scripture reveals of Abraham, “No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God” (Romans 4:20) and of Peter that when doubt assailed him when he walked on water, Christ ascertained the disciple had little faith. Doubt in the believer is therefore a weakness in faith and should be carefully distinguished from the doubt of an unbeliever. The unbeliever has no Christian faith, for he rejects the gospel of Jesus Christ and refuses to turn to God in repentance and is therefore under condemnation. The believer, is saved by faith, has confessed sin, repented and received forgiveness, and is not under condemnation (Romans 8:1), although he may still struggle with doubt. Though he stumbles in his belief, God will be able to keep the believer from failing and will preserve him to the end (Jude 1:24).
Doubt has many shades and variations, and the condition of its occurrence is different among believers. For instance, one might find occasion to doubt God’s ability to deliver them from a trial like the Psalmist who cried out in alarm, “I am cut off from your sight” (Psalm 31:22). Another may doubt the possibility of God’s power to bless them like Sarah who wondered, “After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I have pleasure?” (Genesis 18:12). Yet another may doubt assurance or the tenants of salvation like the churches in Asia Minor to whom John writes, “I write to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13). Scripture shows all these variations of doubt do not necessarily point to an unregenerate heart but may point to a believer wavering in faith.
Doubt Is Not of God and Requires Repentance
The temptation to doubt is common to believers, but it does not come from God for, “God Himself tempts no one” (James 1:13). God is not a God of confusion (1 Corinthians 14:33) planting doubt in our minds where He has already sown assurance in His word. In fact, when Christ appears to the disciples doubting His resurrection He said to them, “Peace to you! … Why are you troubled and why do doubts arise in your hearts?” (Luke 24:36,38). Christ found no pleasure in the doubting of His disciples.
When doubt arises and we are tempted to say, “God cannot truly deliver me from my hardship” or “God surely cares not for the state of my circumstance,” we must be quick to remember God’s ways are not disordered, and He is against the fog of doubt that stumbles our faith. We are to strongly defy doubt and run to the Lord in repentance, our lips quick to cry out with tears, “Lord I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
It is written for our instruction that Abraham repented and trusted God when God’s promise to Him was difficult to comprehend. He, “grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God fully convinced God was able to do what He had promised” (Romans 4:20) even when in doubt, “he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about 100 years old) or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb” (Romans 4:19). It is in these same footsteps that we are commanded to follow when we are tempted to doubt (Romans 4:12).
Doubt Provides Opportunities To Show Mercy
How then do we minister to those who doubt? It is of no great surprise Jude, the half-brother of Jesus, who once rejected Christ as the Messiah writes to believers to, “have mercy on those who doubt” (Jude 22). Tucked away in Jude’s short epistle, the instruction is easily overlooked. Jude is commanding us to be gentle, encourage, and be tenderhearted with those who are wavering. Jude is telling us to compassionately remind those who doubt that God has not abandoned them. Remind them that God is at work within them both for sanctification and service. Assure them that God will indeed do what He has promised.
When John the Baptist doubted and inquired of Christ, “Are you the One who is to come, or shall we look for another?”(Matthew 11:13) the Lord strengthened his faith in mercy. Christ performed many miracles in that moment to assure John of His messiahship. Showing mercy, Christ did not rebuke His forerunner but turning to the crowd He affirmed John’s ministry and called him the greatest prophet among those born of women (Matthew 11:11). True to the prophecy of Isaiah, Christ crushed not the bruised reed, nor did He snuff out the smoldering wick (Isaiah 42:3). In the same manner when our fellow brother or sister is tempted to doubt, let us be quick to show mercy and be slow to rebuke.