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Church Leadership

Freedom to Doubt

There is great integrity in a leader who fosters doubt in his congregation

Humans possess curious natural instincts. Of all of creation, no creature is more curious than humans.

God created us with this natural instinct. It’s as evident in the Garden as it is in your heart today.

Great faith is produced within an ecosystem where question is a free fulcrum between doubting God and having great trust.

Doubt is not the enemy of faith.

Indoctrination is.

Doubt is normal, it lives in a persons heart from his first breath to his last.

Fear of questioning inhibits faith development.

Doubt is not the enemy of the church.

Fear of doubt is.

Great faith does not come through eliminating doubt.

Great faith comes when a person has measured doubt’s full weight and chosen faith.

Consider Thomas

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”

A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”

Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”

Then Jesus told him, “Because you have seen me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:24-29

What’s the point?

Often times, the biggest doubter among you– given the freedom to doubt, will develop the deepest faith.

We are not called to eliminate doubt.

How did Jesus deal with Thomas’ doubt? He chastised him a little, but allowed Thomas to express his doubt. Jesus didn’t look down on Thomas because of his doubt. Instead he knew that by allowing Thomas the freedom to doubt, a faith weighed and tested, would generate great faith.

And as a result Jesus knew Thomas would become a rock solid believer and took the Gospel to India.

By Adam McLane

Adam McLane is a partner at The Youth Cartel, co-author of A Parent's Guide to Understanding Social Media, blogger of 10+ years, and a fan of all things San Diego State University Aztecs.

11 replies on “Freedom to Doubt”

this is good stuff. one question I might ask is about faith & doubt on opposing sides of the spectrum?

it sounds like it’s faith & certainty the way you described it. I think that leaves me in a better place to embrace doubt as a part of faith and conversation with GOD. I want to doubt the things that hold my faith hostage

I wrestled with how to best illustrate this concept. I knew I wanted questioning to be the fulcrum… because it really is. And I was wondering if freedom/creativity fit in there…

Originally, I drew it as a cycle… but that didn’t feel right either. I went with the teeter totter because there’s some sense of balance. Not that they are on opposite extremes but because they tend to flip flop one over the other just a bit from time to time.

Adam – with all that has been going on in my and Andrew’s life this post has really spoken deeply into my heart. Thank you for sharing.

Thanks for that Brenda. If people in my ministry know one thing about me it’s that I don’t have it all together. The only one who lived this life perfectly was Jesus.

Looking forward to hanging with your husband this week.

“Doubt is normal, it lives in a persons heart from his first breath to his last.”

My push against this is as a believer in Scriptural Truth, how do we define normal? When I read Scripture I see that doubt was a big player in the course of action taken by Adam and Eve. I agree in some ways that curiosity and questioning is good and beneficial but to what limit? And where is the line that these become wrong and even sinful? Just because Thomas doubted does not make it good. To me, it just means God understands our frailty and weakness and still meets us there. I am not saying no one should not question and seek to know but James 1:6 is clear in stating that “when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.” And in Matthew 14:31 doubt is the reason Peter began to sink. I don’t know if doubt is something to be encouraged or if maybe there is a better term to use in place of it. Even in the Garden doubt is part of the tool that Satan used to tempt Adam and Eve. Just some thoughts I have.

I would agree with that but my struggle is still the definition of “normal.” I see doubt so closely tied to the sinful nature and am wondering how that plays into normal. I may be arguing an absolutely mute point. I don’t see doubt as an option in the New Heavens and Earth yet it would seem Adam and Eve had the ability to doubt thus leading to sin. I don’t know if this makes any sense to anybody else. I am not denying anything you are saying, just questioning where it fits.

Your assumption that doubt is a sin is false, IMO.

And if something is innate to every human from Adam/Eve on… it’s normative. You could even say that God created us with the ability to doubt. (free will)

Ok. But I am not calling doubt sin, I just see it closely tied to sin in many cases. I only say this because in my experiences with people I know that have fostered “doubt” specifically I have seen a losing faith rather than a strengthening. So for me, when I see people begin to doubt God then I see people begin to pursue sin.
I fully understand your definition of God creating in us free will and it being normative because it is innate and I appreciate it.
So in a way I guess you could say I doubt doubt. I struggle with the concept of doubt because of the many times in Scripture that God was (for a lack of better term) upset with those who doubted Him, i.e. when Israel doubted His goodness and pursued sin.

I will freely admit my push against doubt is fear because of personally seeing those I know chose doubt which enabled them to walk away from faith. Maybe the issue really is the lack of someone to properly walk them through their doubt?

According to Jesus, you can know what faith is like a child can… you “just believe.”

There is a texture to faith, though, that isn’t revealed until after doubt.

I’d argue that it’s the depth of our questions – not the bumper-sticker skarkiness of our declarations – that lead us to a deep relationship with God.

Doubt is a pretty broad word… i liken to “love” but few of us think about doubt deeply. I like the concept of “spiritual” doubt because it gives me freedom to question my wrong thinking about who God… something we are constantly pushing against. I doubt my theology and it’s nuances. Truth be told my faith over the last 25 years is stronger & deeper but my theology has changed and shifted. I needed doubt intellectually to grow in my faith, to understand Scripture.

When we define doubt as apposed to faith the process becomes adversarial. I think this is what I see in students…. “if I can’t question and doubt then it must be hiding something” as a youth pastor do I have to cover for God? I think in these times we are not worried about students doubting God but our context & theology. Maybe we are more concerned they are doubting us… is our faith, job, theology and identity enmeshed?

again… I believe doubt & questioning are the two sides of the same coin. The issue is one of faith vs certainty. This is where the church & religious leaders always get it wrong. Think about what the pharisees need to to question and doubt?

To me the best example is the tree God places in the garden. In a perfect place he initiates questioning of everything by that very act. It’s good and serves a purpose in the perfect garden relationship. Doubt is always about building faith… when we set up faith & doubt as opposite sides of the continuum it confuses the process.

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