Doubt is not sin
An interaction with a man who claimed belief in the past but walked away from Christianity got me thinking about doubt and how to respond to it.
In a Sunday School class when I was young, a zealous Bible School student confidently told me that it is a sin to doubt. I cannot recall if he supported this claim with any Scripture.
I suppose you could find some support in James 1:6 where we are told that the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea. But I have not found any other support for calling doubt a sin.
An example from John the Baptist
All his adult life, John knew that he was the forerunner for the Messiah. He did not fail in this mission. John went out into the desert with his message of repentance and cleansing. He challenged the religious leaders of the day and pointed the hears of the people toward the coming Messiah.
But something went terribly wrong. John got on the wrong side of Herod and was thrown in prison as a result. In Matthew 11, we find John the Baptist in prison even though he faithfully proclaimed the message he was sent to preach. John did exactly what he was commissioned to do and it did not turn out so well.
It can be inferred that as a result of his imprisonment, John was working through some doubts about his calling and whether he has misunderstood who Jesus was. Matthew 11:3 records that John sends a delegation to Jesus to ask, “Are You the Expected One, or shall we look for someone else?” In other words, did I misunderstand that you are the long-expected Messiah? Are you who I thought you to be? Also implied in this question is, if you are the Messiah, why am I in prison right now?
Responding like Jesus
I think that Jesus’ response is instructive.
Jesus answered and said to them, “Go and report to John what you hear and see: the blind receive sight and the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, and the poor have the gospel preached to them. “And blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.” As these men were going away, Jesus began to speak to the crowds about John, “What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind?” (Matthew 11:4–7, NASB)
Notice that Jesus does not rebuke John for his doubt and questions. Instead he offers evidence that John was correct in his understanding. He addressed the doubt by offering affirmation and evidence.
Provide a forum for doubts to be addressed
In every church, in every service, there are people who are struggling with doubts. Some are big doubts and some are small, but those doubts need to be addressed. The church has often failed to provide a forum for these doubts to be expressed and discussed.
Here are a few ideas that church leaders could employ to address doubts:
- Provide an email address so that people in your church can send in questions and receive answers
- Post answers to the question on the church web site so that all who look there can benefit
- Take a Sunday night or midweek service to do a Q & A instead of a teaching time
- Provide a class on the foundational truths of Christianity and provide time at the end for Q & A.
- Encourage small group leaders to draw out doubts and questions so that they can be addressed
If you are a church leader and none of these work for you, find something that does work. This is especially important for the teens in your church. A recent survey shows that 60% of our kids walk away from faith; we certainly cannot argue that we’ve done this well.
Remember the definition of insanity is doing the same thing repeatedly and expecting a different result. Let’s do something different and move toward sanity.
What has been done in your church that has proven effective in addressing doubt?