When Doubt Helps

Many of the poets have exclaimed the virtues of doubt.  For example, Robert Browning wrote,

The more of doubt, the stronger faith, I say,
If faith o’ercomes doubt.[1]

Also, Alfred Lord Tennyson wrote,

Perplext in faith, but pure in deeds,
At last he beat his music out.
There lives more faith in honest doubt,
Believe me, than in half the creeds.[2]

These passages challenge the conventional thinking of most Christians.  We normally think of doubt as evil, or at least as a weakness.  Did Paul not say whoever has doubts is condemned? (Rom. 14:23).

Poets are often wrong, and on their own they are hardly good guides for morality, but here they may have intersected with an important biblical precept.

According to the Bible, doubt is not a bad thing unless the person who doubts is not interested in settling his questions.  Truth has nothing to fear from doubts except the indifference of a person who is content to remain doubtful and without conviction.

Jesus promised,

Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you.  For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened. (Matt. 7:7-8)

God rewards the seeking heart.  Seeking always begins with doubt, but it is a special kind of doubt.  Not satisfied doubt but doubt working its way towards resolution.  The Lord is saying that if we seek, he will reward us with the truth we need at the end of our quest.

The Parable of the Sower focuses on the condition of the human heart.  The seed represents the Word of God.  The Sower scatters his seed indiscriminately on different kinds of soil, representing different hearts.  There is the hard, impenetrable heart that doesn’t care to hear truth.  Then there is the rocky, shallow heart that is quick to accept new ideas, but never allows them to take up root.  Then there is the thorny, distracted heart that allows opposing influences to choke out the truth.  Finally there is the good soil, the “honest and good heart” that is open to truth.  In this soil the gospel is able to take root and grow and produce fruit (Luke 8:4-15).

These passages teach us that what the mind thinks is not nearly as important as the condition it is in.  Without openness and seeking, the mind is sure to get stuck in a belief system that is worldly, inherited, or, worse yet, empty.

So the poets agree with the Bible this time.  Doubts are welcome as long as they are “honest” as Tennyson put it, or eventually overcome by faith as Browning has it.

Examine your faith.  Do you believe what you believe because you have always believed it?  Or is your faith the result of wrestling with your doubts, seeking answers, praying for guidance, and studying God’s word?  Seek and you will find.  Knock and the door will be opened to you.[3]

Father, give us an open and seeking heart.  Teach us what our hearts need to know.  Lead us to saving truth so that we will have a mature faith.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

[1] “Bishop Blougram’s Apology.”

[2] “In Memoriam A.H.H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII: 96.”

[3] The idea for this devotional comes from Leslie G. Thomas, Thomas’ Valedictory Sermons (Birmingham: Parchment Press, 1968), 46-50.

Posted on August 8, 2012

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Drew Kizer
Andrew Kingsley


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