Doubting Your Doubt
Is doubt to be accepted or rejected in faith? When does doubt indicate humility, the willingness to be wrong? And when doubt mask as fear, the unwillingness to take risks in faith?
Ask in faith, never doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind. – James 1:6 (NRSV)
I was weaned on Paul Tillich who said that doubt is not the opposite of faith but a part of faith.
More recently President Obama spoke of doubt as a part of faith, saying, “But remember too that the ultimate irony of faith is that it necessarily admits doubt.”
But long before Tillich or Obama, James was pretty tough on doubt and those who doubted. “For the doubter, being double-minded and unstable in every way, must not expect to receive anything from the Lord” (1:7).
So is doubt something to be accepted or rejected?
Doubt as Obama used the term seemed to mean that we never know fully or completely or without the possibility of error. In contrast to the “true believer” who believes they are absolutely right, there’s a place for doubt—self-doubt. That seems to me not only true, but wise. Faith entails humility.
But is there another kind of doubt that is suspect? James spoke of the doubter as “double-minded.” That seems to me different than doubt as knowing that we don’t know, not fully, not completely.
This doubt is an unwillingness to make a commitment and to take a risk in faith. It is never really knowing where one stands or taking a stand. It makes faith a kind of on- again/off-again thing.
At least sometimes, it is a good thing to doubt our doubts. It is a good thing to take the risk of trusting wholly and of surrendering ourselves without reservation to God’s care.
When doubt is a mask for fear, deliver us, to trust you wildly and wholly. Amen.
Tony Robinson, a United Church of Christ minister, is a speaker, teacher, and writer. He is the author of many books, including What’s Theology Got to Do With It: Convictions, Vitality and the Church. You can read Tony’s “Weekly Meditation” and “What’s Tony Thinking?” at his website, www.anthonybrobinson.com.