What is the relationship between faith and doubt? To have faith in Christ, must you have eradicated all doubts from your heart? Is it possible for faith and doubt to coexist?
I certainly hope so! For my whole life I have been curious and interested in asking questions. In college, I studied philosophy and became an expert in doubt! Yet my faith survived, even thrived. Even still, at times doubts remain.
From my experience talking with Christians, doubt is a regular part of faith. That doesn’t mean it is good – far from it! Doubt is a weakness, a result of our fallen nature. And yet, like all of our weaknesses, they can be overcome through the power of Christ.
In Mark 9, we read this difficult, beautiful story about a father who wrestled with doubt. We can learn much from him. His son was plagued by a demon, resulting in muteness and seizures. The disciples of Jesus tried to help him, but they weren’t able. Then Jesus showed up, and the man explained what was going on. Listen to their conversation.
And Jesus asked his father, “How long has this been happening to him?” And he said, “From childhood. 22 And it has often cast him into fire and into water, to destroy him. But if you can do anything, have compassion on us and help us.” 23 And Jesus said to him, “’If you can’! All things are possible for one who believes.” 24 Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” – Mark 9:21-24, ESV
As you may know, Jesus drove out the demon and healed the boy with a word. We should celebrate God’s power, but we can also learn four things about faith and doubt from the man’s conflicted statement.
- Be humble and honest about the state of your heart. The father in the story didn’t pretend to have it all together. He didn’t act like his faith was stronger than it really was. We too need to be humble enough to acknowledge whatever doubts have become mixed in with the faith in our heart. Be honest with yourself, God, your family, and your church.
- Let your desperate need drive your faith. If you are struggling with belief, but you’re not confronting your desperate need, chances are doubt will prevail. See, despite his doubts, the father was driven to cry out in faith to Jesus because he was desperate! Our spiritual condition is no less desperate.
- Look to God with whatever faith you have. The father had both faith and doubt in his heart. Did that make his faith weak? Perhaps, but weak faith in a strong God is still powerful! Don’t make grave mistake of thinking you have to have it all figured out before you can put faith in Christ. Look to God with whatever faith you have – no matter how big or how small – and let him grow it.
- Take your doubts to God, and ask him for help. The man knew he was plagued by doubt, but he wasn’t just content to stay there. He cried out, “I believe, help my unbelief!” He took his doubt to God for help. Doubt is a weakness, and that means we need God’s help. Only God can give us faith, and only God can strengthen our faith.
How about for you? In what ways do doubts confront your faith? Which of these prayers is the cry of your heart?
- I believe Jesus is Savior of the world, help my unbelief.
- I believe you forgave all my sin, help my unbelief.
- I believe you love me, help my unbelief.
- I believe my sin will never satisfy me, help my unbelief.
- I believe you can restore my marriage, help my unbelief.
- I believe you can draw my children to you, help my unbelief.
- I believe you are in control, help my unbelief.
Once again, weak faith in a strong God is still powerful! It is not the strength of our faith that saves us, but the strength of our Savior.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.” – Ephesians 2:8