No, Not All Doubt Is Sinful

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I have been known by those close to me to worry on occasion. More so in past years than at present, but nevertheless, I have succumb to the blighted thing more than I care to admit. But I must admit, I have succumbed to sinful doubt/worry before.

What I’ve noticed about worry (we might also consider it anxiety) is that it, and it’s inverse, faith, are not mutually exclusive. What I mean is, what might begin as a decision of faith, might soon become fraught with worry, then settle back into faith again, and so on as you continue forward in your decision. More often than not, it seems decisions of faith are soon tested, things get difficult, and then worry starts trying to stick its foot in the door. Then you restore faith and move on again. The process often repeats more than once. I think we often view faith and worry as completely ossified once we choose one or the other. And I’m not so sure it is.

When I consider James’ statement on the “double-minded man” in James 1:8, I’m tempted to think that he’s referring to what I described in the previous paragraph, but I don’t think so. Frankly, a man who makes a decision of faith, who’s faith is then tested by difficulty, and then struggles with worry but moves forward anyway, is a normal, thinking man of faith. A man who has no such thoughts is probably a blissfully ignorant person who hasn’t thought things through. His “faith” is likely just impetuosity and blind zeal, and not faith at all. Thankfully, we have a merciful God who often lets these people succeed in their endeavors anyway despite being loose canons in the name of faith. It kind of reminds me of all the times Barney Fife chaotically bumbles everything while Andy calmly nabs the bad guys and let’s Barney think his ridiculous plan worked.

What makes the normal, thinking man of faith different from the double-minded man, from what I can tell, is forward movement or growth. Now, while it’s possible that James is using the “double-minded man” as a reference to an unsaved man (c.f. James 4:8), we can consider how it applies as a general principle regarding faith in any person. A true, double-minded man is so torn between faith and doubt that he ultimately makes no move. This reveals that his ultimate proclivity or predisposition leans toward doubt. The absence of decision indicates which side of the faith/doubt knife edge he’s really on- the doubt side.

The thinking man however, he also struggles with doubt at times, but he continues acting on the decision of faith. He never lets it become worry. He just continues moving in the direction his initial faith took him. His progress reveals what side of the faith/doubt knife edge he is on- the faith side.

I am reminded of John the Baptist. In many ways, he seemed like a man of great faith. He was willing to bear the reproach of a unique life of separation. He was willing to expose the religious leaders for what they were. He openly rebuked Herod for taking his brother Phillip’s wife. Yet in prison, John was suddenly unsure if Jesus was in fact the one he’d been looking for. What happened? Was John double-minded? No, John was a thinking man. He’d expected Jesus to come and judge Israel in Jerusalem but instead He was healing people in Galilee and not even being received well there (c.f. John 8:34). Meanwhile John is incarcerated and probably not expecting to survive. Don’t give John a hard time here. He was simply thinking things through and doing so caused him to struggle, yet Jesus continued to speak well of him (Matthew 11:7-11).

The brethren that make “unshakeable” decisions of “faith” are often the ones that are dangerous. They experience no doubt because they’re not thinking. Often their families suffer hardships as a result of their alleged “faith.” Then they tell everyone what hero’s they are for suffering. Or, it’s possible that they do experience some doubt and just unwittingly think of it as something else, which is only a slightly better scenario.

I’m not attempting to justify all doubt. The doubt that should never characterize the Christian is the kind that is more powerful than his faith and hampers his progress in Christian growth, the kind that becomes worry (c.f. Philippians 4:6).  But some doubt seems to be a normal part of being a thinking person. One’s faith must simply be more than one’s natural doubt. His faith should be the majority stock holder, even if that only means fifty-one percent. Though small, that’s enough to say someone walks by faith. I know some might desire to bring Romans 14:23 into this subject, but without writing a whole additional post, I’ll just say that it really has nothing to do with that we’re talking about here, but rather the violating of one’s own conscience. Hebrews 11:6 might also be mentioned. But again, it doesn’t apply to this discussion because even a person who struggles with doubt but lets faith win the day, isn’t “without faith” and thus can still please God.

More faith is obviously better in some respects, and faith can/should be increased (1 Corinthians 10:15; Luke 17:5; Romans 10:17). A Christian who lives by faith certainly has doubts, but he simply lets faith win over doubt. I’m just not so sure that a Christian can ever make a major life decision by faith and keep that needle at full all the time without first totally emptying their head of all reason.

What are your thoughts? Is struggling with doubt always sinful, or is just succumbing to doubt sinful? Is doubt just a normal process in thinking people meant to be overcome by faith?