Last Sunday I preached a sermon on Mark 9:14-29 called “I Believe; Help My Unbelief!” Those were the words of the father of the boy who was demonized just before Jesus set both the boy and his father free by casting out the unclean spirit. In response to the Lord’s question about faith, the man said, “I believe; help my unbelief!” Yes, he had faith but he also had some doubts. The man’s faith was not always strong, which I think all of us who are honest can relate to.
The father’s honest response got me thinking about doubt. As I did, I came across some of the thoughts of Os Guinness recorded in one of my notebooks.
According to Guinness, doubt is not unbelief. Doubt is a middle ground between faith and unbelief. He says that doubt is unstable and fluid by nature – it can easily move toward either faith or unbelief depending upon how we “feed” it.
There are three things we need to know about doubt:
- Doubts are normal. Everyone has them, some more than others, but they’re common to all of us.
- Doubts are unique. Not everyone’s doubts are the same. In other words, it isn’t enough to provide a “cookie-cutter” treatment for someone,s doubt because many other factors are involved.
- Doubts are an opportunity. They give a chance to study, explore, learn, and grow (which is always a good thing).
There are what Guinness calls seven “families” of doubt or, as we might call them, seven things that lead to doubt:
- A faulty view of God
- Weak foundations (a poor understanding of the basic doctrines of Christianity)
- A lack of commitment tot he Lord
- A lack of spiritual growth
- Unruly emotions (being driven by your emotions rather than truth)
- Fearing to believe
What can we do about doubt? How do we deal with it? Guinness offfers three suggestions:
- Admit your doubts
- Doubt your doubts (ask yourself whehter or not you have good reasons to doubt what you’re doubting – question your doubts and challenge yourself – something most of us never do).
- Begin with the faith you already have and go from there.
We all wonder from time to time whether this is all true and if we’ve been duped somehow. That isn’t the important point. What’s important is how we deal with it. May we say with the man in Mark’s Gospel, “I believe; help my unbelief!”