For the past few months I have run a series of posts from friends answering five questions about belief and doubt. Their reflections, observations, and encouragements have been rich. Here are my favorite quotes from their posts, one from each contributor. (Scroll to the end of the post for links to all the interviews.)
My capacity for belief is not measured by my certainty but by my need. Faith is not my bringing the great questions of existence under my control; faith is turning to the Lord, in his all-sufficiency for my desperate need, to hear and receive what he has to say to me.
– Ray Ortlund
I think that any Christian who hasn’t struggled with doubts – at least at some level – is probably guilty of not thinking deeply enough about his or her faith (or just not telling the truth). But, for those who are truly in Christ, I think that the object of our belief – Jesus Christ himself – is the sure foundation that keeps countering and defeating every doubt that arises (and doubts will arise from time to time).
– Jon Nielson
My favorite passage about belief is actually about salvation. Ephesians 2:8 is a sweet reminder to me that my salvation is a gift. I believe the faith to believe is also a gift. Yes, there’s effort but I couldn’t muster up the faith to believe for salvation and I know I can’t muster up the faith to believe when I doubt. We walk by faith and not by sight. All good things come from our Father, including our faith to believe.
– Trillia Newbell
There are things we can know about God—truths he has chosen to reveal that make up the essentials of orthodoxy. It is faith, because for as much as God has chosen to reveal himself, he has also left us with enough mystery that we will have to trust that he is who he says he is and will do what he has said he will do, even when we don’t have categories for it.
– Russ Ramsey
Belief cannot just be words with no action. It cannot just be a good idea. To say “I believe” requires action. I could tell my kids I believe in them or tell my wife I will be faithful to her, but what good are the words if there is no action behind them or if my actions display the opposite. Belief in God requires great action. What is belief in God? Belief in God is the willingness to entrust great faith in the unseen, and in placing belief in that, the decision requires action in making Him the Lord of your life and living that out by faith.
– Brian Mills
Doubt is the blank parts of the canvas which is being filled with the color of belief.
– Mark Sayers
God’s omnipotence and omniscience doesn’t allow for someone to give a casual nod to his existence or to toss out a perfunctory prayer during a moment of crisis. No, if God is God, then just acknowledging his presence will never be enough. If God is powerful enough to condemn us to hell but loving enough to crush his son on our behalf, that demands a response. As the hymn writer said, such a love demands our soul, our life, our all.
– Danny Franks
Don’t withhold obedience until God restores faith; As Jesus said, “If anyone’s will is to do God’s will, he will know whether the teaching is from God” (John 7:17). Doubt has a way of paralyzing us, and the paralysis simply darkens the doubt. Instead, we should cultivate our love and obedience when in the light, and then refuse to forget what we’ve known when we pass into the valley of shadows.
– Joe Rigney
In my experience, unbelief has a way of expanding to fill the space I give it. At the same time, I’ve found that unbelief is starved by our attentiveness to grace.
– Scott McClellan
I take great comfort in Christ’s gentleness with Thomas when he doubted. It reminds me of Psalm 103: “He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” At the same time, Christ’s compassion didn’t leave Thomas in doubt; He revealed Himself to Thomas and gave him what he needed in order to believe. Knowing that Christ extends this same kind of compassion to me actually enables me to trust Him more.
– Hannah Anderson
We often think that belief is a ‘thing’ when in fact the ‘thing’ is what is believed. In other words, faith is empty hands. Faith is surrender. Faith is commitment. But is not that which fills the empty hands, nor that to which we surrender, nor that to which we are committed.
– Josh Moody
We should be unafraid to doubt. There is no believing without some doubting, and believing is all the more robust for having experienced its doubts. Kalil Gibran put it beautifully, “Doubt is a pain too lonely to know that faith is his twin brother.” I like that. If doubts are not the opposite of faith, we can be a bit more open and honest about them with ourselves, others, and God.
– Justin Holcomb
I’ve noticed in my own life that believing God is a choice that leaves me hanging out in uncertainty for a longer period than I’m usually comfortable with. I don’t know with absolute certainty that he exists, because I can’t see him. I don’t know with absolute certainty that he’s going to come through for me according to his promises. But faith is giving him the space and opportunity to show me he exists and to actually come through. Faith involves waiting. Doubt exists and creeps into those waiting spaces.
– Christine Hoover
Once, when I was in a period of serious doubt, I called up one of my seminary professors. I told him how I was struggling with the truthfulness of the Bible and the rightness of Christianity. He told me that I should lay the question of truth aside for a moment, and consider beauty. He challenged me to find a more beautiful truth than Jesus and his Gospel. I could not. I came to understand that I have nowhere else to go. This realization has been deeply transformative for me.
– Thomas McKenzie
If belief is in truth – and it is – then we must saturate ourselves with truth. Prayer is our direct communication line with God. God desires our faith to be strong. The more we commune with Him the more the Spirit of God can guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. We were also built for community. We need others to sharpen our iron and keep us grounded in belief.
– Ron Edmondson
Faith is a gift, but the package comes in different sizes. I once sat at the kitchen table of a very old theologian I admire, for a long and leisurely conversation. At one point he stared out the window and marveled that in decades of marriage his wife had never seriously struggled with doubt. Her faith was childlike. Never making eye contact, he admitted regularly struggling with seasons of unbelief, even after 70 years of following Christ.
– Tony Reinke
“I believe, help my unbelief” is thus an honest recognition of the fact that we need God’s help even for faith itself. We don’t always struggle with believing God “all the way.” But sometimes we do. When we are in such situations, the right response is to be honest with God about it and ask him to help us grow further in our faith. And, paradoxically, doing so is actually an act of incredible faith. In one sense, the ultimate act of faith is to trust God even for faith itself.
– Matt Perman
I believe you can strengthen your belief in God by being honest about your doubts. Only then can God reach into the tenderness of your heart and plant the seeds of faith. Faith is a gift only God can bestow. We just have to want it with everything in us.
– Emily Wierenga
Doubt causes you to dig deep. Because we’re not trifling with small matters here, doubt shouldn’t cast you away, but cause you to search more. Eternity is at stake! The person that doesn’t doubt hasn’t truly searched their beliefs. It’s as if they’re just floating through life on a cloud, content to take at face value the difficult things in life.
– Ben Reed
For some it’s going to be a question of whether God exists. For me it’s whether He is who He says He is. I can’t trust a liar and if God is a liar, even if He exists, I can’t live there. It’s not about atheism, it’s “Do you believe God is telling the truth when He says He’s love, He’s good, He’s faithful, He’s generous, He’s kind, He’s just, He’s merciful?” And, if I can believe He’s at least telling me the truth about His character, then I have to learn to understand that my understanding of love, faithfulness, generosity, kindness, etc. are flawed. I have to reframe those attributes until they become a constant reflection of God: God is love; Love is God, etc.. God’s attributes, when we really begin to understand them, are like a hall of mirrors, constant and endless reflections of one another. It’s the most beautiful thing I know about Him.
– Lore Ferguson