Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief
By John E. Shaffett
What is the relationship between faith, doubt, and unbelief? Some Christians believe it is a sin to doubt. Other Christians praise doubt. What do the Scriptures teach about doubt? We have the story of the man who tells Jesus, “I believe, help my unbelief.” How can you believe and not believe? What causes doubt and how should we respond? Can doubt be a good thing? This paper will define faith, doubt, and unbelief. It will describe the relationship between these terms. It will show what should be the Christian’s attitude toward doubt. In addition, it will describe some of the benefits of doubt. Finally, it will suggest some strategies for dealing with doubt.
Many people were shocked when it was revealed that Mother Teresa struggled with doubt and unbelief for many years. She wrote in her journal: “In my soul I feel just that terrible pain of loss, of God not wanting me—of God not being God—of God not existing” (Hart, Knowing Darkness, 1). Mother Teresa wrote this in 1959. She struggled with doubts her whole life. Once she remarked, “If I ever become a saint, I will surely be one of darkness” (Hart, 1).
Faith, Doubt, and Unbelief
McGrath thinks that faith contains three elements. First, it is trust in God. “It is a confidence in the trustworthiness, fidelity and reliability of God” (28). Second, it is an understanding about God. It is faith seeking understanding. Third, it is obedience to God. Faith does not mean certainty. McGrath states that “the things in life that really matter cannot be proven with certainty—whether they are ethical values (such as respect for human life), social attitudes (such as democracy) or religious beliefs (such as Christianity)” (24). McGrath argues that to believe in God requires faith, “as does the decision not to believe in him” (25). He does not think the existence of God or the non-existence of God can be proved. McGrath writes that that “faith is not belief without proof but trust without reservations” (25). He believes that both believers and non-believers struggle with doubt. He thinks there is “indeed a leap of faith involved in Christianity but it is not an irrational leap in the dark” (27). McGrath thinks “all outlooks on life, all theories of the meaning on human existence rest on faith” and cannot be proved. Christianity cannot be proved with absolute certainty, but Christianity stands on solid ground in the “reliability of historical foundations, its internal consistency, its rationality, its power to convert and its relevance to human existence” (27). Absolute certainty is an unrealistic expectation and doesn’t deal correctly with human limitations.