DEAR FATHER PAUL: I am a long-time Christian, but I find that I sometimes have doubts about some Christian beliefs and doctrines. I am well educated and have always had a strong inclination to seek the truth and reject falsehoods. Are my occasional doubts a sin? J. K.
DEAR J. K. Thank you for your excellent question. It’s one of the best that I have gotten in a long time.
I have found over many years of ministry that almost all Christians (me included) have “doubts” from time-to-time. The Bible is clear that when we doubt core Christian beliefs it does not please God. Hebrews 11:6 (New Living Translation) says as much, “And it is impossible to please God without faith. Anyone who wants to come to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who sincerely seek him.” So, since we know that doubting is the opposite of faith, it is clear (again) that when we doubt God, it does not please God.
But here’s the thing. Doubt may very well be a sin, but it is NOT the unpardonable sin! In other words, just as my loving earthly father, Samuel J. Massey, graciously and lovingly pardoned my many failures and shortcomings as I was growing up … our Heavenly Father pardons our many failures and shortcomings as we Christians grow up and mature in the faith, including doubt.
One of the most powerful and encouraging passages in the entire Bible speaks to this very point. The Apostle Paul says this in II Corinthians 5:19 (New Living Translation), “For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people’s sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.”
In other words, God does not kick Christians out of his family and throw us under the bus every time we doubt. His love and patience endure forever.
The best evidence that this is indeed true is found in the lives of two giants of the New Testament ….John the Baptist, and Jesus’ own disciple, Thomas.
In Matthew 11:11 Jesus said that John the Baptist was a great man. (KJV) “Truly I tell you, among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” And yet, earlier, when John was in prison and about to be executed, he sent two of his followers to Jesus with this (doubting) question. (Paraphrased) …”Are you really the Messiah, or should we expect someone else?” Jesus simply answered, “go back and remind John of the things he has seen.” Note: Jesus’ words bragging on John the Baptist were said AFTER John doubted, not before. Check it out.
As for Thomas, after Jesus’ promised death, resurrection and appearance alive to some of his disciples and other followers (not Thomas). Thomas says in John 20:25 (NIV) “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands , and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side. I will not believe.” Doubt.
A week later in John 20:26-28 Jesus appears to the disciples again, this time with Thomas present. When Jesus sees Thomas, he (almost playfully) says to Thomas, (paraphrased) “here Thomas, stick your finger and hands in my wounds. Stop doubting and believe.” To which Thomas replies, “My Lord and my God.”
So here we have two Biblically recorded examples of doubt from the lives of two great men of the Bible. It is very clear that, like many of us, they both had doubts. I could mention many other instances of doubt in the Bible, as-well-as great examples of faith unto death as well.
But that is not the point. The point is what Jesus did NOT do in the face of doubts by followers who obviously otherwise loved him. Note: Jesus did NOT say to John and Thomas: “Get out of my sight, you worthless and faithless scum. To think I have wasted three whole years on you miserable failures!” No, nothing even close. Instead he gave both men a gentle rebuke, then encouraged them to greater faith.
Wow. That is just like our God. When we fail, he forgives and restores. Incidentally, John the Baptist went on to die a faithful martyrs death. Thomas is said to have established numerous churches in India.
So the next time you have doubts, and you probably will, go to your Bible and reread the stories of John the Baptist and Thomas. Then repent of your doubt and be encouraged.
Do You Have A Question Or Comment? E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
[Father Paul Massey is Pastor Emeritus of Church Of The Holy Cross in Fayetteville, Georgia. Church Of The Holy Cross “Is Rooted And Grounded In The Ancient Faith.” Visit www.holycrosschurch.wordpress.com for more information, directions and service times.]