I remember sitting through my undergrad philosophy classes and hearing about Descartes and his program to doubt everything until he could arrive at some certain thing. He concluded that he existed, since he was doubting–a conclusion that I could have saved him a lot of time with. But that’s how a lot of philosophy goes, I guess.
My concern here is that we still seem to be living by Descartes’ methodology. Quite frankly, it’s cool to doubt. I’ll never forget reading a music blog’s review of a Christian album, praising it because of the singer’s willingness to doubt, disparaging other albums that pretend certainty can really exist. Somehow “doubt” has become synonymous with “authentic,” as if a person could not possibly have authentic certainty about anything. Certainty just doesn’t seem real. A person who claims certainty must be an arrogant fool, at the very least someone you wouldn’t want to hang out with.
My goal here is not to downplay doubt’s existence. It certainly exists, and we should be honest about it. It’s not authentic to pretend to be certain when you are eaten up with doubt. Frankly, there are some things that need to be doubted. We certainly shouldn’t be gullible. But some of us are prone to a chronic form of doubting and introspection that can be detrimental to our souls. We should be willing to talk about these doubts when they come, to seek counsel about them. Certainly, we shouldn’t hide them from view. Christians should be ready to minister to doubting people with compassion and sympathy and not shun them when they come with honest questions.
But should we settle into our doubts? Should we wear them as a badge of authentic personhood? Should certainty about anything always be written off as arrogant self-deception? These questions are what concern me.
I want to make a really simple statement that I believe with all my heart: If God said it, it’s not good to doubt it. God’s Word is truth (John 17:17). It is impossible for him to lie (Heb. 6:18). It is sin to assume otherwise.
John Frame says it like this:
On the other hand, the Bible presents doubt largely negatively. It is a spiritual impediment, an obstacle to doing God’s work (Matt. 14:31, 21:21, 28:17, Acts 10:20, 11:12, Rom. 14:23, 1 Tim. 2:8, Jas. 1:6). In Matt. 14:31 and Rom. 14:23, it is the opposite of faith and therefore a sin. Of course, this sin, like other sins, may remain with us through our earthly life. But we should not be complacent about it. Just as the ideal for the Christian life is perfect holiness, the ideal for the Christian mind is absolute certainty about God’s revelation.
We should not conclude that doubt is always sinful. Matt. 14:31 and Rom. 14:23 (and indeed the others I have listed) speak of doubt in the face of clear special revelation. To doubt what God has clearly spoken to us is wrong. But in other situations, it is not wrong to doubt. In many cases, in fact, it is wrong for us to claim knowledge, much less certainty.
While doubt (just like lust and pride and anger and other sins) concerning what God says will likely remain with us in this life, certainty concerning what God has said should be our goal (just like purity and humility and love and other fruits of the Spirit).
Doubt may be cool, but it doesn’t lead to life.