Is Doubt Good or Bad?

One of the clearest signs that times have changed is the way doubt is hailed as a virtue these days.  Those who doubt whether the Christian faith is true are praised for their authenticity and sincerity.  In some paradoxical manner, their faith is seen to be more genuine than that of the brother who never doubts. 

Charles Spurgeon would not have agreed.  This is what he said in a sermon in 1872 [HT: Pyromaniacs]:

“Too many in the church of God regard unbelief as if it were a calamity commanding sympathy, rather than a fault demanding censure as well. . . . Doubts are among the worst enemies of your souls. Do not entertain them. Do not treat them as though they were poor forlorn travelers to be hospitably entertained, but as rogues and vagabonds to be chased from thy door. Fight them, slay them, and pray God to help thee to kill them, and bury them, and not even to leave a bone or a piece of a bone of a doubt above ground. Doubting and unbelief are to be abhorred, and to be confessed with tears as sins before God. We need pardon for doubting as much as for blasphemy. We ought no more to excuse doubting than lying, for doubting slanders God and makes him a liar.”

I have concerns about this postmodern trend toward the romanticizing of doubt.  I know the sinful heart.  I have one.  I know the human tendency toward a rationalization of sin.  I know the danger of calling what is good evil and what is evil good.  I myself have doubts from time to time.  But I don’t think I have ever celebrated that.  I see no evidence from Scripture that it is something to celebrate, and much evidence that it is something to lament.

I think this new faith in doubt stems from a bent towards rebellion.  We all have images in our heads of fundamentalist parents and preachers who indoctrinate children and tolerate no dissent.  Many former fundamentalists grew up in small churches where seminaries were viewed with suspicion, where honest questions were taboo, where the honest questions that were posed were given shallow answers, where people didn’t want to be bothered with the facts because they had already made up their minds, thank you. 

It is no surprise that those kinds of churches churned out a number of people who never made the faith their own.  Often times these kinds of churches produced shallow automatons who knew everything by rote, not heartfelt believers who had come to love what they had been taught.  I will stand with the postmoderns in condemnation of this way of handling the faith. 

But the solution to this kind of shallow, unquestioning faith is not doubt.  That’s like fighting cancer with AIDS.  Doubt can only be celebrated as a virtue in a society where the individual’s self-discovery takes precedence over the richness of the community.  Doubt of the truth is inherently rebellious, and as such only a rebellious age would baptize it and bless it. 

I say this as one who struggles with doubt myself.  And, I agree with those who celebrate doubt that if one has doubts, it is much better to be open about them than to deny them.  But that goes for any sin.  The grieved, repentant sinner is in a better position than the hypocrite who doesn’t recognize his own sin.  But the one who celebrates his sin is in the worst position of all.


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