Doubt is Not a Christian Virtue
I am writing up reflections on my devotions every day for six weeks. This is one of those posts.
Reading through the Psalms is often an exercise in being confronted with how poorly I handle (and how poorly our culture in the American church at large handles) the trials we face. In Psalm 31, David is obviously depressed and also facing substantial external trials. There is no whitewashing the truth here in some attempt to buck-up-and-be-cheerful, no hiding behind a fake smile and pretending everything is okay. This has every bit of gritty, authentic ache in it that the most emo/hipster/authenticity-pursuing-cultural-stereotype-du-jour could ever want. David’s life at this particular juncture was, in a word, bad—and he made no bones about it.
Yet David’s response differs from the one we (people in the church under the age of 30 or so) glorify—differs profoundly. We rightly note that believers struggle with doubt sometimes, and also rightly note that condemning people for such struggles is unhelpful, to say the least. On the other hand, we have wrongly enshrined doubt as a virtue, wrestling as one of the cardinal goods of the Christian faith. The person who does not struggle with doubts or constantly wrestle with some part of his faith or another we usually assume is simply inauthentic. Deep down, we know, he or she really is a doubter, too.
David, I think, would find this nonsensical at best. Again, this Psalm is not lacking in authenticity; his real anguish bleeds through the page even in an English translation of Hebrew words written three thousand years ago. Doubt, though, is nowhere to be found. More importantly (for David and other Psalmists express their doubts in other verses), David’s struggles are not themselves the point of the piece. Rather, David paints a vivid picture of his need but also offers pleas for God to move—pleas grounded on his confidence in Yahweh’s righteousness and steadfast love.
To be sure, there is a place for real wrestling and for grappling with the doubts that do often beset us. Likewise, we should not pretend that we are not struggling when we are; saccharine greetings from people who are actually aching are a blight on Christian community. The question is not whether we struggle, or even whether we admit our struggles. It is whether we glorify the doubt and the struggle, rather than recognize them as painful, necessary means to the end of deeper, truer faith. No one could accuse David of hiding his struggles, but no one could think that he thought doubting inherently virtuous. Quite the contrary: David’s faith is exemplary1 here.
In the past few years, there have been times when I have wrestled with God. There are areas in which I struggle to understand Scripture’s teaching and submit wisely to it. Yet these times of wrestling and struggling are not a cause for pride. They are a marker of the extent to which I still need to be sanctified, so that my mind and my emotions will be more thoroughly submitted to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We must stop prizing doubt and start prizing faith in our risen Savior—not by pretending that we do not doubt, but by recognizing that doubts and struggles are valuable only insofar as they are used of the Spirit to move us back toward the Father.
- Exemplary not only in the sense of being the best of its kind, but model and worthy of emulation. ↩