Faith: Doubt vs. Unbelief

What's the difference between an "unbeliever" and a person who simply has honest questions about God? I believe in the Bible, and I have often told friends and family that God can do miracles and even raise the dead. Nevertheless, when things get tough, I find it hard to trust in the Lord. Though I tell others that they can depend upon His grace, I'm often overwhelmed with fear and anxiety when difficult situations arise. Does this mean that I lack faith?

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Yes and no. The truth is that we all lack faith. To be more precise, faith is not something we merely have or do not have. It’s more like a process – a thing in which we either grow or diminish, progress or regress, with every passing day. It involves ups and downs, victories and setbacks, triumphs and disappointments. That’s because faith is an aspect of our relationship with God – a product of our walk with Christ and the constant, gentle influence of His indwelling Holy Spirit.

It’s important to add that Christianity isn’t about having faith in faith alone. From the biblical point of view, faith is only as strong as its object. I may believe that my chair is strong enough to support my weight, but I can’t be fully convinced of this until I put the question to the test by sitting down. Similarly, I have faith in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior because I am persuaded – by relevant evidence – that He really is God-in-the-flesh, and that He has my best interests at heart. But my commitment will never be mature and perfect until I’ve learned to step out and act on these convictions. As Jesus said, “If anyone wills to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God …” (John 7:17). Among other things, this means pressing forward in spite of your feelings – “ducking under” your fears and anxieties and doing what needs to be done even when your emotions are screaming at you to cut and run.

There is nothing “bad” or unusual about the struggles you’re experiencing. Every Christian has to wrestle with doubt, fear, failure, inconsistency, and hypocrisy. In a certain sense, this is the only reliable road to true and lasting faith, a faith that can weather the storms of life. That’s why the poet Tennyson could say, “There lives more faith in honest doubt, believe me, than in half the creeds.” Even the disciples of Jesus (“men of little faith” in the Lord’s affectionate phrase) had to find their way through this dark, discouraging tunnel: just at that moment when belief should have come easiest to them – when the Risen Christ Himself stood before them on a mountaintop in Galilee – Matthew records that “some doubted” (Matthew 28:17). So you’re not alone. As a matter of fact, you’re in very good company. Meanwhile, you can take courage in the thought that even the merest shred of faith – faith as tiny as a mustard seed (Matthew 17:20) – is all that it takes to elicit an approving smile from your heavenly Father (Hebrews 11:6).

One last thought. In the final analysis, you have to remember that faith is ultimately a gift of God (see 1 Corinthians 12:9; Galatians 5:22). We believe because He enables us to do so. This is what John Newton, writer of the hymn “Amazing Grace,” meant when he said, “No temporal dispensations can reach the heart unless the Lord Himself applies them.” The Psalmist expressed it this way: “For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light” (Psalm 36:9). So be patient with yourself and lean on the unseen power of His grace.

If you’d like to discuss these ideas at greater length with a member of our team, please don’t hesitate to contact us. Focus on the Family has a staff of pastoral counselors who would love to speak with you over the phone.


Resources

When I Lay My Isaac Down: Unshakable Faith in Unthinkable Circumstances

Fearless: Imagine Your Life Without Fear

Know Doubt: Embracing Uncertainty in Your Faith

Referrals
Christian Research Institute 

Insight for Living

Lee Strobel

Articles

Trusting: Let God Do the Driving

Faith: New Eyes

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