Is it Wrong to Doubt?

When I was growing up I was afraid to admit that sometimes I had doubts.  This was primarily because I was taught that anyone who doubted the Bible must not be a Christian.  Two passages of Scripture that were used to support this view were Acts 16:31, which states, “believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,” and James 1:6, “you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (NIV).  These two verses taken together and out of context seem to indicate that one cannot be a Christian and experience doubt.  Although I often experienced doubts, I never told anyone for fear that they would think negatively towards me.

In “How to Think Theologically,” Howard Stone and James Duke discuss the difference between “embedded theology” and “deliberative theology.” Embedded theology is essentially what we’ve learned about God from others.  Deliberative theology is theology that we’ve developed through our own careful study and reflection.  They state that “[d]eliberative theological reflection carries us forward when our embedded theology proves inadequate” (20).  Unfortunately, many faith communities discourage members from posing critical questions or expressing doubt.   In order for Christians to engage in deliberative theological reflection they must be given the freedom to ask questions and express doubt without being judged or condemned for their lack of belief.

In college I became a part of a Christian group that valued questions and provided a safe place to express doubt.  I was extremely grateful for this community, because it was during college that I experienced a crisis of faith.  I entered college as a seemingly strong Christian, but by my sophomore year I began to doubt whether God was even real.  It started slowly, as several situations I encountered caused me to doubt a few of my strongly held assumptions.  Eventually I began to question everything that I thought was true about God and the Bible.

With the help of friends and mentors I was able to rebuild my faith from the ground up, and in the end it became stronger than it had been in the beginning. One of my friends modeled vulnerability and showed me that it was OK to express doubt.  Another friend pointed me to a Psalm were the writer cried out in anguish and doubt to God to show me that even the Biblical authors experienced doubt. One of my mentors provided me with resources that offered alternative interpretations for some of the Biblical passages that had caused my crisis of faith in the first place, and she taught me how to interpret the Bible for myself.  Other friends prayed for me and encouraged me along the way.  Throughout the whole process I was not only given space to doubt, I was encouraged to ask questions and engage in critical thinking.

One of the primary reasons that I feel called to serve as a college campus minister is to help guide college students through the process of reconstructing their faith.  Many young adults go through a “dark night of the soul” that causes them to doubt the things they believed growing up.  It is my goal to help create an atmosphere where college students are encouraged to think critically, ask questions, and express doubt, because I believe that in the end their faith will become even stronger.


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