Faith and Doubt

A friend of mine has been struggling with faith.  One imagines, as a new Christian, that faith grows in time until it is transformed into certainty.  For many of us, however, the experience of growing older is not a movement into certainty but, rather, into ambiguity, as faith mixes itself with doubt.

We have, of course, been told of the heroes of faith in Hebrew’s 11, who were “sure of what they hoped for, certain of what they did not see.”  But most of us are not giants, and we lack the faith of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob, and the crew of Hebrew’s 11.  Or do we?  More than a thousand years later, the writer of Hebrews can talk about the certainty of the faith of these men and women retrospectively, but i suspect that the actual experience of faith at the time was not as black and what as we sometimes assume.  Abraham, the paragon of faith, gives his wife (the mother to be of his promised child) to a foreign king in order to protect his own life – and he does so twice!  Isaac, the seed of Abraham’s faith, did the same thing to Rebekah.  And the ups and downs of Jacob’s life of faith don’t need retelling here.

I suspect that many a life that will, retrospectively, justly be declared to have been one of faith will have been one lived in the face of doubt. Indeed, what is faith without struggle and doubt?  If faith is trust in God, it is faith because sometimes we wonder what God is doing even, sometimes, whether God is really there at all.  Perhaps, after all, real faith is the preparedness to struggle with one’s doubts.  To face them honestly, to share them with a friend, to not find easy answers and yet, however tentatively, to move forward, pursuing the truth and goodness and beauty that we somehow know, deep within ourselves, is only found in God.

About Author

Shane is an ethicist and theologian, Honorary Associate for the Centre of Disability Research and Policy, the University of Sydney, and Assistant Director, Policy, at the Royal Commission into Violence, Abuse, Neglect, and Exploitation against People with Disability. Shane is proudly disabled, and an occasional blogger on


  • Narelle
    July 25, 2010 at 3:48 pm

    Thanks for your thoughts. I thoroughly agree. Ancient Israel did understand this dynamic much better than we do – with the psalter expressing this struggle through the voice of laments – whereby doubt was not pushed under the carpet but expressed, so much so that a new-orientation or even new-found faith could be discovered (‘ala Brueggemann). If doubt is not expressed, how can the status quo be changed? If doubt is not expressed, how can this be a real honest relationship?
    Also when you think of Jacob being renamed Israel – ‘he who struggles with God’. What a paradox this is. ‘Israel’, that is the people’s of God defining etiology is traced back to the struggle, questioning and wrestling, between faith and doubt. We forget this in our ‘Christian’ effort to live in certitude.
    As we mature, is it in the ambiguity that God is actually God? For who do we think we are to capture or confine or even understand God? Yes, God does invite us in to the conversation, to know him, but also to raise our questions and issues – for it is then, a new glimpse is revealed as to who we are and God is. Even if it is to find ourselves silenced in awe by God’s whirlwind, like Job…although the questions remain…

  • Craig Benno
    July 26, 2010 at 11:13 am

    Hi Shane.
    I have been thinking about this issue for the last 3 years or so.

    I don’t think our Pentecostal pastors / churches are well equiped to deal with issues of doubt, a crisis of faith. Nor do I think we really have a deep grasp of what faith really is, therefore a lot of presumption is misplaced as being faith. There is a real peer group pressure to comform within our communities, therefore a person who goes through struggles is deemed to have backslidden or sinned which is the cause of this lack of faith.

    How do we treat those suffering with long term illness and they don’t respond to prayer as they are expected to by the community?
    How do we treat those with depression?
    Broken relationships / marriages / addictions etc.
    Masks put on about struggles when we go into our meetings / small groups etc.

    There is a root of fear that has permeated our hearts that stems from the name it / claim it clan. We are silenced from speaking out our fears, our doubts and building true community.

    I love the story of the father of the epileptic boy who said to Jesus. “I do believe, help me with my unbelief!”

  • Craig Benno
    July 26, 2010 at 11:26 am

    P.S I realised I havent fully engaged with what you wrote.

    One of the revelations that helped me through my own crisis of faith was to gain a deeper understanding of the 5 tenses of salvation that Scripture speaks of

    1.) We were saved before the creation of the world
    2.) We were in the process of being saved
    3.) We are saved
    4.) We are being saved
    5.) We will be saved.

    I found myself crying out to God, am I truly saved…only to be faced with silence…. and slowly through the mist of pain God revealed himself within that pain.

    • Shane Clifton
      July 26, 2010 at 10:35 pm

      Thanks for these posts Craig. Get to the heart of the issue


Leave a Reply