Is there a difference between questioning and doubting? I think so. For instance in the Psalms there are many questions that plague David about how and why God does certain things. From “why do the heathen prosper” to “why, O Lord, to you stand far off?” to “how long, O, Lord?” David is full of tough questions for God in his songs of worship. God doesn’t rebuke his questions but embraces them to the point of allowing them in the canon of Holy Scripture.
Throughout the Bible serious men and women of God ask serious questions to God about the tough situations they are enduring in life. God allows them (and us) to ask the tough questions without repercussion.
But doubt is a totally different animal. Doubt is an assault on the charater and promises of God. When Jesus rebukes his followers again and again with phrases like, “Why did you doubt?” he is showing that he perceives doubt, as the antithesis to faith. And the perception of Christ is the real reality.
James sums up this same reality in the first chapter of his letter to the scattered church. In the context of making a case for the importance of asking for wisdom to endure trials James writes, “But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man unstable in all he does.”
Here’s how the Spirit of Jesus works through the pen of his half brother James to describe doubt:
1. Doubt is the opposite of faith.
Look at the phrase, “must believe and not doubt.” Doubt is set up as the opposite of faith. To doubt is not to believe. To believe is not to doubt.
2. Doubt is the enemy of prayer.
When we doubt as we pray we are ensuring that our prayers will NOT get answered. Only prayers uttered in faith have the opportunity of getting a “yes” from God.
3. Doubt is a sign of spiritual and emotional instability.
James describes doubters as driven by the winds of circumstance, unstable in all they do. Only faith can bring the stability that we need to face the struggles we all endure in this confusing life.
What’s the fine line between questioning and doubting? It’s the reality of whether or not we truly believe that God’s intent toward us is good as we endure trials. Hebrews 11:6 describes a faith-filled person with great precision, “anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
I love that description! Faith is believing that God exists and that his intent is only good for those who are seeking after him. He has only good things in store!
So at the core of our questioning of “who, what, why, when and how” we must believe that God’s intent toward us is only good all the time. As soon as we don’t we slide into the danger zone of doubt. We move from children of God who know they are loved by their Daddy to spoiled brats who are angry at their Fathers for not getting their own way. For the kids who believe, behave and ask the tough questions God will give an “allowance” of understanding. For the brats he reserves a spanking, but even that is out of love (Hebrews 12:6.)
So go ahead and question your Daddy, but never lose faith. Ask the tough things of God. He can take it. But don’t buy the lie that you can doubt God’s character or intentions and get away with it.
In a postmodern age where doubting is extolled as a virtue my prayer is that we get back to believing in what Jesus said, embracing who Jesus is and standing on his promises with unshakeable faith. As we do we can ask all the questions we want and, in his perfect time, he will give us the answers in this life or the next.