Doubt is an integral part of our human condition. No one escapes it, not even the greatest saints and spiritual masters. So how do we deal with times of doubt? It cannot be conquered by getting proof of God’s reality, since this is not humanly possible. But it is possible to have a different perspective on doubt by seeing it as a potentially valuable and powerful tool, not as a curse. Why? Because doubt sharpens our faith, the way a hard stone sharpens the edge of a knife as it is rubbed against it. As our souls are rubbed against the rough stone of doubt, we can become stronger, more courageous and confident.
Certainly, it’s hard to see doubt as beneficial when we are deep in the throes of it, when it discourages and overwhelms us, destroying our peace of mind. At times of trouble and difficulty, we question what is happening in our lives and ask to understand. We mull over all the possible things we might have done to “deserve it” and we wonder: is God a fond Father of love, or an indifferent, even fierce, vengeful deity who doesn’t really care about our suffering? This is human nature, and God understands it. Doubt becomes a problem only when we honor it above anything else and give God no opportunity to enlighten us.
When we read the Scriptures and other spiritual writings, we discover other people’s struggles with the same doubts with which we ourselves grapple. Recognizing that the human struggle with God’s reality and His will is an ageless one helps us to see it with greater understanding. Honoring our human free will, God never forces us to trust him, but He cannot use us as freely if we do not trust Him, and our lives will not be as fulfilling or productive. While trusting God is sometimes difficult, it stops fear, doubt, and despair faster than any human effort ever could do.
When we question God’s existence or His love, this means we are not mindless robots, but thinking, feeling, living souls who have free will and are subject to thoughts that are not always easy to live with. Never having doubts or fears would make us overconfident, taking our Creator for granted and limiting our spiritual development. We would be of no use to other people who have trouble believing in God, because we would feel self-righteous and smug and unable to understand or help them on their path to God.
Kindness and compassion begin with our own pain. We might not be proud of our ignorance and fear, but they are part of our human nature, and all of us face them in ourselves and in others. By using doubt as a tool towards greater compassion for those who do not believe, we grow as souls and strengthen our own faith.
Using human reason alone can only take us so far, and acknowledging this opens the door to God’s guidance. Questioning God is not sinful, but turning away from Him will close us off to His help, to enlightenment and growth.
Think of it this way: if you have children who love and respect you, but sometimes question your rules or judgment, you wouldn’t feel angry about this, because your children really love you and don’t abandon you because of a disagreement. But if your children totally rejected you and shut you out of their lives, you would probably feel anger or sadness, and eventually stop offering your help.
Similarly, if we question God sometimes, or even get angry with Him, we don’t fall out of favor with Him, nor do we stunt our spiritual growth, as long as we give Him enough trust to let Him guide us to a place of peace. It’s normal sometimes to question whether or not we are on the right path. Other people’s opinions on how to live our lives can upset or confuse us, but we can be sure that openness to God’s guidance will never let us down. If we continue on our path, even when we feel doubt, over time the path straightens out and we will be guided in the right direction. If we continue our efforts to trust in God, even when we feel He doesn’t care or that maybe He doesn’t really exist, we eventually will experience stronger faith.
Another way doubt benefits us is by causing us to seek truth with which to arrive at answers. Using prayer and seeking spiritual sources of truth to enlighten our minds is the greatest antidote to doubt. Our human nature does not attune itself to light often enough; instead it seeks material things and intellectual pursuits to try to fill the empty spaces and supply all the answers. I once saw a sign outside a church that read: “If God feels far away, who moved?” God is love; He knows no other way to be. God does not turn away from us, but we often turn away from God. As a result, we despair and do not feel His presence. We feel that God has abandoned us. But this is an illusion, not the truth.
Assuming that solely by our own power we can overcome any trouble, figure out any question, and solve any problem, without God’s intervention, ultimately leads to despondency. Trying to comprehend that which is not humanly comprehensible, such as God’s Divine nature and His ways, is like trying to understand a book written in another language by reading it over and over again, without any knowledge of the language in which it is written. This would be futile. But if you seek help from someone who understands the language, this makes it possible for you to understand the book. Likewise, only God can help us overcome the anguish of total despair, which is poison to the soul.
A person caught in quicksand will sink deeper the more he struggles. If we try too hard to overcome doubt, we sink even deeper into the quicksand of fear and despair, because our efforts alone, no matter how great, will never be enough to conquer these things. A person drowning in quicksand cannot pull himself out of it, but can be pulled out by someone else. By realizing that we cannot save ourselves from fear and doubt, we can then reach out to God and let Him pull us out of it.
Dr. Elton Trueblood, author, educator, philosopher and theologian, once said, “Faith is not belief without proof, but trust without reservation.” Faith originates in God. It is His gift to us, but our souls must be open to this gift, through total surrender to God’s will, by quieting the mind through mindfulness and meditation when it starts running amok, by frequent prayer and study of spiritual truth, and by freely sharing our own experiences with other souls who are struggling on their own path to God. Like a muscle, exercising our faith strengthens it, so that when doubt comes around (and it will), our faith will be strong enough to see us through it.
Totally surrender your doubt to God and ask Him to use it to make you stronger. By admitting that we don’t understand but will trust a little while longer, we discover that somehow we find our faith again in the truths we spontaneously come to understand. This not only strengthens us, but allows us to help other people on their own spiritual journey.
When we see doubt as a tool to sharpen our faith, we will never feel powerless against it. When we honor God, we cannot at the same time honor fear or doubt. Alone we have no power against the darkness, but with God, who is Light, we have unlimited strength and endless power! Use your doubt as a tool to help you to become a stronger person. As Jesus promised, “Then you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” [John 8:32]