Franciscan Spirit Blog

Doubt: Engine or Enemy of Faith?

Faith written on a light bulb

Doubt is the enemy of faith, right? Not necessarily. Hard-core atheists doubt that God exists. These individuals have made such doubt the cornerstone of how they understand the universe and themselves. In effect, they ask, “Who am I without this doubt?”

The Bible warns in several places against arrogant doubt. St. Paul writes that the very elderly Abraham “did not doubt God’s promise in unbelief” (Rom 4:20). The Letter of James compares a doubter to “a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed about by the wind” (1:6).

Perhaps Thomas Edison’s humble, scientific doubt can help us here. After experimenting with many different metals, he discovered that his incandescent light- bulb needed a tungsten filament. Edison’s early failures proved not that no such metal existed—only that he had not yet found it. Doubt enabled Edison to persevere as an inventor.

In addition to the biblical examples cited above, the Bible sometimes describes a humble doubt, one that can lead to a wider and deeper faith. St. Paul tells the Corinthian Christians, “We are full of doubts, but we never despair” (2 Cor 4:8). A father who asked Jesus to expel a demon from his son exclaimed, “I do believe, help my unbelief!” (Mk 9:24).

Faith and humble doubt can coexist in the same person. Although the faith is very real, humble doubt drives it to the next level by accounting for some painful life experience. According to St. Augustine of Hippo, the doubt of Thomas the Apostle is more valuable to us than the faith of all the other apostles (Office of Readings for July 3).

Prayer and Doubt

In 2020, when he preached at the funeral Mass for Archbishop Daniel Pilarczyk, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr recalled that when his predecessor received bad medical news, he reacted in the same way that he had throughout his ministry as archbishop. “He said, ‘The Lord is in this somewhere.’”

That’s what he and countless others have taken to prayer for centuries. A faith that absolutely dismisses the possibility of doubt is simply not honest, unable to grow as God intends it to.

When St. Francis of Assisi prayed in caves or St. Teresa of Avila dealt with rejection, sometimes by their own followers and at other times by Church authorities, wasn’t doubt a part of their honest prayer? Did the rejection arise because they were on the wrong path or because other people felt very threatened by such a path? Although we might prefer prayers that are always serene, honest prayer rarely is.

Did Mary Doubt?

Although many Christians may be shocked at the suggestion that Mary, the mother of Jesus, ever doubted, St. Luke twice says that Mary “remembered these things and pondered on them in her heart” (2:19 and 2:51). This first mention follows the visit of the shepherds immediately after Jesus’ birth. The second reference occurs after Jesus is presented in Jerusalem’s Temple, where Simeon prophesies a great future for Jesus and a sword that will pierce Mary’s heart.

The word ponder means “to weigh.” Do people need to weigh something about which they are absolutely certain? Does that describe Mary’s faith at every point of her life? Isn’t it more likely that at the foot of Jesus’ cross, Mary said to herself in her own way, The Lord is in this somewhere? Children understandably tend to take an either/or approach to life: faith or doubt? Adults who regularly choose a both/and approach can incorporate all of life’s experiences into a growing faith.

Doubt can either drive faith or kill it. The choice is ours.

New call-to-action

5 thoughts on “Doubt: Engine or Enemy of Faith?”

  1. Mike Reininger

    There’s a difference between faith and/or doubt versus outright hostility and disbelief. So, why would someone choose the latter? Well, it depends upon the subject that is being discussed. For example, some people will work on a project and then give up, for whatever reason. Why would they do that? Who knows what they learned in the process, and then they move on to something else. But hopefully no one will ever give up on our God. He certainly doesn’t give up on us, unless we willfully choose to reject Him, then that is something else once again.

  2. My ‘Webster’s New World Dictionary’ states that the Latin origin of ponder comes from ‘ponderare’ meaning: ‘weigh’, but continues with: to think deeply (about); deliberate.
    Mary believed and quickly went to visit Elizabeth because the Angel Gabriel told Mary her cousin is with child in her old age. What excitement! Mary hurried to visit with this dear relative so those two women could rejoice together! What faith! What rewards!
    Doubt is sometimes our lack of faith; however, we must not underestimate satan who even tempted God, Jesus Christ (God in flesh), in the wilderness. Jesus, the second Person of the Holy Trinity (see: Genesis 1:26); who came here to be like us so He could relate to and understand us, and intercede to the Father on our behalf (see: 1 Timothy 2:5) , experienced our temptations (but not committing sins) and the enemy’s attacks (see: Mark 1:11-13 and Luke 4:1-13). Our Savior defeated the enemy by speaking God’s Word: holy scriptures. Since the devil attacked Jesus, we know he is out to defeat us as well, but trusting in Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior, and confessing our doubts and fears to Him, we find God’s holy Son Jesus our mediator between us and our Father, to be our faithful Friend. “God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble.” (see: Psalm 46)

  3. The doubt of Thomas taught me, a realist and sometime pessimist, that Jesus Christ, God in flesh, loved Thomas so much that He came back just for Thomas. Jesus restored him unto Himself in faith and proved His resurrection not only to Thomas, but every doubter thereafter, that Jesus truly is God in human form and that He formed us within our mother’s womb. So whether born an optimist or pessimist, God knows us inside and out. Our individual weaknesses are no surprise to Him, and He loves and understands us. After all, God sent His Son to die for all our sins and He arose so we can believe in Jesus and live with Him (flesh) and God (Spirit) in Heaven FOREVER! Holy God loves you and me! See: John 3:16

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Sign Up for Our Daily Newsletter​

Includes Saint of the Day, Minute Meditations, and Pause + Pray.