If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.James 1:5-8
It has become popular to celebrate “doubt” in Christian circles as something that should be embraced and welcomed. It is a cliche at this point to say, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith.” Believers are encouraged to embrace their doubts and live with them as a sort of conversation partner with faith.
That all sounds great, and I am sure it is comforting to those who have doubts. The only problem with it is that it is the complete opposite of what scripture says and how Jesus lived and taught His own disciples.
This verse in James does not have nice things to say about doubt. It is not something we embrace. It is something we fight against. It is not something that acts as a conversation partner to faith. It is something that erodes faith. I have cast out a spirit of doubt in more than enough deliverance sessions to know that doubt is a demonic tool of the enemy.
We need to clarify what we mean when we are talking about doubt. Doubt in this James passage is the opposite of belief. When we ask the Lord for something like wisdom, we are commanded to believe and not doubt. This Greek word translated as “doubt” is the same word translated as “waver” when describing Abraham’s faith in Romans 4:20, “he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God.” So we see that when scripture talks about doubt, it is talking about unbelief.
Yet, there has been a bit of a slight of hand in the language used today in the church. Many people who celebrate “doubt” are meaning to say “uncertainty.” They want to create room for the Christian not to be certain about everything. And I whole-heartedly agree with that intention. In the life of faith there are many uncertainties that will never fully be resolved until we are in eternity. The apostle Paul affirms this reality to the Corinthians when he says, “For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known”(1 Corinthians 13:12).
Uncertainty is a lack of knowledge that, when addressed humbly, leads to intellectual curiosity, pursuit of God, and a kind of soul rest in the presence of mystery. However, doubt is a lack of trust that often leads to distance from God, a skeptical attitude, and a cynical outlook. Doubt demands knowledge before trust while uncertainty acknowledges trust as the gateway to greater knowing. Doubt comes with accusations while uncertainty comes with an admission of our own limitations.
So while we can and should admit uncertainties, we should reject doubt as described in the Bible. Doubt in the Bible is unbelief and is toxic to our life of faith. The one who doubts is “like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind“(James 1:6). James does not celebrate the Christian who doubts as “normal” and “natural.” Instead, he makes it clear that a person who lives in doubt “is double-minded and unstable in all they do“(James 1:7). These are the words of scripture, not my words.
But we really shouldn’t be surprised by James’s words. Jesus was no less combative toward doubt. After causing the fig tree to shrivel up, Jesus said:
“Truly I tell you, if you have faith and do not doubt, not only can you do what was done to the fig tree, but also you can say to this mountain, ‘Go, throw yourself into the sea,’ and it will be done. If you believe, you will receive whatever you ask for in prayer.”Matthew 21:21-22
His words to Thomas were even stronger:
Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.”John 20:27
So if we struggle with doubts, we should not embrace them. We should not celebrate them. Doubts are also not an opportunity for us to feel shame, self-condemnation, or self-pity. They are, instead, an opportunity for repentance. Doubts need to be acknowledged not so that they can be conversation partners with faith but so that they can be surrendered and removed. Cancer cells are not partners with healthy cells. They are toxic invaders that need to be found and removed.
Most of the time, underneath a particular doubt or area of unbelief, is a wound of the heart. Until that doubt is acknowledged as both real and unwanted, the wound underneath can never be exposed and healed. Doubt is not a problem of convincing the mind but of healing the heart. This is why we need to ask God for wisdom. We need His wisdom in eradicating doubt from our lives.