What is a proper relationship between doubt and faith?
I am a Christian. I believe in God. I also doubt God. Does that doubt have a place in proper relationship with my faith? Or is it sinful towards God, revealing a weakness in what should be a perfect and complete trust and faith?
Doubt is a lot of things. This one word encompasses a broad range of feelings I've held about my faith through the course of my life. Doubt can be as extreme as wondering if God exists at all. Or it can be as small as questioning the logic of some specific theological claim.
Doubt is always questioning. But what doubt never is is certainty. Lots of Christians condemn doubt on the basis that doubt is a full, completely assured conversion to atheism. But this is not doubt at all. This is still certainty, just directed towards a different object, a belief in no god instead of a belief in God.
(To be clear, Christians should still not be condemning those who go all the way to explicit atheism. There should still be acceptance and love. Shunning and condemning these people doesn't help them or honor God.)
Doubt is a simply uncertainty: a state of questioning, curiousity, and wonder. When defined this way, doubt has an essential role in a relationship with faith.
God is mysterious and unknowable. God is so beyond the scope of understanding for humans, that perfect certainty in a specific belief claim about the divine is misguided at best and blasphemous at worst. The inherent and fundamental nature of the divine resists our attempts to pin it down.
Any attempt to make a perfectly true and specific claim about the nature of God is like trying to clench a fist around wet sand under the waves. You might grasp some of it, but most will escape between your fingers. Accepting the mystical nature of God would be to hold your open hands under the water, because God is actually the whole ocean. With open hands, you will hold more of the truth of God in your understanding, not rigidly but loosely. And at least you won't be making a foolish attempt to contain the divine within your own limited capacity.
Doubt then, is an awareness and acceptance of our own cognitive and spiritual limitations. This is the only proper posture towards something is grand and mystical as the divine.
Realizing this hugeness of God also teaches us another helpful lesson about doubt. God is neither harmed nor changed when we doubt.
We can question the specifics about God's nature. We can debate the finer points of theological logic. We can write all the mystical music and poetry we want, wondering over the fundamental unknowability of God. We can doubt God exists at all. And none of these have any effect on the actual real truth of God existence. Our doubt and questions could even lead us to beliefs and faith that are incorrect and competely untrue. But that doesn't harm the realities of God. The divine is far bigger, perfectly immutable to the ever changing tides of our beliefs.
This is why the only way to have beliefs that can be true is to have beliefs that incorporate oppeness and uncertainty. To hold your beliefs in open hands creates the possibility for them to be true and allows them to remain that way. As soon as your try to pin down specific truth claims about God, you'll miss, because our brain, our spirit, and our language are fundamentally incapable of completely grasping a divine reality.
Faith is honest and true when it is in harmony with feelings of doubt.
Faith is also alive and growing when married with doubt.
I've been a Christian in some form or another my entire life. I grew up in the church, proclaimed faith in God when I was a young child, chose to be baptized as a boy, etc. I've believed many things about God. Just about the only belief that has survived the last twenty years unchanged is the simple belief that God exists. Nothing else has persisted.
I obviously hope that my current set of beliefs are more true than they've ever been. But I don't think they are perfectly true. They'll continue to change as I learn and grow in my faith. Hopefully, they'll continue to approach truthfullness, but sometimes they won't and that's ok. I still have most of a lifetime of a living and changing faith to keep getting closer.
Changing and growing faith is a good thing. I long to always be learning more about God to develop my knowledge and understanding. The only way for this to happen is to have doubts. Doubt is the change agent for an evolving faith.
When I was five years old, and first starting to believe in and understand God, I held a certain set of beliefs. If I dogmatically claimed those beliefs were perfect and complete, then I would still have the faith of a five year old! This applies to every stage of life. If I dogmatically cling to the perfect completeness of my current faith, I will maintain the faith of a twenty-eight year old my entire life. I don't want to be an old man who is that spiritually stunted.
Doubt and uncertainty allow me to encounter new and more mature ideas about the divine and genuinely consider them. When I can examine and ponder new ideas about God, without them being threatening to some perfect and complete set pre-existing beliefs, then I can mature and grow in my faith.
It's essential to use doubt this way. There are Christians who condemn the ideas of doubt and uncertainty as sinful and a sign of a weak and failing faith, but ironically even they use doubt this way. (All but the most dogmatic of fundamentalists, that is.) Their understanding of God grows and develops over the course of their life. Doubt keeps faith in a state of examination and evaluation, allowing maturity, improvement, and growth.
Doubt is a stance of openness, uncertainty, and questioning towards our beliefs ideas in a massivel, confusing, and mysterious God. The divine is so inherently uknowable, that our beliefs can never claim specific truths about its nature. Combining doubt with faith is the only way for it to find truth and growth. Doubt is a companion to a living and fruitful relationship with the divine.