Is it possible for faith and doubt to coexist? One desperate parent in the New Testament would answer that question with a resounding, "Yes!" He's the father of the demon-possessed boy, who in anguish turned to Jesus for help. His had been a long, dark night attempting every imaginable remedy for his son's horrifying and torturous madness. Nothing worked. The scene that Mark's Gospel includes captures, like few others in the Bible, the very real conflict between hope and despair.

They brought the boy to Him. When he saw Him, immediately the spirit threw him into a convulsion, and falling to the ground, he began rolling around and foaming at the mouth. And He asked his father, "How long has this been happening to him?" And he said, "From childhood. It has often thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, take pity on us and help us!" And Jesus said to him, "`If You can?' All things are possible to him who believes." Immediately the boy's father cried out and said, "I do believe; help my unbelief." (Mark 9:24-24)
The anguished father watching his son writhe on the ground like a rabid animal strained against the tough stuff of doubt to muster sufficient faith to believe. And he was bold enough to acknowledge it as well as request Jesus' help to overcome it. I'm so glad God decided to include that candid dialogue in Scripture, aren't you?

You may find yourself occupying a place in the ranks of the doubters of this world. If so, this chapter is written especially with you in mind. To exacerbate matters, you may live among people who have never once questioned their faith. Their piety makes you feel isolated, even a little weird ... out of place. Perhaps your doubts have sunk you to the depth of despair. You too have cried, "Lord, I believe. Help me in my unbelief."

Daniel Taylor, in his book "The Myth of Certainty," doesn't choose to use the term "doubting Christians." He refers to the doubters among us as "reflective Christians." Frankly, that works for me. There's not much dignity in doubt, but there is a touch of dignity in reflection. Taylor offers a variety of questions that represent the common struggles of a reflective Christian. Here's a sampling:

  • Does one minute it seem perfectly natural and unquestionable that God exists and cares for the world, and the next moment uncommonly naive?
  • Have you sometimes felt like walking out of a church service because it seemed contrived and empty?
  • Someone at work says, "Christians check their brains at thedoor of the church every Sunday, and most of them don't even bother to pick them up on the way out." Do you find yourself objecting or agreeing?
  • How confident are you that you know God's desires regarding the specific political, social, and moral issues which face our society?
  • According to Daniel Taylor, a nonreflective person asks, "What could be worse than unanswered questions?" To him, the reflective person would consider unquestioned answers his or her struggle. A reflective Christian is one who is thinking deeply, questioning often. When we doubt, our minds are at work.

    Taylor goes on to explain,

    There is a long tradition of people of faith who have valued and participated in the life of the mind and who have brought their God-given intelligence and imagination to bear on the society in which they have lived. These believers have been involved thoughtfully in their cultures, sometimes as shapers, sometimes as critics, but always as people who thought the human endeavor worthwhile.

    But there is also a more troublesome aspect to being reflective. Thinking, as many have discovered, can be dangerous. It can get us in trouble-with others, but also with ourselves. And the suspicion lingers in religious circles that it can also, if we are not very careful, get us in trouble with God .When are those times I allow my intellect to challenge my beliefs? When do I question? When do I reflect? And candidly, when do I doubt? Likely, it's at those same crossroads of doubt and faith common to most of us. When we encounter a sudden, unexpected calamity. When we pray for a specific outcome and the exact opposite occurs. When we lose a valued staff member or coworker or when our dearest friend moves away to another state. When we live right and suffer miserably for it. When we take a course at school that makes more sense than what our church believes. Ouch!

    When life takes us through unexpected twists and tragic turns, we're often overwhelmed by the tough stuff of doubt.

    Thankfully the Bible does not leave us awash in our questions. A familiar story in John's Gospel shows us that the answer to much of our doubting is a Person. His name is Jesus and--as He did for one struggling disciple--He helps us in our unbelief ... transforming those lingering questions into more stabilized faith.