Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)
Whether Faith and Doubt are in mortal combat depends on what definitions of both words we have in mind. Faith, according to M-W.com, means:
allegiance to duty or a person : loyaltyb (1) : fidelity
to one’s promises (2) :
sincerity of intentions
a (1) :
belief and trust in and loyalty to God (2) :
belief in the traditional doctrines
of a religionb (1) :
firm belief in something for which there is no proof (2):
: something that is believed especially with strong conviction;especially: a system of religious beliefs <the Protestantfaith>
Doubt, according to m-w.com, means:
a : uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-makingb : a deliberate suspension of judgment
: a state of affairs giving rise to uncertainty, hesitation, or suspense <the outcome is still in doubt>
a lack of confidence : distrust
about his abilities>b :
an inclination not to believe or accept <a claim met with doubt
Certainly, we can find ourselves uncertain of what opinion or belief is right, but refuse to allow it to interfere with our decision-making and loyally remain faithful to God’s word. This is a “test and see that the Lord is good” mode of taking a gamble or going out on a limb in a hope that maybe God will deliver and nothing to be ashamed of if one is young in the faith. Tentative baby steps would be inappropriate for the mature, but through the process of taking them, we learn by experience that God is indeed good.
For some, taking God at his word may indeed require they make a “deliberate suspension of judgment” on any points where they’d reach a different conclusion than God did if they leaned on their own understanding. Really, though, this is doubting in ourselves in the process of choosing to trust God. It is highly countercultural, but hardly contradicts the idea that doubt is poisonous to sprinkle the poison on our own flesh/sin nature.
Naturally, it is logically impossible to have a strong conviction about a belief we are uncertain of. So in that regards, it would be an oxymoron to doubt the truth of our firm convictions. We can have an “unshakable” faith on some things, and doubts about other things, but we can’t be both quavering and standing firm on the same belief at the same time.
To move on to the next definition of doubt, however, we definitely can be in a “state of affairs” that is suspenseful or otherwise has an uncertain outcome and have any definition of faith. In fact, it is in such circumstances that we most need to have faith and that our loyalty to and trust in God is most tested.
One can lack confidence in God or distrust him, but choose to still remain loyal and faithful to him anyway. This is bruised and battered, struggling faith is a spiritual wound as real as, and quite similar to, having a broken bone. Unless the break heals properly, depending on the severity of the spiritual wound and where it is, the patient will either die or remain crippled in their faith, that is they will be spiritually unable to move and grow properly in the area of impact.
Those who do make a full recovery, however, bear testimony that their faith is not only fully restored, their trust and loyalty to the shepherd is much stronger than it was before. Good shepherds have been known to break a leg bone of a sheep prone to wander, to teach it to stay close. God likewise has a tendency to try our faith by putting us into circumstances that he well knows will inflict (or reveal) doubts and make it as painful to walk in faith as it is to walk on a broken leg. We may call this “failing a test.” God sees it more like a toxin being used as a prescription medicine. He well knew what side effects we’d experience when he gave it and decided the spiritual benefits made it worth putting us through the suffering. He promised he won’t ever give us a stronger dosage of this painful, potentially deadly treatment than we can bear, but that itself can of course be difficult to keep believing in our darkest hours.
An inclination to not believe or accept God is the doubt that is the sworn enemy of , or at least contradictory to, every definition of faith. If you have this kind of doubt on a grand scale, you are not even a Christian and you probably well know it. If you have a habitual, unrepentant sin in your life, that also by nature rooted in not believing or accepting God’s word. Most of us are works in progress here, though, as God is in the process of transforming us from cancerous, dead, defeated “sinners” into healthy, living, victorious “saints.”
This is a good spot to note that a proposed alternate supreme opponent of faith, fear, is simply an emotional response preparing you to either avoid or defend yourself against an anticipated real or imagined future danger and can also be triggered by awareness of a danger already present. This god-given emergency response system can be helpful if wisely utilized and if it isn’t a “false alarm.” However, the relevant point is that being afraid of something God’s word told us we don’t need to be afraid of does require doubt of the previously mentioned “enemy of faith” variety.
The dictionary definitions of faith that God most values, and desires to grown in us, is complete trust in him and a firm belief in his word even when it cannot be independently verified, and a firm belief that he will keep his promises in Heaven, if not this life, without any guarantee he will come through for us at all beyond the subjective experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit.
God is notorious for using our struggles with doubt themselves to produce this kind of faith, but but we cannot have the final product while we’re still in the fires of these tests of our faith. We may fancy we have only passed the test when we maintain faith through difficult circumstances where we can’t scientifically know the outcome. Rest assured, my limping sibling, the Good Shepherd knew when he cracked his staff across your leg bone that the bone would break. You may be flailing and limping, but you haven’t failed. The fiery pain shooting through your broken faith may feel like you’re in a furnace, but so long as you don’t give up and choose to forsake God, you will come through it with an even stronger, more loyal faith as he teaches you through this to stay close to, depend upon on, and more fully trust in God.