Have you ever felt shame about questioning God or struggled to understand the difference between doubt and unbelief? You’re going to love this conversation with author Shanda Fulbright. In it, she discusses the relationship between faith and doubt. How asking questions can strengthen your trust in God. She also offers some practical tips on how you can begin reading the Bible with confidence. This episode is about overcoming doubt and unbelief.
BELOW IS A TRANSCRIPTION OF THIS EPISODE
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What’s the Difference Between Doubt and Unbelief
We need to address doubt and unbelief because I think many of us kind of lump them together or we don’t understand what each one means. Will you help define what is doubt and what is unbelief?
I think maybe it’ll be comforting for people to know, if you are a believer, doubt is something that accompanies faith. So you cannot have doubt unless you believe in something. We see in the Bible it says that it’s impossible to please God without faith. And so we have to come to God knowing that and having a trust in Him. He can accomplish what He said that He would accomplish.
Doubt is something that we’re going to also always wrestle with. I think sometimes when trials are a little bit too burdensome, we have more doubt in those moments. Mainly because we haven’t been in that place before in life. We haven’t seen God move in that specific area. But I think in those times it’s important to say, “If God has brought me this far and I’ve overcome all of these other things in my life because He’s given me the strength to do it, then why would He not follow through in this area?” It’s important to take your doubts to God and be honest.
Overcoming doubt and unbelief will require an understanding of each one.
Now when we talk about unbelief, that is completely different. Unbelief is a refusal to believe the evidence of God. You don’t have to have eyewitness testimony necessarily claiming that Jesus came, died on the cross and rose again the third day. The Bible says creation itself testifies to the existence of God. We see the evidence of God and we can still say, “No, I won’t believe. I will not take this evidence and add that up or equate that to a creator.”
Unbelief is in is involved in spiritual blindness and a willful resolve not to believe in God. So if people don’t have the faith to doubt, they are not believing.
So to sum it up, to have faith means that you could also have doubt. Doubt not in God himself, but doubt because we haven’t seen Him work in this certain way before. Unbelief is basically knowing the facts and choosing not to believe.
Yes, look at the man in Mark 9 – he went to Jesus and he asked for his child to be healed. And he said, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.” He didn’t mean unbelief like he didn’t believe Jesus could do it, but he was unsure if He would. We have to remember that we do have doubt as Christians; being in apologetics looking at the scientific evidence for God looking at logic and reason and all of these things, my faith has grown stronger because of it.
Does that mean I’ll never wrestle a doubt again? No. We’re human beings, we fight the human nature of unbelief and uncertainty. And not only that, we fight the culture. The culture is constantly creeping in and trying to shape my worldview. How we see the world affects how we see God and view Him within the world that we live in. But unbelief is blatantly choosing not to believe. And that’s why you go back to Romans 1 especially between the verses of 18 – 32. Although they acknowledged God, they rejected Him as God and they worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator.
They traded what they wanted to put their faith in and said, “I will not believe in God. I will believe in the creature rather than the Creator and they made their own idols and their own way of believing. Everyone will have faith in something. It’s not just a religious term.
Overcoming doubt and unbelief will require us to ask the right questions.
I really hope you also set some people free because I think so many people feel shame for their doubts and that just opens the door for the enemy. It’s so helpful to know faith and doubt accompany each other.
With so many people deconstructing their faith, I’d love to hear your perspective on when doubt goes too far? Is it when we question is God really good? Is he really true? Are His promises really yes and amen?
I think that’s a great question, especially with the trend right now for deconstruction in the church. It’s almost like the cool thing to do these days is deconstruct your faith. So I would say, how do we go too far? I grew up in church and I grew up thinking two things – one, that you couldn’t ask questions because that’s doubting God.
Two, if something bad was happening in your life, maybe you didn’t have enough faith when you prayed. And so people felt shamed. I believe when we take it too far we begin to look for the answers in other things and not look for the answers that God has provided. And that’s important because I truly believe we will not have the answer to every question. I think that we have to be wise and discerning. Don’t let your doubt become so far out there that you stop seeking wise counsel and look to find these answers outside of who God is and His nature and character.
Overcoming doubt and unbelief will require us to know the God that we serve and is going to help us keep within those bounds of trying to find the answers to the questions in the right in the right and wisest way.
Deconstructing Your Faith
You mentioned that many Christians have been told to not question God. I’ve worked with so many women and that idea has kept them paralyzed and they’ve kept God at a distance. Can you speak to that a little bit? Where did this come from and how can women be set free from this idea?
I think the best example that we have of suffering is Job. He was upright and blameless in the sight of God. He was a righteous man. There was no reason in the in the sense of faith or goodness or character or whatever that Job would have went through what he went through. But Job goes through this process of suffering – losing children, getting sick – his wife tells him to curse God and die but he never does it, but he questions the day of his birth.
He asked God all along the way and at the very end Job’s response was, “I have always heard about you with the hearing of the ear. But now I have seen you and I know.” That’s what happens when we ask God questions. It doesn’t mean that we’re questioning who He is, we’re questioning to say, “God, I want to understand. I may not understand it, but at the end of this trial, I know one thing – I will know You better.”
That should be our goal. Knowing who God is is what strengthens us during the doubt is and the difficult times. Overcoming doubt and unbelief will depend on God’s strength, not ours.
Let’s remember that the problem of evil and suffering is one thing that brings so much doubt to Christians and unbelievers. We have to understand God sees the big picture and we have to understand His character and who He is. We also have to be honest and raw with our Creator because it’s one of the most intimate relationships you can have. Even if you say, “God, why am I suffering? Why am I going through this? I don’t understand, but if You are trying to teach me something, if I can see You more, then it will be worth it. But you’re going to have to sustain me because I have questions.”
We need to go to Him for that. He can handle it. Everything that He allows us to go through is not the consequences of sin – it’s going to work towards our good.
It’s beautiful just how much God wants to be a part of our lives. So many of us think that God sees us through our sin and I think that’s where we get really hung up – understanding what happened at salvation. When you said yes and you confess with your mouth and believed in your heart, you don’t have a sin nature anymore. Overcoming doubt and unbelief will require us to know who are in Christ.
You have a new nature, but we have a sin habit. And if God can’t be a part of sin, He’s not looking at you through your sin. He’s looking at you through his son Jesus. That’s really hard for us to grasp. We look around and think, “This doesn’t make sense. How can I make it make sense?” Can you talk a little bit about how we arrive at doubt? How do we arrive at unbelief?
Unbelief is something we were in before we even got saved. But let’s go back to doubt. Doubt arrives when you get saved – it accompanies faith and belief. So in speaking to faith and doubt within Christianity, it’s going to be a wrestling. But how do I increase my faith so that doubt becomes less and less? There’s a couple of things – One is that faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. So we have to remember that we can increase our faith the more that we know God’s Word and get to know Him.
Faith is just another way to say trust. And it’s not just belief, it’s trusting. So I’m going to increase that trust as I get to know Him more and walk this life with Him and know what His Word says. So that, to me, that’s, that’s a simple way to do it – be in the Word. If you don’t know how to study the Word, look up some really great people who can teach that. But it’s important to be careful which Bible studies that you do. Overcoming doubt and unbelief will take time as you read through your Bible.
We are going to want to feel our spiritual need with something. So as an unbeliever, if you don’t believe and you happen to be listening to this podcast, who’s your god? Because something’s there. If you don’t believe in the God of creation, then you’ve substituted Him for something else. These decisions have eternal consequences and we live in a post truth culture that tells you that you can live your truth. But in reality, we know that that’s not true.
I think this is where it gets tricky because when we live out our “truth,” we then face are our own consequences of the choices that we make. Then we blame God. It’s not about blaming God for everything, it’s about looking internally, meaning taking responsibility for our choices, thoughts, and actions. How do you think we can, in our everyday life, be able to recognize when we’re in doubt and unbelief? How can we begin to overcome unbelief?
Unbelief is going to be contrary to believing in God. This is where I am a firm believer of apologetics. If you are a Christian and you don’t know why you believe what you believe, then you really don’t know what you believe. And that may hit you hard. But like I said, I grew up in church and I could not explain why suffering. I could not explain why evil. I could not explain what why God created hell. Is that mean? He’s unjust because there’s hell? Overcoming doubt and unbelief requires us to know the character of God.
65% of Americans claim to be Christian because we’ve always been a predominantly Christian nation. But when you get deeper into the statistics you’ll see that only 4% of those 65% have a biblical worldview, meaning they know what their Bible says and they believe in the fundamentals of the faith.
My point to saying all that is, if we do not know our own theology, how are we ever going to pass on to somebody else? Also, if we claim Christianity and we’re holding on to these things without a biblical worldview, they’re not tethered to anything. Our knowledge of who God is and our belief in the Christianity itself is not tethered to truth. And so it’s very, very important to really delve into what you believe and why you believe it.
My number one bit of advice is we are living in a culture that’s going to require Christians to know what they believe why they believe it and to be able to defend the faith that is very much under attack in a post-truth culture. If we don’t know the answers, we will lose the people.
I think that we also have this perspective that we when we hear of “Good God,” we think that there’s not going to be any pain. And so whenever there’s pain in our lives, we start to equate that with God and it starts to cause us to drift. When we have this foundation of who God is, when we know the why and the what, it should be life-changing. Overcoming doubt and unbelief may have pain involved.
Absolutely. Someone asked me how somebody can read their Bible every day and not be changed by it? Be careful how you hear. If you read Luke 8 Jesus talks about how the seed falls on the different soils of the heart, but before they fall, it says “he who heard.” We always talk about that about being the condition of our heart, which is very true, that’s part of it.
The first part though is how we hear. At the end of that chapter, Jesus says, “Be careful how you hear then,” because how we hear that word and how we receive it is going to determine how we act out the word and how it changes our life. A lot of times I think Christianity is something that we check on a box, but do we really understand that it’s a transforming relationship? It transforms our lives, our thinking, our emotions.
Therefore, why aren’t we being transformed? Because I believe it has to do with being careful how we hear.
What would you like to end with to encourage or to equip listeners with this message on overcoming doubt and unbelief?
I would say two things – one, don’t beat yourself up. When you go through things that cause doubt, let that be the opportunity that you grind through to learn something about God. That’s only going to strengthen your faith if you go through the next trial because that’s what ultimately what doubts should do when we wrestle through them. We’re only going to be stronger in our faith on the other side of it because that doubt is going to be put to rest. But don’t feel bad about it.
The second thing is do not be afraid to ask the questions, but I would say don’t leave it there either. Ask God the questions and seek out the answers. One thing we forget as Christians is that God tells us to ask, seek, and knock. Those are different levels of tenacity within wanting to know and wanting God to respond.
So it’s easy to ask, it’s harder to knock. I have to get up and go do something. Don’t just stop at asking the question. Go as far as seeking out the answer from wise people in your lives. Most importantly, the Word of God. Ask God to lead you into truth. That’s what the Holy Spirit does. He leads us into all truth. I found that by asking the questions and seeking out and finding the answers, my faith is strengthened. I am convinced that we serve the living God. That one day He will come back for his church. Right now He is with his church, that gates of hell cannot prevail against the church.
And if we are a part of that, we should be confident and knowing that God will do what He said he’s going to do on the minute scale of my life and on the wide scale of this universe because He created it. Overcoming doubt and unbelief will require building a relationship with God.