“God” and “doubt” are frequent words many of us Christians expect to not be in the same sentence, unless “not” is in front of “doubt.” Realizing this, it has become a trend bordering on cliche to say that it is okay to doubt God. Where one stands on this issue depends largely on one’s view of certainty as it pertains to faith. Conservative, evangelical elements will tend to value higher degrees of certainty and thus shun faith, whereas progressive elements will tend to allow for a greater degree of ambiguity and not expect certainty, and thereby place a higher value on doubt. But if we are being honest, the language of faith that operates throughout the Bible seems to go against the progressive space for, if not celebration of, doubt. However, being the aspiring analytic thinker that I am, I would suggest the problem rests in how we treat all doubt as equivalent and thereby committing ourselves to see all forms doubt as good/warranted or as bad and to be avoided. However, in my own reflection, there are at least five forms of doubt that pertain to God:
Doubt of existence – This is the primary question that gets addressed today in intellectual circles: does God exist? This is not a question the Bible gets into, however, as there is little question about the ontological existence of divinity(ies), but only about what divine being there were and what they were like.
Doubt of trustworthiness – Is God to be trusted? This question of trust pertains to both intentions and the capability to put one’s intentions into action. The Bible affirms that God is loving and that God is powerful, and thereby is worthy of trust. This is the primary understanding of faith throughout the Scriptures, primarily expressed in terms of God’s faithfulness to His covenant and the fulfillment of His promises.
Doubt of origination – This question pertains more so to whether some word or some action is really a word or action from God. One common question about prophecy: is a prophetic word true and from God or is it false and from the mind of the prophet? In the Bible, it can also pertain to the interpretation of socio-political and natural events and determination of whether something is a sign from and caused by God or not. A more modern form of doubt or origination in our day is about the inspiration of Scripture: is the Bible the inspired word of God or is it merely a human words about God, or something in between? Doubts of origination are not condemned in the Bible; in fact there is an importance placed on discernment, which would place a certain value of doubting whether certain words or actions originate from God.
Doubt of appropriateness – At the core, the doubt about appropriateness pertains to whether God could do something a different way. The lament psalms express this form of doubt about God, seeing God’s inaction as inappropriate given the covenant Israel has with God. Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane expresses a desire for a different way than the suffering and death he was going to experience. However, it should be clarified that doubt about appropriateness is not the same as a doubt about trustworthiness. Both the lament psalms and Jesus expression a confidence in God’s trustworthiness, even if they wish for God to do things a different way.
Doubt of relationship – This doubt is the most personal and existential, as it pertains to the relationship we have with God? Is God for me or against me? Has God forgiven me or does he stand against me? Paul addresses this question by saying if one has confidence in God’s faithfulness/trustworthiness (in other words, faith), then one can trust that one has been justified by God. However, this type of doubt is not treated as a lack of faith. Rather, this type of doubt assumes a sense of trustworthiness of God and an unworthiness of the person, as many of the penitential psalms express.
While these different forms of doubt can be related to each other and different specific doubts may have multiples aspects from these different forms doubts, I would contend it is important to distinguish between these forms, for exegetical, theological, ecclesiology, and spiritual reasons.