Doubt vs. Unbelief: There’s a Big Difference

When the men had come to Him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to You, saying, ‘Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?’ ”And that very hour He cured many of infirmities, afflictions, and evil spirits; and to many blind He gave sight.
~Luke 7:20-21

The other day, after a conversation with some friends that are currently in a season of great grief after tremendous loss, I was spending some time with Papa, and I began to think about doubt…the doubts I’ve had in the past, the doubts that still creep their way into my thinking when going through a hard time, and the doubts that will probably still appear during hard times as I go through my time here on Earth before going home to be with my Beloved.

In the past few years, so many of us have gone through some pretty tumultuous times due to the pandemic, political squabbles, longtime mistreatment and injustices coming to light, differing opinions and truths, and the like. When you sprinkle in stressful events that are naturally, but unfortunately, a part of life (such as losing a loved one, injury, loss of a job, etc.), a lot of people have been approaching their breaking point, been at their breaking point, or just plain broke at some point. We’ve collectively experienced trauma, grief, strife, etc., and with those things and the inevitable stressful events of life that happen, a lot of doubt can take over one’s thoughts.

As a human being and due to my own personal life experiences, I’ve gone through my own seasons of struggle, trauma, loss, depression, illness, anxiety…you name it, I’ve probably been there, and in every single one of those seasons, doubt crept in. Another little jerk that accompanied that doubt is guilt…I know I’m a believer, I know that God is good, I know that God can do anything, so who am I to doubt or question Him…bad Laura – bad, bad, Laura (oh, the tricks the mind will play). I can’t imagine that I’m the only one to deal with this conundrum, so I just wanted to drop a thought here about it.

One thing I want to say is that there is a very big difference between doubt and unbelief.  When looking back at the times that I’ve gone through seasons of doubt, my doubts and questions always were in a form similar to the following:

  • “Why is God allowing this?”
  • “Why hasn’t God helped me?”
  • ”Why isn’t God answering my prayers?”
  • ”Why did God do this for someone else, but not me or a loved one?”
  • ”Is God even listening to me?”
  • ”What am I doing wrong that is causing God not to help me?”
  • “If God is so good, why is this happening?”

Notice the commonality there?  In every doubt, I’m acknowledging that God exists.  At no point am I implying that He doesn’t exist – just the opposite in fact. By questioning God’s methods, plan, intentions, etc., I am saying He’s there. There’s the difference between doubt and unbelief. I think Henry Drummond said it well when he stated the following:

“Christ never failed to distinguish between doubt and unbelief. Doubt is can’t believe. Unbelief is won’t believe. Doubt is honesty. Unbelief is obstinacy. Doubt is looking for light. Unbelief is content with darkness.”

A lot of the time people worry that any doubt or some line of questioning that comes up regarding God’s love, power, goodness, etc. through difficult circumstances is wrong to have. Rather, I believe, it is a demonstration of vulnerability with God Himself (which is exactly what He wants from us), it is seeking out light in the darkness, it is asking Him to explain that there is a way out of this season that we’re in, and it is a direct acknowledgement of His existence, which is the opposite of unbelief. If we are doubting why God did something the way He did, why He allowed something to happen, or His perceived inaction in a certain circumstance, we are basically saying, “I know you exist, so why this?”

Folks, this is what He wants from us…to be vulnerable and honest enough with Him to ask Him for guidance, clarity, or reassurance when we’re hurting. If you are a parent, imagine your child witnessing something bad happen that confuses them. Would you want them to come to you and be honest with their questions about the event and trust you enough to know you can handle it and just want to be there for them, or would you want them to think that those questions aren’t okay to have and they can’t come to you for fear of upsetting you with such questions or doubts? If you aren’t a parent, consider the same scenario with someone you hold incredibly close to your heart. I am pretty sure we all know which one we would choose, because we would just want to be there for them, and there is no way we would be angry with them for coming to us even if it’s something that is not easy for us to hear.  

Now, think of that love that you feel for that child or person, and amplify it an unfathomable number of times…that’s a tiny speck of how much God loves us, so it only naturally follows that He would want us to come to Him with those doubts so that He can love us, reassure us, and comfort us. Furthermore, God can take our doubts. He can handle our questions. He loves us in a way that is unconditional and never ending, and it is impossible to separate ourselves from that love. He is stronger than anything we can imagine, so He can take it.

Thus, in a time where there is a lot of hurting going on in the world and hence, a lot of doubts that may be invading your mind. Try not to beat yourself up for it and remember the difference between doubts and unbelief. The former is a direct acknowledgment that God exists and something that God just wants you to go to Him with, the latter is a refusal to do so. God knows every step of your path here on Earth. There’s no surprises to Him, and He knows when you might stray and when you will come home to His loving arms again only to be accepted again and again, just like the prodigal son.

Life isn’t always easy, but just know that even in your seasons of doubt, you’re still loved, you’re still held, you’re still being watched over by a loving and tender Eye, and He already knows the twisting and turning path that you will take to land back in His loving arms. Comfort will come, healing will happen, peace will be restored…it may not be on the timeline you would like, but it will. He wants you just the way you are, doubts and all, and there is nothing He would change about you, as you are perfect in His eyes. And most importantly, He’s still so incredibly proud of you, still desires your heart, and still loves you with a love so fierce it can move mountains. Doubt can’t change that…nothing can.

One last note, when doubts fall upon you (and they will – everyone, believer or not, has them at some point in their lives), you are safe to (and absolutely should) just take them to Jesus directly. Cry out to Him – He’s listening! Pour out your confusion or difficulty honestly and openly to Him. He is a loving shoulder to cry on. He is there for you no matter what. He is there to give you a gentle talking to with some tender redirection if needed, but it is always in love and in a way to bring healing and comfort. And if you’re not ready for that, take comfort in the fact that He already has the path laid out to bring you back into His embrace. Just know that doubts are a part of life, and they don’t surprise or turn away our loving Father. You are never alone, and you are always loved.

There are those who insist that it is a very bad thing to question God. To them, “why?” is a rude question. That depends, I believe, on whether it is an honest search, in faith, for His meaning, or whether it is the challenge of unbelief and rebellion.
~Elisabeth Elliot

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