What is the difference between doubts and questions?
Many Christians struggle with this problem. Because the two are not properly distinguished, many are trapped in a confusion that can lead to despair.
We grow as Christians when we question, even if the questions are difficult, requiring hard answers. But when we doubt, we dry up and our spiritual vitality is destroyed. What is the difference? The answer is straight-forward. Questions have answers, and doubts do not.
For example, take the apparent discrepancy between Paul and James on faith and works. Paul says we are saved by faith apart from the law. James says that faith withtout works is dead. More than one Christian has been bothered by this. But when they put this discomfort into words, they have asked a specific question which has a specific answer. That answer is found through a careful examination of both James and the letters of Paul. Paul and James are using the same concepts, but they use different words; what James means by “works” Paul means by “fruit.” There is no discrepancy. In the book of Galatians, Paul recounts how he and James offered one another the right hand of fellowship. It is no different today. They are still in fellowship.
The point is that questions, even tough questions, can be answered. And when they are answered, the questioner grows in his knowledge and understanding. Don’t worry whether the Bible can stand up to your questions. It is an anvil that has worn out many hammers.
Doubts are another thing altogether. A doubt cannot be answered in principle. How do these doubts afflict us, and how should we respond? A doubt begins with words sucsh as “what if . . .” “What is Christ is not God?” “What if the Bible is not inspired?” Doubts are counterfeit questions. They have a surface resemblance to questions but are far removed from them in one major respect: they have no answers and never will.
A questioner asks, “Is the Bible the Word of God?” Then he proceeds to seek the answers which are there. A doubter wonders, “What if the Bible is not the Word of God?” There is no reason for the doubt; it has no anchor in reality. This is seen when you respond to the doubt with “What if it is?” There are no reasons to go either way, so the doubter is at the mercy of his emotions.
Questions breed answers which result in a godly confidence. Doubts breed more doubts which result in greater insecurity.
This explains Jesus’ praise of John the Baptist when he said, “Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he” (Matt. 11:11). This was spoken just after John’s messengers asked, “Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?” John was troubled by a question, not by a doubt. Jesus answer the question, and then praised the questioner.
Meet your questions head on. Get them answered. Reject and ignore doubts. They will only waste your time and squander your assurance. Avoid the condition that James warned us about. “. . . he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind” (James 1:6).
Originally published in The Hammer (Vol. 2, No. 4) in the fall of 1983. The Hammer was a publication of Community Christian Ministries.