At the Intersection of Doubt and Indecision

To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.

Yann Martel, Life of Pi*

“When you come to a fork in the road, take it!” (Yogi Berra)

Imagine you are going through life and you come to one of life’s forks in the road. If you’re like me, you’ll want to know something about each direction, where they are headed and whether you’d enjoy the path. If you’re like my wife, you’ll want to know where each path leads and which one will get you to where you want to go.

That may look like a subtle difference, but it’s a distinction that can tell you a lot about how the two of us can face the same issues and consider them in very different ways. One thing that’s the same, though, is that each of us is looking at the fork in the road and trying to decide which path to take. When we face the choice together, it might take us a while to talk through the possibilities and understand what each other considers important, but we end up making a decision sooner or later.

The Difference Between Doubt and Indecision

The Bible draws a distinction between doubt and indecision, and the quote above from Life of Pi helped me see why: Doubt can be useful as it brings us closer to God, but if instead we use doubt as a means of avoiding movement at all then it’s not really doubt but indecision.

Doubt is the easy one to point to in the Bible, because everyone who writes about doubt and faith relies on Mark 9 –

“Teacher, I brought you my son, who is possessed by a spirit that has robbed him of speech. Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid. I asked your disciples to drive out the spirit, but they could not. … But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.”

“‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.”

Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:17-18, 22-24.)

And then, as everyone who writes on doubt and faith points out, Jesus healed the man’s son. Jesus helped the man embrace his doubts and rely on God in spite of those doubts, so that everyone viewing could see that God is bigger than our doubts. At least, I think that’s what this passage is about. In any case, it’s about pointing us to God and not to our own doubt-filled limitations. God is not bothered by our doubts when they bring us to him, as this man’s doubts brought him face to face with Jesus.

Indecision, on the other hand, can be a real problem.

Elijah went before the people and said, “How long will you waver between two opinions? If the Lord is God, follow him; but if Baal is God, follow him.”

But the people said nothing. (1 Kings 18:21.)

Reading the entire passage may lead you to conclude that Elijah’s listeners weren’t so much undecided as unwilling to admit they’d already chosen to align themselves with Baal.

Centuries earlier, Joshua called on the nation of Israel to make a choice for God as well.

“Now fear the Lord and serve him with all faithfulness. Throw away the gods your ancestors worshiped beyond the Euphrates River and in Egypt, and serve the Lord. But if serving the Lord seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” (Joshua 24:14-15.)

Choosing one way or another is important to God, and lukewarm faith is an abomination.

I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. (Revelation 3:15-16.)

Harsh, right? And those words are from Jesus himself. Yet this is the same Jesus who gently led a grief-stricken father from doubt to trust. God doesn’t criticize doubt; he uses it to draw people to him.

So when you are at the intersection of Doubt and Indecision, you know which way to go.

Doubt – who knew it would lead to God?

***

*My thanks to Jeannie Prinsen for using this line in a longer quote she provided at her blog, Little House on the Circle.

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6 Responses to At the Intersection of Doubt and Indecision

  1. Jeannie says:

    I think that’s a really helpful distinction between doubt and indecision. Do you think that James 1 passage is related, too? — about how we need to ask in faith and not doubt?

    (Oh and thanks for mentioning my blog!)

    • Tim says:

      Great question, Jeannie. I think James is closely aligned with the actions of the man Jesus spoke to. The man had doubts, but he asked in his faith and not in his doubt. His doubts had not disappeared, but they were merely along for the ride of faith in his conversation with Jesus.

  2. I love how you contrast being stuck in indecision here, Tim. I’ve experienced moments in my life when I just didn’t want to do anything at all, and I think fear played a role in that also. I would love to investigate more about how fear and doubt are related or synonymous.

    Question: how do you interpret “lukewarm faith”? What are some characteristics of it, in your opinion?

    • Tim says:

      Lukewarm seems to suggest not caring enough to want to get things right, which is much different than struggling with doubt and faith.

      • Hmmm, so “lukewarm” is kind of like apathy, in that it is an active choice to not do what one already knows is best for self and others around them. Yes?

        • Tim says:

          That’s a good description of how I see it used in Revelation 3. Jesus is telling them that they know what to do but are choosing not to expend the effort to make necessary changes. They are comfortable with a middling faith life.

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