Faith: the difference between 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.)

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. Jesus points us to God, taking the focus off 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?


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11 Responses to Faith: the difference between doubt and indecision

  1. Pingback: Faith: the difference between doubt and indecision — Tim’s Blog – Just One Train Wreck After Another @tim_fall | Talmidimblogging

  2. Doug says:

    I like this, thanks. Led me to realize Thomas’ doubt did that; led him to the decision to say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.” Jesus strongly affirmed his decision. When it comes to the Truth, Christ Jesus, one could doubt any doubts about Him, and be faithful. Choose this day whom you will serve.

    • Tim says:

      Well said, Doug. Thomas is one of my heroes, by the way. Jesus said they were going to Jerusalem and all the other disciples said, “WHAT? They’re trying to kill you!” Thomas said, “If he goes I go, and if I die in the process, so what?”

  3. Pingback: Weekend Picks ~ 6-9-2017 | Life on the Bridge

  4. Laura Droege says:

    That quote hit home for me. Indecision was my mode of transportation, as Martel puts it, for most of my life. Afraid of making even one wrong choice, I didn’t choose to act at all, not realizing that that was my choice. I’m still living with the consequences even now.

    Anyway, great point that our doubts can bring us closer to God. He’s big enough for our doubts, even if we doubt that as well.

  5. Jeannie Prinsen says:

    I love that Life of Pi quote, Tim, and I really appreciate what you’ve done with it. I was thinking about those verses in James 1 about doubt, and I find your points helpful there: maybe James is referring more to that indecision/unwillingness type of doubt, rather than the kind of doubt that turns us to God and to dependence on Him. I think that James passage is sometimes used to guilt us into thinking we have to be 100% sure when we call on God. But of course if we were 100% sure we wouldn’t need faith. I guess there is humble doubt and then there’s arrogant, self-sufficient doubt. We should probably take care which one we’re exhibiting, but we should also remember God meets us even in our doubts.

    • Tim says:

      You are the one who introduced me to the Martel quote when you used it on your blog a few years ago, Jeannie, and it sparked these thoughts. I am so glad God meets us in our thoughts and doubts … and even in our misbegotten certainties.

      • That’s so cool, Tim, about the quote! Pi is such an interesting character, seeking truth and goodness in all the different religions, even finding kindred spirits in atheism.

  6. salisande says:

    “A bruised reed he will not break, a smoking flax he will not quench” says Jesus quoting Isaiah 42. Yet in Revelation Jesus spews the lukewarm out of his mouth. In Mark, Jesus is patient with the doubting man (as you discuss above), but James says whoever doubts “will not receive anything from the Lord.” The apparent conflict between these passages has always troubled me, as a bit of a doubter myself. Am I a ‘bruised reed’ or ‘lukewarm water’? I really like your discussion of Doubt vs. Indecision–it makes a lot of sense.

    A common quote about courage is some form of “courage is not the absence of fear, but acting in spite of fear.” Perhaps we could say that faith is not the absence of doubt, but acting in spite of doubt? (Naaman in the Old Testament might be a good example of that).

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