Scripture testifies that we receive salvation through God’s forgiveness. John assures us that when we ‘confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness,’ (1 John 1:9). And Paul teaches that ‘it is by grace you have been saved, through faith,’ (Ephesians 2:8).
But when we struggle with doubt, we struggle with belief – the very thing by which we receive our salvation. And since doubt is a barrier to belief, there is a certain logic that leads us to ask, “Will God forgive me for doubting Him?”
God forgives our doubts, just as He forgives our other sins. Also, God comes alongside us in the midst of our doubts to guide us from doubt to belief.
Good News for the Doubters
When we read stories about heroes of faith like David, who had no reservations about facing a giant, or Daniel, who never wavered in the midst of persecution, we might easily get discouraged.
But for every David or Daniel in scripture, there are several heroes of faith who wrestled with doubt.
But Abram said, “Sovereign Lord, what can you give me since I remain childless… You have given me no children; so a servant in my household will be my heir.”Genesis 15:2–3
Abraham had been walking with God for several years. His belief had already prompted him to follow God’s instruction to leave his home and his family and travel to a foreign land.
Yet, when God promised to reward Abraham, he responded with doubt. He didn’t believe that God could reward him because he had no heirs.
So God responded by inviting Abraham to look at the night sky full of stars – too many to count. God promised that Abraham would have offspring as numerous as these stars. At that promise, Abraham turned from doubt to belief.
But Moses said to God, “Who am I that I should go to Pharaoh and bring the Israelites out of Egypt?”Exodus 3:11
When God called Moses to lead the Israelites out of slavery, He spoke through a bush that burned with fire but was not consumed. Yet, despite the miracle taking place before his eyes, Moses doubted that God could use him.
Even when God assured Moses that He would go with him, Moses had more questions, followed by still more questions. God answered every one of them.
But Moses still wanted someone else to go instead.
So God enlisted Moses’ brother Aaron to accompany him and assist him. Still, Moses was the one that was chosen, the one that was sent, and the one that ultimately carried out God’s rescue plan.
“Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”Judges 6:15
Gideon did not believe he was qualified to rescue Israel because he was the youngest member of a small family. So he asked for a sign and God graciously provided one.
But after Gideon destroyed the altar to Baal, as God commanded, the neighboring nations grew hostile toward Israel, bringing war to Gideon’s doorstep.
Gideon responded with even more doubt, asking God for two signs – not just one – as he twice put out his fleece to test God.
Each time, God answered exactly as Gideon requested. Finally, Gideon was ready to proceed into the battle with such a small army – only 300 men – that all of the glory of the victory belonged to God.
“Take away the stone,” he said.
“But, Lord,” said Martha, the sister of the dead man, “by this time there is a bad odor, for he has been there four days.”John 11:39
Martha had sent for Jesus when her brother Lazarus had fallen ill, believing that Jesus could heal him. But Jesus did not go right away. Instead, he waited several days before making the trip. By the time Jesus arrived, Lazarus had died.
Martha vented her frustration at Jesus and even reiterated her belief that Lazarus would still be alive if Jesus had come in time to heal him. Yet, despite her belief in Jesus’ healing powers, she was convinced that there was nothing he could do for Lazarus now. To Martha’s mind, it was too late.
Even when Jesus assured Martha that Lazarus would be raised, she assumed he was speaking only about the final resurrection on the last day. Further assurance from Jesus and even a command to open the tomb were not enough to overcome Martha’s doubt.
Still, that did not deter Jesus. When the tomb was opened, he called Lazarus out and Lazarus obeyed, whether Martha was ready to believe or not.
So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”John 20:25
Thomas doesn’t feature prominently in the gospels. Because we know so little about his activities, we associate him first and foremost with this post-resurrection interaction that earned him the nickname ‘Doubting Thomas.’
Jesus knew that Thomas doubted what he could not verify with his own eyes. So, when he returned to the disciples a week after Thomas had expressed his doubt, he willingly provided Thomas with all of the verification that he needed.
In addition to presenting himself visibly for Thomas to see, Jesus invited Thomas to touch the wounds in his hands and side. Thomas did and he believed.
In all of these stories, we witness God’s gracious response to a variety of doubts. Some people doubted God, others doubted themselves. But in each circumstance, God listened patiently to the doubts and offered assurance to lead people past their doubts.
What about My Situation?
Each of us has been called to a unique role and purpose in God’s plan. Some of us might see our roles as too mundane or ordinary to warrant such an assuring response from God. We might think that these stories are good only for the famous heroes of the Bible while still asking, “But… will God forgive me for doubting Him?”
The answer is, “Yes!” After all, we serve the same God as Abraham, Gideon, and Thomas.
One More Story
We don’t need to be famous to receive God’s assurance. In Mark 9, we read of an unnamed father who brought his demon-possessed child to Jesus’s disciples, but they were not able to help him.
Jesus immediately responded, “You unbelieving generation,” (v 19) because he saw how doubt kept the disciples from working in God’s power. After further dialogue with the boy’s father, the father pleaded with Jesus, “Help me overcome my unbelief!” (v 24)
So Jesus helped him and freed the boy from the evil spirit.
Just like this unnamed father, we too can call out in the midst of our doubt, and trust that Jesus will not sit back and wait for us to believe, but will help us overcome our unbelief.