But Isn’t Doubt a Sin?

Some have questioned—quite wisely, I would add—as to why I would author a website devoted to “living between doxology and doubt.” After all, isn’t doubt a sin? For them, the oft quoted James 1:6–8 appears to answer the issue.

“But let him ask in faith, with no doubting, for the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind. For that person must not suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord;he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.”

Hear me say: these verses are true. Absolutely. True. I dispute neither the veracity of their content or the Author who inspired them.

“But…”

Verse 6 begins with the word “but,” intimating the fact that a comparison has occurred. The first part of that comparison is found in verse 5: “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him.” See, the problem is not so much that James’s audience had questions; the issue was what they would do with those questions once they arose. This is important since Acts 8:1–4 and 11:19 set this passage within the context of persecution. Questions of faith and doubt were real to these people—they were caught up in the smoke of martyrs’ flames and called out with the voices of the lions in the arena. Faith was not a game to them—it was a matter of life and death.

Perhaps to a lesser extent the same is true of you today.

To lack wisdom is “to be destitute of [it].” In banking terminology, it is “to have a shortage of wisdom (not just knowledge, γνωσεως [gnōseōs], but wisdom σοφιας [sophias], the practical use of knowledge).” [1] The instruction for this lack follows: let him ask (αἰτειτω [aiteitō]). In the original syntax,[2] the phrase means “let him keep on asking.” [3]Apparently, God is not afraid of our questions (more on that tomorrow).

Yet there is one requirement if we are to receive wisdom: the asking must flow out of faith. “The ‘doubting’ James warns about is not that of a person who wonders whether or not God will answer this particular request, or that of an introspective doubter who struggles with faith. Instead it is that of a person who is double-minded, a phrase with a close equivalent in the Psalms (Ps. 12:1–2), and which is the opposite of trusting God from one’s whole heart (Deuteronomy 6:5; 8:3).”[4]

But trusting God from one’s whole heart was precisely the principle by which Abraham and others like him operated. There is a profound truth there. Abraham did not deny the facts as they were; he confronted them. How? With faith. Acknowledging the barren state of his wife and the advancing assault of the years, he looked to “the presence of the God in whom he believed, who gives life to the dead and calls into existence the things that do not exist.In hope he believed against hope, that he should become the father of many nations, as he had been told… He did not weaken in faith when he considered his own body, which was as good as dead (since he was about a hundred years old), or when he considered the barrenness of Sarah’s womb. No unbelief made him waver concerning the promise of God, but he grew strong in his faith as he gave glory to God, fully convinced that God was able to do what He had promised.” (Romans 4:17–25)

This is of course, the caveat to a godly faith—be sure that the promise to which you cling is actually given of God. Many, many believers have fallen victim to profound disillusion because of a too-tenacious hold upon a promise God never gave. This, I perceive, is one of the greatest issues regarding questions of faith and belief. As believers we often profess the basic truths of Scripture (i.e., “God is good”). But let death come to our loved ones or a dream job slip away, and truth is suddenly cast in a different light. Christians are then left to wonder,

“If God is good why did He allow this to happen?”

Or, “God may be good but He is not good to me.”

Be careful of making your circumstance the commentary of His character; He has revealed Himself in His Word and in the Person of the Lord Jesus Christ; therefore it is imperative that what you know of Him arises from Scripture. “Do not add to His words, lest He rebuke you and you be found a liar” (Proverbs 30:1). If God is silent in the season of your questions, wait. Resist the temptation to add to His Word in order to make it fit your theology. All that can be known of Him is found in Scripture. This must be your starting point. This is how He chose to enter the discussion. He has left us with no other option.

Tomorrow, Lord willing, I want to follow up with a few other thoughts.

You might also like:

And in Between, a Door of Hope

Transient Tears


[1] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Jas 1:5–8.

[2] Present active imperative of αἰτεω [aiteō]. See A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Jas 1:5–8.

[3] A.T. Robertson, Word Pictures in the New Testament (Nashville, TN: Broadman Press, 1933), Jas 1:5–8.

[4] New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition, ed. D. A. Carson, R. T. France, J. A. Motyer and G. J. Wenham, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994), Jas 1:5–8.

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