Spiritual Practice

Fertilizer for Spiritual Growth

Will Penner

“I believe; help my unbelief!” cried the father of the demon-possessed boy. (Read the whole story in Mark 9:14–29.) I love this passage. While emphatically stating that he believes in Jesus, the father also says that he needs help overcoming doubt. Faith and doubt live side by side. My Sunday school teacher said that faith and doubt were opposites, but I wasn’t so sure. Truth be told, I had a whole lot more doubt than I did faith. I still do.


Because I was interested in dating the minister’s daughter, I decided to strike up a relationship with him. He was a nice guy; so when he gave me a book to read, I gave it my best effort. This defense of the faith against questioning was not easy reading for a high school student; and many years later, when I started reading another book by the same author, I remained skeptical. I appreciate the contributions that he and others have made to discussions about how we can be sure of our Christian faith. But the notion of developing a conviction that cannot be shaken doesn’t seem to fit my experience. Human beings continually take in new information, question old ideas, and develop new ways of understanding. Why would this not happen with matters of faith?

Doubting Thomas TS 118407643Reexamining Doubt

What if the disciple we call “Doubting” Thomas has gotten a bad rap? When Thomas asked to see with his own eyes the risen Lord, Jesus said to him, “Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have come to believe” (John 20:29, NRSV). Jesus praised those willing to believe without proof, but he also took the time to address Thomas’ specific doubts (John 20:24–29).

I’ve never met someone with a truly authentic faith who didn’t doubt at some time in his or her life. Fortunately, God doesn’t punish us for doubt. In fact, God welcomes our doubts and gives us what we need in order to believe.

Overdoing the Fleeces

Even so, we sometimes ask for more. Judges 6:11–40 records God’s call on Gideon’s life. Gideon follows half-heartedly because he is afraid. God continues to use Gideon; and despite God’s faithfulness, Gideon decides to test God. Overnight, God does as Gideon asks, making a woolen fleece wet while everything around it remains dry. But rather than being satisfied, Gideon issues another test, asking God to do the opposite! Even though what Gideon asks of God demonstrates a lack of spiritual maturity, many Christians use this story to justify all sorts of tests of God’s sovereignty or direction.

sprouting plant FTR iStock_000067735385_LargeWrestling with the Questions

We aren’t meant to test God. If we pay enough attention as we live our lives, we’ll find plenty of evidence supporting God’s abilities and faithfulness. Our job is to keep our eyes and ears open and to notice God’s acting in the world.

If we’re aware of our surroundings, however, we are likely to come up with more questions than answers: Why do bad things happen to good people? If God is truly all-powerful and all-loving, why is there so much suffering in the world? There are no simple answers to such challenging questions. Only by wrestling with our doubts can we take on the faith for ourselves and make it stronger.



Take a fresh look at the Book of Job. Glance through a few passages toward the beginning, the middle, and the end of the book. Notice that Job’s faith in the beginning is not as strong as it is in the end. Suffering and struggling with questions of faith made him the man he became. Similarly, we have no shortcuts to becoming men and women of faith. We need to wrestle with deep questions.

Will Penner is a husband, father, teacher, youth worker, author, and speaker in Fairview, Tennessee. He continually cries out to God, “I believe; help my unbelief.”

—from devozine (March/April 2016). Copyright © 2016 by The Upper Room®. All rights reserved.

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