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.

James 1:6, ESV 

Doubt is not a fearful thing, but a thing of very great value.1

Richard Feynman

Christians have a tense relationship with the concept of doubt - with good reason.

In Matthew 14, when Peter steps out of the boat, walks on the water, and then begins to sink, Jesus responds by asking, "O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"

In Mark 11, Jesus and his disciples are walking past a fig tree - the very same fig tree Jesus had cursed earlier that day. The disciples marveled at this, to which Jesus responds by saying they will be able to even greater things so long as they do not hold doubt in their heart but believes. 

In Luke 24, after Jesus had risen from the dead, he appears to his disciples. Understandably, they were "startled and frightened." Jesus says to them, "Why are you troubled, and why do doubts arise in your heart?"

Even James, as quoted above, seems to say in his epistle that we should ask in faith with no doubting. 

This may appear to be an open and shut case against doubt. Before we accept that as fact, though, let's take a closer look at the rest of what James wrote. 

James writes in verse six that we should ask with no doubting. What should we ask though? In verse five, he spells out what he is talking about. James writes, "If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him."

If we lack wisdom, we should ask God for help. If we don't know the wise thing to do, we can turn to the Father. Do you see the premise? There are times when you and I don't know. Maybe we're choosing between two or three really good alternatives - and maybe we are choosing between a whole group of terrible things. Knowing what to do next or what choice to make can be elusive. 

In those times, a little bit of doubt is a good thing. If you did not doubt your understanding, if you were not able to question yourself in those situations, then there would be no need to ask God for wisdom. It's precisely because doubt is present that we turn to God.

As physicist Richard Feynman says, doubt can be useful. Questioning ourselves is how we progress and develop as human beings. Doubt can lead to despair - I'll grant that - but it can also lead to curiosity. It can lead us to find better ways to do or understand things. Wrestling with doubt can produce strength in our convictions. We can only move past doubt once we recognize it. 

We naturally prefer certainty to uncertainty and doubt. Uncertainty is intimidating and makes us feel uneasy. It's like staring into the darkness of night and having the feeling that something is out there you can't see. In light of that feeling, it's only natural to feel afraid. This same feeling can be aroused by uncertainty's close cousin doubt.

In the face of this fear, we reach for confidence even when we can't reasonably have any confidence. We aren't as quick to use the phrase, "I don't know," as we should be. 

What about when "I don't know" is the accurate and truthful thing to say? Will we shy away from doubt then?

We have to guard against inadvertently substituting the concept of having faith in God with the feeling of confidence in our own understanding. When we come before God to ask for wisdom, we should come to him without doubt. The things God passes down to us are good things we can rely on. 

This, however, does not mean we will never have - or need - doubt in some other part of our life. Indeed, doubt can be very useful. 

1. Quote found on pgs 29-30 of Superforcasting by Philip Tetlock and Dan Gardner