A number of years ago I found myself in the middle of a rapidly flowing river trying to make my way to the opposite shore and dry land.
Although the river was only thigh-deep, the speeding current threatened to upend me if I couldn't get good footing. Fortunately I was able to find rocks just below the surface to step on and traverse across without being swept away.
Like me in the river that day, many believers stand thigh-deep in a rapidly moving current of uncertainty with slippery rocks of doubt underfoot threatening their walk of faith. In order to successfully continue growing in their Christian walk they need stepping stones. These stepping stones are in fact the questions and doubts themselves. And rather than hindering progress, questions, uncertainties, and doubt can actually be part of the process of growing in faith and moving forward.
So how do we use doubts as stepping stones to stronger faith?
One of the first stepping stones is to properly understand the nature of faith and doubt. Many Christians assume that doubt is the opposite of faith. It isn't. Unbelief is the opposite of faith. And somewhere in between faith and unbelief lies the realm of doubt.
Doubt is the state where the mind, like a bridge, is suspended between opposite cliffs of faith and unbelief. When we believe something we are of one mind in accepting it as true. When we disbelieve, we are of one mind about rejecting something. To doubt is to hang somewhere between the two, being of two minds—double-minded. We are open towards both believing and not believing.
What this means then is that when a believer doubts, she is not betraying her faith. Rather, there is a divided heart and mind. A person who doubts is still open-minded albeit uncertain. A person locked in closed-minded unbelief doesn't doubt. Doubt is really only a halfway stage to unbelief or to faith.
Just as a good pilot can fly and not crash in disorienting foggy weather by following his instruments, a believer who understands doubt can weather its disorienting confusion. Realizing that doubt isn't unbelief alleviates the stress and sense of guilt that comes from thinking that doubting is sin. It also minimizes the confusion about faith that relegates it to the realm of uncertainty rather than remembering that faith is something based on knowledge.
Another stepping stone we can use to grow from doubt is to accept it as a normal experience in the Christian life. If we believe that we can know or need to know everything with absolute certainty, then we will struggle. I don't believe we can know everything with absolute certainty and so since we can't, we need to have a realistic attitude toward faith and doubt. In this life we will only know in part (1 Corinthians 13:9), which leaves room for uncertainty.
But that is what faith is… willing to live trusting in the existence and promises of God knowing one day that existence and those promises will be totally vindicated. Once we accept doubt as normal we will not feel ashamed to talk about it with older, wiser Christians. They can help us move past the doubt and on to faith and greater certainty.
A third stepping stone for us is not to become preoccupied with doubts. As a motorcycle rider one of the things I learned was to keep my head and eyes up as I drive, looking down the road—not looking at the ditch at the side of the road. The reason? Because on a bike you tend to drive where you're looking. Focus on a ditch in a curve and you'll end up there. Similarly, if we are focused on and preoccupied with doubts it won't be long before we crash emotionally and spiritually. If we focus on our doubts and they dominate our horizon, we will move toward and inevitably crash in unbelief.
A final stepping stone for us is to use our questions and uncertainties to deepen our knowledge and understanding. When we have doubts about something we should take the time to read more about it. We need to give ourselves time to think and reflect deeply on it. We should seek out and listen to or read material by wise Christians on the subject.
Through all these stepping stones our knowledge will broaden, doubt can give way to more certainty, and we can grow in faith, understanding, and wisdom.