James 1 6But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind.
In his 2012 book Redemption: A Rebellious Spirit, a Praying Mother, and the Unlikely Path to Olympic Gold, American decathlete and 2008 Olympic Gold medallist Bryan Clay speaks candidly about his relationship with God. “I am not one of those people who takes everything without questioning…I get no satisfaction out of blindly following God or my coaches without applying my mind to what they say. In fact, I think that kind of passivity can be dangerous and lead people to follow false prophets and cults. I have seen this happen to athletes who start listening to a new coach and get wooed away from the training regimen and coach who made them successful in the first place”, says Clay. (pg. 131)
Clay’s comments bring to mind something I’ve wrestled through recently after hearing a Christian teaching which challenged my thoughts on doubt. When I was a young single man I, along with my closest childhood buddies, memorized the entire chapter of James 1. Our key verse today, verse 6, was always something etched in my mind. For me it was what I associated with doubt; that, and perhaps the infamous “doubting Thomas”. But when I heard the Pastor teach on doubt, I guess ironically it made me doubt my previous assumption that God always looked unfavourably on doubt. He pointed out that the word used in James 1:6 for doubt was the Greek word diakrino. He pointed out that it was the exact same word used in 1 Corinthians 14:29 for the word “judge” or “weigh carefully”. “Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said.” (1 Cor 14:29). In this context Paul was writing to the church in Corinth and giving them wise advice on the administration of the gifts of the Holy Spirit and good order in worship. Here diakrino is commended, where I had only seen it as a negative attribute of doubt. As you dig further into James 1, you see that the “doubt” that the author is referring to is the diakrino which can mean “to be in strife with oneself, to doubt, to waver”. So our doubt can be an unhealthy thing where it is just causing us inner strife and wavering from what we know to be true. But in contrast our diakrino can also be a wise and healthy thing.
Clay’s comments in his book are to me a very good example of healthy doubt. It is wise to follow God with faith, but often we are being entrusted to people in the church and God never asks us to blindly follow them, just like a wise athlete should never blindly follow a coach. Diakrino also means to judge, to distinguish, or to decide. Just as Paul described in 1 Corinthians 14:29, we need to judge if what is being said, what is being taught, is in line with the words of God, in line with who he is. We need to weigh what they say carefully. Contrary to my previous thoughts, this diakrino, this doubt is commended. May you be such a doubter.