Monday, September 15, 2014

Doubt and Unbelief: Are They the Same Thing?

Doubt and Unbelief. 

I always thought they were the same thing. Until the Holy Spirit spoke to me one night about it.

I've been having sleep issues. One night was particularly bad. I'd been falling asleep, then jolting awake as if I can't breathe (which is basically the issue) for hours. I couldn't just fall asleep and stay asleep. I could feel my peace slipping away. And I whispered into the darkness, "I will not lose my peace. I will not lose my peace. 

I suppose that's all the enemy needed to fuel the fire-my speaking it aloud. Because only moments later, I lost it. I slammed my fist against the headboard and growled in aggravation. 

I'd already woken Brian, and I felt bad about it. But I just couldn't get past my own frustration. I decided to (attempt to) sleep on the couch. Maybe if I was propped up, it would be easier. On the way down the hall, I slammed my arm/fist into the wall...just because...just because I was mad and couldn't control myself. Unfortunately, I missed the wall and hit the door frame and gave myself a very nasty bruise on my arm. 

My anger quickly turned into pain, hurt and self-pity. I cried, somewhat hysterically and dramatically, but quietly, so as not to further awaken my already awake and most likely concerned husband. 

As I reclined on the couch, I decided that I was going to take authority over this...whatever it was...and I would not believe that I had anything "wrong" with me. I decided that perhaps this was a spiritual battle. At that moment, I was unsure of how much of it was physical, how much was psychological and how much was spiritual. 

I prayed and I took authority and I got mad. And suddenly, I felt peace. My breathing slowed, and my tears stopped. I declared myself healed in Jesus name. But as much as I believed what I'd just prayed, I didn't. What if I fell asleep and it happened again? Then I wouldn't really be healed, would I? So, I prayed (just for good measure), "Lord, help my unbelief." 

Then I heard in my spirit, "Your problem is not unbelief. It's doubt."

"Well, I thought they were the same thing," I replied out loud.

"Unbelief comes from your heart. Doubt comes from your head."

Well, I really didn't get that one. And if you'll pardon me...I doubted what I heard. Because it didn't make sense to me, I figured it must not have been from God. As if anything from God needs to make sense? 

I did fall asleep, and I jolted awake again. I decided that "it didn't work." (whatever "it" was), and I didn't really hear from God. I must have made it up.

A week or so went by and several times I thought of what I'd heard.  Could they really be two different things? And what does it mean if I doubt but still believe?

Finally, I looked up the two words, and what I discovered surprised me. defines unbelief as "incredulity or skepticism, especially in matters of religious faith." Google defines it as "an absence of faith."

Unbelief is a noun. It's a thing.

Doubt, on the other hand, is a verb, specifically, a transitive verb. This means that the verb must first be an action verb and second must have a direct object. In other words, someone who receives the action of that verb. 

Doubt is a verb. An action. An action towards a noun.

Merriam-Webster defines doubt as "to be uncertain about (something): to believe that (something) may not be true or is unlikely," or "to have no confidence in (someone or something).

What the Holy Spirit was trying to tell me was that I had faith. I know that God is capable of healing me. In my heart, I believe. 

But my head was telling me something else. I second-guessed that capability for myself. I didn't trust. I questioned. When I read that second definition, I felt deep sorrow in my spirit. 

I didn't have confidence in God that He would heal me. That's doubt.

I did some further research, because, forgive me again, but I still doubted this "Word from the Lord." Maybe, I thought, in my sleep-deprived, frustrated state, I made it up."

I found on, the answer to a question someone posed about their faith. It wasn't exactly the same, but this stuck out:

"Doubt is not unbelief. Doubt is a state of mind in suspension between faith and unbelief."

Okay, I liked that. But I didn't know this website. It seemed legitimate, but one can't believe everything one reads on the internet. My goodness, someone might stumble onto my blog and think, "Well, who the heck is Mary Dolan Flaherty of SonRise Insights? Why should I believe her?" Hmmm...I really don't know why you should. Hopefully, you can, but I don't know that you should.

At any rate, I continued on and came across The Teaching Fellowship of R.C. Sproul-When Doubt Becomes Unbelief. I read what they had to say, and it made sense too. Consider this:

"Unbelief is the decision to live your life as if there is no God. It is a deliberate decision to reject Jesus Christ and all that He stands for. But doubt is something quite different. Doubt arises within the context of faith. It is a wistful longing to be sure of the things in which we trust. 

The more you worry about your doubts, the less you will look to God. Gradually, those vital links with the life-giving grace of God will wither—and your spiritual life will wither and shrivel. Doubt will become unbelief—because you allowed it to. Feed your doubts and your faith will starve—but feed your faith, and your doubts will starve. Doubt initially becomes a problem, and finally becomes unbelief, if, and only if, you allow it."

And finally, this from my girl, Joyce Meyer: How to Defeat Your Doubts and Feed Your Faith:

"Doubt and unbelief interrupt faith."
"The key here is the Word of God...decide to doubt your doubts."
"We can feed our faith with the Word, rather than feeding doubt with the devil's lies."

Did this "prove" that Word..."Unbelief comes from your heart. Doubt comes from your head."?

I believe that it did. Or does. I think that doubt starts in my head, in my mind. And if I feed that doubt, if I don't counteract it with faith, it will fester, and I will be in danger of having it become unbelief. I must be like Jesus, when he was tempted by satan in the wilderness. His response always began with, "It is written." I must use the Word of God to fuel and feed my faith, thereby starving my doubts. 

To not have confidence in the One who always has confidence in not have confidence in the One who gives me not have confidence that the One who experienced something far worse than a sleep issue is not capable...or worse...not willing to heal me...

that is the ultimate rejection of my faith
the ultimate transition to unbelief. 

I don't ever want to travel down that path. 
Father, forgive me.
Jesus, help my doubt.
Holy Spirit, give me faith.

It is finished

Blessings Along the Path,

Sharing my post with Naomi, at Monday MusingsLaura of Playdates With GodJoan from Sharing His BeautyHolly of Testimony TuesdayJudith of Wholehearted WednesdayWord-Filled WednesdayThought-Provoking ThursdayThriving ThursdayEssential FridaysFaith Filled FridaysBlessing Counters


  1. I love that you've addressed this distinction between doubt and unbelief. Too often Christians fail to explore areas of their heart in need of exploration for fear that asking questions signifies unbelief.

    I was recently reading Genesis 15 and noticed that immediately after we're told that Abraham believed God and it was reckoned to him as righteousness...just two verses later...Abraham asked "O Lord God, how may I know that I will possess it?"

    And God responded by cutting a covenant with Abraham.

    Clearly, God is not offended by our questions or doubts...and does not count them as a lack of faith in Him.

    Blessings to you! Thanks for linking to Playdates with God at Wellspring.

  2. Thanks, Joe. God knows that I'm inquisitive. After all, He's the One who put it in me!

  3. I've never thought about the difference between unbelief and doubt, but I like how you tease them apart here. I am quite an insomniac myself, so I relate to the frustration you describe. I'm more at peace with it now (and with Tylenol PM!), but occasionally I still get discouraged because of it. The thing that's helping me the most of late is Centering Prayer. Praying for rest and belief for all us insomniacs!

    1. Thanks Lisa. And thanks for stopping in to visit!