Behind the smiling faces at church, the bombastic claims shouted from pulpits, and the religious zeal for a political ideology masked as “the Christian worldview,” lurks doubt. Doubt plagues even people who seem most confident. Doubt captures minds that dare to think. Doubt destroys hearts that fear reason. Everyone doubts, but the worse doubt—the doubt that really messes with your head, the doubt that really hurts, the doubt that makes you feel like a complete fraud—questions God’s goodness. This is the original form of doubt, the kind that first captured Adam’s and Eve’s hearts in Genesis 3:4–5.
Adam and Eve were the first people. God created them good. He set them in a beautiful garden of royal proportions, and gave them simple commands: “Tend to this garden. Keep watch over it. Guard it. Enjoy its fruit. Just don’t eat of the fruit in the center of the garden, the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. For when you eat of its fruit, you will die” (see Gen. 2:15–17).
But Adam didn’t listen. He didn’t obey those words. His and his wife’s hearts were captured by a destructive little lie: “Maybe God is not good.” This was the serpent’s challenge. His subtle lie created doubt: “You will surely not die. For God knows that when you eat of it, your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Gen. 3:5).
Here the serpent challenged God’s goodness, his generosity, his kindness, and his love. He called God a liar. And with that temptation, doubt entered the world, and with doubt sin, and with sin death; and with death hope was choked out of creation.
The Serpent’s Theology
Sinclair Ferguson argues this same case in The Whole Christ: Legalism, Antinomianism, and Gospel Assurance—Why the Marrow Controversy Still Matters (Crossway, 2016): doubt lurked behind the serpent’s lie in Genesis 3. Doubt, a strategic entry point to destroy God’s creation, gained the upper hand through the first lie—that God’s Word is not true.
Ferguson argues that doubting the Father’s love and kindness is the real issue at stake. Simply put, behind all human pride, fear, and lust is a distrust of God’s goodness, a self-made prison of doubt. He sees this to be the same issue with which Jesus dealt in John 8:44. There Jesus called the Pharisees spawn of Satan (Ferguson, 69).
The Pharisees thought that they were good people. Yet, when Jesus came to save the world from sin, they doubted. Behind their opposition to Jesus’ ministry, behind their scheming to have him crucified, and behind their hatred of his lavish message of grace to sinners, the Pharisees doubted God’s goodness. They did not understand how Jesus could love the sick, the dirty, and perverted because they did not believe that God was good. They couldn’t understand a message of grace because they did not believe in the Father’s love. This is why Jesus said to them that they were children of the devil (the serpent).
“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.” (John 8:44–45)
They held to the serpent’s theology. This theology was a theology of conditional grace. In the Pharisees’ minds, grace was not unconditional and free; it had to be earned or maintained. It had conditions:
The Pharisees were men who believed in the holiness of God, and in his law, in supernatural reality, and in predestination and election. “Grace” was a big idea for them. But the Pharisees believed in conditional grace (it was at the end of the day because of something in them that God was gracious to them). Their God was a conditional God. Here there was no “Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” No, for such unconditional grace can come only from a Father whose love is conditioned by nothing outside of his own heart. (Ferguson, The Whole Christ, 69–70)
Deliverance from Doubt
Ever since Adam and Eve doubted and embraced the lie, God has worked to deliver humanity from this doubt. This is what the gospel is all about. It’s God’s act of salvation from the lie that holds people captive, prisoners in a fortress of doubt. Ferguson puts it this way:
The gospel is designed to deliver us from this lie. For it reveals that behind and manifest in the coming of Christ and his death for us is the love of the Father who gives us everything he has: first his Son to die for us and then his Spirit to live within us. (Ferguson, 69)
The gospel is God’s unconditional love given to sinners who deserve wrath. The gospel is God’s word of mercy showing forth the true character of God—revealing his kindness, generosity, and love. Because the gospel is free of all conditions, because it is received by faith alone, despite our best efforts and our worst failures, we can see that God is good.
If you doubt God’s goodness—if you wonder if God cares, or hears, or loves—you need to trust in Jesus. You need to set before your mind his life, his love, his sacrifice, his reign, and his promised return. You need to see in Jesus that God loves and cares for you. You need to see the extent to which God has gone to save you from your doubts along with the rest of your sin. Because the gospel is true, you have every reason to trust God and know that he really is good.