I once thought that faith was the absence of doubt. That it was a buttress that laughed as arrows bounced off its stony walls. I did not realize that faith is actually often more like Jacob wrestling God.

Doubt and I have always had an interesting relationship. Ever since I was young, doubt has walked alongside my faith. I remember, as a teenager, laying wide-eyed in my bed as I wrestled with whether I was really God’s child or not. Faith’s blankets could not warm the shivers that settled in my bones. Or when I was in college and I sat in my theology classes and tried to process that Jesus was God and man at the same time.

That the Trinity could actually work.

That the Bible was actually true.

That the God I read about in the Bible could be the actual answer to all of our pangs of longing.

These questions burned holes in my head. Tore down my idea of safety. Pulled the proverbial rug out from underneath me and sent me to the hardwood floor. I would pray day after day that God would take them away, that He would give me the faith to not doubt. That I did not have to think through issues but accept answers at face value.

There would be nights I would shake my fist at God. I would lay awake thinking, “I have given my life to know and pursue you. I am trying to obey you, and this is how you repay me? Allow me to be plagued by doubt?” I believed that it was my circumstances that needed to change. It was on nights like those that I would hear the voice of God gently say, “It’s not your circumstances that need to change; it’s you.”

The truth of the matter is that faith is not the absence of doubt. Faith is turning to God in the midst of it. Hebrews 11 is full of examples of people that are known as the “greats” of the faith. Abraham fathered the Jewish people. Moses parted the Red Sea. Jacob, the one chosen over his brother Esau, to perpetuate the Jewish race. We talk about the great feats of these men. The miracles and the amazing legacies they left behind. We don’t talk about the fact that all of these men were wrecked with doubt. That their images and perceptions of God were ripped down in front of them and rebuilt as God saw fit.

Abraham left the land of his pagan gods to pursue a God he did not know, under the promise that he would father a great nation. This was a hard sell seeing that he and his wife were barren. And throughout his story you see him and God wrestle through this promise. He would believe then he would doubt. Believe in one instant then take matters into his own hands and have a child with his servant in the next. Believe God and laugh at God. Abraham, in truth, believed that God was a territorial deity. That He had control over some things but not all things.

It was not Abraham’s circumstances that needed to change; it was Abraham. Through his doubt, God was challenging Abraham’s concept of God. Breaking down the perceptions that he held and creating in Abraham a perception of God built in God’s image, not Abraham’s.

As I walked through doubt, I started to realize that the God I believed in was changing.

The God I had perceived throughout my teen years was small. He was territorial; He had power over things in the church, but He was not working through all things. He loved me through Jesus, but He was waiting for me to screw up so that he could smite me and take away what I held dear.

In fact, it was when I walked through my dark night of the soul that these faulty perceptions of God were challenged. The doubt in my life was never meant to drive me away from God; it was meant to destroy my false notions of God. It was meant to throw me closer to God. My doubts were the weapon of God to cut away the beliefs that were wrong.

In fact, if submitted to God, the doubts one experiences are not the antithesis of faith. They are the beckoning of God to come and know Him as He is. To experience Him deeper and move past our false perceptions. The question we need to ask is whether we are willing to submit that process to Christ. Whether we are actually willing to lay down our false perceptions of him, and be willing to gaze on who He really is.

Looking back, I am so thankful that God did not answer my repeated prayers to take those rough nights of doubt away. He was using my doubt to save my faith.