Rom 14:23 But he who doubts is condemned if he eats, because he does not eat from faith; for whatever is not from faith is sin. (NKJV)
The normal interpretation of this text is that if you’re unsure about the rightness of what you’re doing, you shouldn’t do it. This creates many practical and even ethical difficulties, some of which I’ll give examples for below.
Some people are prone to doubt, some are analytical, and some are both of these things.
Especially if you have both of these traits, you can be led to inaction - which itself can create doubt; after all, we’re told to redeem the time.
1) The text in Romans 14 follows after a definite clarification that certain things are not a sin (v.14-15, 20). Yet, its readers are to abstain from that thing if they have doubt. Thus, is it not talking about doubts that arise from textual interpretations? That seems highly unlikely; I don’t hear of totally non-textual things being doubted, such as whether it’s a sin to turn over a rock during daylight.
2) What about instances where your non-action due to doubt leads to someone else’s suffering? Imagine being a police officer, and then at the final moment being struck with doubt: do I not shoot this perpetrator because I know he’ll probably go to hell? And even though not shooting him means that his victim will die?
3) Consider cases where a person is doing a good deed with righteous motivation behind it. But, there’s some aspect of it that he doubts. An example from my life: I’m an author, and I write Christian poems. But, I may make doctrinal errors in my poems. I can’t be certain I didn’t, so should I not publish them?
4) Practically, a doubting personality can doubt almost anything – and he may even have verse(s) in mind to support his reason for doubting. What this can lead to is a person that becomes totally burned out and depressed, because everything he wants to do is wrong. After all, he’s not redeeming the time. Or, he’s not redeeming it in the most efficient way. Note: both the Sabbath and Ecclesiastes show us that we’re not meant to be driven this hard. And also imagine a person who accepts that fact; now, he may doubt where to draw the line: how long should his break be, and how should he spend it?
5) And perhaps most powerfully: imagine someone that doubts all options. He may believe it’s acceptable to marry, but remain unsure if it’s right for him (1Co 7). He may even doubt that it’s right for him to stay single, due to burning with desire (v. 9). Yet, he may question if that burning rises to the level of justifying the conclusion that he must certainly marry (if able). But, he may interpret his society as one which has a ‘present distress’ (v. 26) that would lead Paul to recommend against marriage. So, among the only options (single vs married) – he doubts. Action (marrying) and inaction (staying single) both cause doubt. He is, as the text says, 'condemned' no matter what he does.
6) As an alternative to the same problem that 5 presented, consider carrying a handgun. He might doubt both options: not carrying means he can't help others, but he believes he should be ready to lay down his life (put himself at risk, in this case) to save another person. On the other hand, it could harm his testimony; in our political climate, many would be offended. My reason for including this second example is to point out that there's no end to the number of things where both action and inaction can be doubted.
How do we interpret the text, in light of the difficulties which the normal interpretation creates? And to do so without making the text to mean nothing at all?