You may not readily admit it, but you’ve been there with me.
The ever-irksome foe named Doubt darkens your door of faith, casting a shadow over everything you have believed for much of your life. Paralyzed by the fear of what this might do to your relationship with God, and to top it off, your reputation with those who have always identified you as “Christian,” this existential crisis brings you to your knees. How did I get here? It’s not as if you wanted this to happen.
Maybe you were hurt by someone you love within the Church, and thought following Christ was supposed to look different. Maybe you read some works of Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens, and their arguments became compelling to you. Maybe it was your inability to shake a besetting sin, or a lack of feeling the presence of God in your life. Whatever the case may be, that hideous Doubt has a way about him, sneaking into your soul to try and woo you away from the everlasting source of hope and strength.
Doubt can be a discouraging and debilitating opponent in the Christian life. We don’t like to talk about it, because it’s humiliating, something we definitely are not proud of. It feels dirty to doubt.
I remember my crisis moment.
I won’t tell the entire story (you can read it more in detail here) but in short, I remember sitting in my stadium seat stunned at what John Piper was unpacking in Scripture right before my eyes. That NIV with my name etched on the cover had been in my possession for years, and I had never noticed the things this preacher was saying. I knew who God was, but was He really this? I had professed Christ as my Lord and Savior, but is this what I meant by that? I had to do some serious searching in the days and months that followed to determine how I answered those questions.
This came at a time when I was fresh into college, and as you might have guessed, surrounded with new obstacles to faith: A philosophy professor who assigned me William James to read, and laughed out loud at some of my theological answers to real-world problems. A speech professor who flunked my speech defending Creationism as a viable explanation of the universe, and the girl in the class who passed with an A for her speech on evolution. Stump preachers setting up on campus to yell at the LGBT students. Varying campus ministries who put “doing life together” at the top of their values but made little room for gospel transformation. A roommate who said he was a Christian but could not have been classified a “follower of Jesus.” And now this Piper guy wrecking my understanding of righteousness, the glory of God, and the atonement.
I had to answer the question, “Who is this Son of Man?” (Jn. 12:34). I removed all of the outside opinions and got before the Word of God, determined to be illumined by the Spirit or find it all a ruse. I had to start from square one in a sense.
And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. (Acts 9:18)
There was another man who wrestled with Doubt, a man with a far more gifted mind and compassionate heart than my own. His name was Francis Schaeffer. In his exploration into the life and thought of Schaeffer, William Edgar, a friend to Schaeffer himself, outlines the crisis moment of his life. It was early 1951, and at some point amongst a season of everyday walking and meditation, Fran said he had to rethink “the whole matter of Christianity.” This is coming from a man who is well-versed in nearly every world religion, every philosophical system. He could tie anyone up in their own logical fallacies like he was tying his shoes. But this man was human, like the rest of us. I imagine him going for a walk, crying out with me in my dorm room, and the father of the child in Mark 9, “I believe, help my unbelief!”
I find great comfort in the fact that Schaeffer doubted. If he had to work out his salvation with fear and trembling, what of me? It’s not that something is wrong with me but us. I share a piece of my own story, and Schaeffer’s story, to hope to demonstrate that Doubt pays us all a visit at different times in different degrees.
If you find yourself struggling with the lures of Doubt, remember some of these additional comforts:
- We doubt not to the fault of God, but to the fault of sin. In Eden, God was present with humanity. His existence was undeniable. But since man was driven out from His presence due to sin (Gen 3:24), we now see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). Sin, ultimately, is a rejection of (to borrow Schaeffer’s famous quip) “The God Who Is There” (see Rom. 1:19-20). Doubt is not because God Himself is doubtable, but because our minds need the light of the gospel.
- 1 Corinthians 13:12 has a second part. Though we see in a mirror dimly now, there will come a day that we see Christ face to face. Faith says, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Even a faith the size of a mustard seed can bring us hope in His coming (Mt. 17:20).
- Not only will our doubts be erased one day, but the doubts of all mankind will be as well. “Every knee will bow” is a wonderful refrain in Scripture (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). All of the doubts will cease to exist one day.
- Even a man as “qualified” and esteemed as Francis Schaeffer faced doubts. The important thing, though, is that he didn’t stay there. He did what was necessary to reach a conclusion.
- The solution to a struggle with doubt is first of all to devote yourself to prayer. In the famous “help my unbelief” passage, Jesus seems to imply in Mark 9:29 that finding growth in faith is spearheaded by a commitment to prayer. If we truly believe that Christ is our intercessor and great high priest, and that the Spirit is working to illuminate the Word of God to us, then let us strive to ask the Lord to reveal Himself.
- Jesus never doubted, but He was tempted to. How did He respond to Satan in those moments? With memorized Scripture. I think there is something to this practice, especially in waging war against doubt.
- When we call upon the Lord to help us in our unbelief, we should not expect “magic 8-ball confirmation.” In other words, it may not be as clear-cut and discernible and “act of God” as we may hope, but this should not drive us into despair. It should only drive us further into communion with God and His Word, conversation with others, prayer, fasting, journaling, and more. This itself is the make-up of faith.
Do not let Doubt isolate you from others, and most of all, from God. Leap into this glorious opportunity to test your faith on the sword of the spirit and the truth of Christ, and watch God mold and shape you like clay. His Word always has purpose, and never returns void, even on you. It’s okay to not be okay, but it’s not okay to stay there.