The issue of doubt has been heavily on my mind these days. It’s triggered by some stuff I’m personally working through but also by a couple of testimonies I’ve heard recently. In my own experience I know that it is possible to grow up in church, be actively involved, read and memorize scripture, and yet struggle with doubt. It is also possible to want to give up on Christianity all together because of doubt and that is what happened to me as a young adult. I stopped attending church in my early twenty’s. I was away at college, disconnected from my home church, and although I attended campus ministry sporadically for a while, I eventually stopped. At that point I truly believed I had “lost my faith” and I continued to feel that way for several years. Although I believed in God, I felt I could no longer believe in the infallibility of Scripture, I was suspicious of the church, and I struggled to believe that there was only “one way”. And I certainly did not believe that God cared about every detail of my life.
Looking back, I understand that there were many contributing factors to me walking away from my faith during college. Unresolved doubt was one. I was already struggling with some level of doubt as a teen, even while I was still actively engaged at my home church. I had been struggling with doubt but I didn’t want to accept it. At the time, I didn’t know what to do with doubt. I believed that to have doubt was to not have faith. And I desperately wanted to have faith. Many things challenged my faith while I was growing up and the only way I knew to “preserve” my faith was to pretend my doubts did not exist. Unfortunately, I did not feel comfortable talking to anyone about the matters of faith I was struggling with because I was afraid my faith would be questioned. Interestingly enough, I don’t recall actually being taught that “to have doubt is to not have faith”. But I also don’t remember being taught what to do with doubts because no one really talked about it.
Thankfully, I have learned to handle doubt very differently these last few years. If I could somehow speak to my younger self I would explain that struggling with doubt is not the equivalent of not having faith. I would explain that our faith is not meant to be “preserved” but it is actually meant to be challenged. I would share that it is only in facing those challenges and wrestling through them, that our faith can grow. I would tell myself that doubt can actually be a sign that spiritual maturing is taking place. Most importantly I would urge my younger self to not ignore doubt (hoping that it will simply go away) but instead respond to it by digging deeper in the faith.
Normalizing doubt as part of a Christian’s experience frees us to respond to doubt appropriately. I don’t need to panic because I have questions. I can simply respond by looking deeper. The biggest mistake my younger self made in responding to my doubts regarding Christianity was believing that I needed to look elsewhere. That thinking relied on some egregiously false assumptions: I already knew what there was to know, I had seen what there was to see, and I had understood what there was to be understood. And my conclusion at the time was simple: it just wasn’t enough. Little did I know then that it was indeed more than enough. When I think of what faith in Christ has carried me through, I want to shout at the top of my lungs for the world to hear “IT IS ENOUGH!!!”. All I needed to have done then was what I constantly have to do now: dig deeper. The more I am willing to dig, the more I find.
I’m not talking about finding answers necessarily. I’m talking about finding sustenance. I’m talking about finding exactly what I need…usually what I didn’t even know I needed. Sometimes, I do find answers to my questions. Sometimes, I find that I’m asking the wrong questions. Sometimes, I simply find that I must dig deeper. What is most extraordinary is not what I find…but the peace I experience even as I’m digging. As I go deeper in my faith, I learn more about the God of my faith. And the more I know Him, the more I am able to trust in Him. So when another doubt or challenge comes up, I more readily trust that He can carry me through it.
Doing the Digging – What Works for Me
- Reading and meditating on God’s Word daily. This is has proven especially powerful during times when I don’t really feel like reading or when I don’t seem to have the time to read.
- Accessing reliable resources: book, blogs, sermons on podcast, YouTube, etc. I listen to sermons almost daily (Tim Keller, John Piper, C.S. Lewis, and Elisabeth Elliot changed my life…no exaggeration)
- Going back to specific resources as I need to (I’m currently rereading Jerry Bridges’ Trusting God Even When Life Hurts)
- Sharing my struggle with other believers – relying on my community and the experience of others
I saw much growth in my ability to cope with challenges as I started to take concrete steps to have a better “grasp” of my faith. Everything changed in my walk as a Christian when I started seeking to have a better understanding of God. Not what I think He is or have understood Him to be…but what He has revealed Himself to be in His Word. Although biblical literacy was a significant part of my life growing up, these last few years I have been amazed by the weakness of my grasp on fundamentals of the Christian faith. I knew a great deal of Bible content and even themes but I had an astonishingly superficial understanding of God’s grace, love, wrath, sovereignty, and so many other matters of the faith that are essential to fruitful Christian living. More and more I realize that no matter how much I think I have grasped there is always more. So when I encounter moments of doubt, moments where it just doesn’t seem enough, I know I don’t need to panic…I just have to dig deeper.
Paul’s prayer for God’s people in Ephesus is my prayer for myself and for you: “And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen” Ephesians 3:17-21