How to Deal with Doubt

May 22, 2012

“Thank you for your sermon on doubt,” the hand-written card read. “I have struggled with this my whole life, and it is especially hard now that my husband is gone. I’m glad to know I’m not alone.”

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I am convinced the experience of this elderly widow and long-standing believer in my congregation is more typical that we know. While we generally hide it, especially around other believers, many, perhaps most, Christians experience doubt. There have been some notable examples—

On the Mount of Ascension, standing face to face with the resurrected Jesus, some of the apostles doubted.

Charles Spurgeon wrote about what he called “the minister’s fainting fits,” periods of gloom common among clergy in which some are tempted to abandon the faith.

The reformer John Calvin wrote, “For unbelief is so deeply rooted in our hearts, and we are so inclined to it, that not without hard struggle is each one able to persuade himself of what all confess with the mouth: namely, that God is faithful.”(1)

Even the venerable C. S. Lewis noted, “Now that I am a Christian I do have moods in which the whole thing looks very improbable; but when I was an atheist I had moods in which Christianity looked terribly probable.”(2) If you’re struggling with doubt right now, here are four things you can do to keep the faith.

Relax 

Many stalwart believers, including Mother Teresa, have struggled with doubt. This experience does not mean that you’re an inferior Christian or have renounced your faith. Accept doubt as a stage in your development. You will emerge from this period—whether short or long—a stronger, more mature follower of Jesus.

Pray for Faith, not Proof 

We hunger for certainty about the existence of God and the resurrection of Jesus. We want proof. But faith and proof are mutually exclusive. Faith is the conviction that what you cannot see is real. The writer of Hebrews teaches us that “without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Heb. 11:6). So don’t get hung up on needing objectively verifiable evidence of what we believe. Simply ask God to increase your faith.

Hang around Believers 

Athletes need trainers, students rely on mentors, even the President has advisors. If you want to confirm your faith and grow in it, stay close to people who believe. Lots of folk will be willing to fan your doubts into unbelief if that’s what you want. But if you want to believe, seek out believers.

Don’t Give Up 

Do not give in to doubt by surrendering your faith. Instead, persevere in spite of your uncertainty. Or, as someone has put it, “Don’t believe your doubts and doubt your beliefs; believe your beliefs and doubt your doubts.” Continue seeking God, continue seeking faith, and you will find it.

What advice would you give to someone who doubts?

(1) John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion. Book III, Ch 2.15. (2)  C. S. Lewis, Mere Christianity. Book III, Ch 11.

Lawrence W. Wilson

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I blog about Christian faith and ministry. I've also written a few books including The Long Road Home and Why Me? Straight Talk about Suffering.