Dealing with doubt
I believe that a teenage girl became pregnant by a Spirit and gave birth to God in human form. As shocking and strange as it sounds to say it that way, this is the very story we celebrate at Christmas each year.
As a Christian, we believe many things that are seemingly unbelievable. I believe a man brought himself back to life, even though nobody else has ever done that. I believe Jesus turned one person’s small lunch into a meal for more than five thousand. I believe these things, even though I wasn’t there, and I have never seen anyone else do it.
Truth be told, Christians spend a lot of time talking about things that are very difficult to believe, but we spend very little time helping people overcome their doubt. I’m not talking about the doubt of unbelievers; I’m talking about the doubt of normal everyday Christians.
When I struggled with doubt, I was told I just had to have more faith. This is a good answer sometimes, but it is a bad answer if it is what you say every time. As a young man I got the feeling that the people who told me that just didn’t know how to deal with the tough questions. Telling me to just have more faith was their way of avoiding some of the real and difficult issues that trouble us when we are young in this faith.
In my search for answers, I delved into the world of apologetics. I learned over the years to trust the claims of Jesus and to trust the reliability of the Scriptures. Apologetics helped me a great deal, but it was not the cure-all for doubt that I had hoped it would be. My mistake was thinking that doubt was merely an intellectual dilemma, but it turns out that doubt is usually built upon an emotional foundation.
Take for example Fredrick Nietzsche. He was the philosopher famous for coining the phrase “God is dead.” Despite all his intellect and philosophical arguments, his younger sister recalled that at a young age he saw a pastor in the pulpit coldly delivering his sermons and he remarked, “Does that thing up there ever laugh or cry?” His sister argued, that it was this event that sent him on a path away from God. If this is true, then it was partly an emotional response, not a purely philosophical one, that directed his journey.
Gary Habermas is a Christian philosopher who has written a great deal on the subject of doubt. After struggling with doubt for many years, he has a lot to say on the subject that I find helpful. He points out that most of us think we are rational thinkers, but it is impossible to separate completely our emotions from the deep questions that we ask.
We can even ask factual questions about the Bible for very emotional reasons. Because we are both emotional and intellectual beings, we should give great care in asking about the person who is doubting and not simply try to plug in an answer for every question.
I think it is culturally evident in the way many churches have chosen to deal with doubt. Some have attempted to focus only on the love of God but ignore any verse that calls us to holiness. Others have attempted to teach theology until all doubt is dispersed. But because we are whole humans, we must learn to wrestle with the heart and the head at the same time.
I know many of you are struggling in secret. You struggle with how to love Jesus and love your gay neighbor without compromise. You struggle with the teachings on Hell and the loss of a loved one who wasn’t saved. Often times, these struggles lead us down a path of doubt. I don’t want to remove you entirely from the struggle because it is within that struggle that some of our greatest lessons can be learned.
What I do want to tell you is what I have found in Jesus is greater than any compromise I have attempted to make with my head or with my heart. The message of Jesus is the only thing able to bring the two together in harmony. I want to encourage you to seek out the root of your doubt. If it were an emotional experience that led you to where you are, then don’t be fooled by thinking it can be solved by simply learning more facts.
In one sense, we see Jesus struggle with apparent “emotional doubt” in the garden, before His death. So as you struggle, know that Jesus feels your pain. My prayer is that you choose to trust in God’s sovereignty and goodness over the temporary discomfort you currently feel. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You might be surprised to learn that many of the godly people you know have struggled with the same doubts as you.
I no longer struggle with the believability of God or the reality of a resurrected Jesus. My doubts now come from whether or not I have the time, talent or energy to love God the way He deserves. And of course, I know that I don’t know everything, so I trust that He will give me what I need when I need it. It’s a beautiful thing to Glory in God in the middle of our doubts.