Getting Real About Dealing With Doubt
Dana was born into a ministry family. Her mom authored Christian fiction and was active in her church. Her father was a traveling minister, often going from one city to the next to share his faith. Her older sister served as a teacher at a religious school. Her younger brother was the head of a ministry that cared for the homeless.
She spent the first thirty years of her life identifying as a Christian. Then her husband walked out on her for another woman. Suddenly, she was abandoned by her church which blamed her. The community she’d once had was ripped away. Her marriage was gone. She felt devastated and alone.
Like many in crisis, Dana was forced to re-evaluate what she believed and when she came through on the other side of that struggle, she declared, “There is no God. No one cares for me.”
Sadly, Dana’s words are nothing new. Christians throughout the generations have wrestled with their faith. Consider the Psalmist’s words in Psalm 88,
14“O LORD, why do you reject me? Why do you turn your face from me?” (Psalm 88:14) NLT
The chapter itself continues without answering the questions as the Psalmist is clearly dealing with doubt. The final concluding verse (number 18) lacks any hope:
18“You have taken from me friend and neighbor—darkness is my closest friend.” (Psalm 88:18)
That’s not exactly the verse we want to be cross-stitched on pillows. It’s not the one we paint in nurseries or tell kids in Sunday schools. Instead, we talk about how God is our Shepherd and paint pretty murals on the walls of our church buildings. We present faith as something easy and light. We showcase “the still waters” that He lets us rest beside.
But what we rarely talk about is dealing with doubt. Many Christian churches and organizations are afraid to approach this topic. Leadership can’t admit to doubts—they might lose their jobs. Congregants can’t admit to doubts—they might lose their standing in their community.
Dealing With Doubt Is Normal
More than that, it’s an integral part of the faith journey. Some will tell you that faith and doubt cannot co-exist. Yet, in Mark 9, a fascinating conversation happens between a desperate father and a loving Messiah.
This father brings his son, who is possessed by an evil spirit, to Jesus, explaining,
22“It has often thrown him into fire or water to kill him. But if you can do anything, take pity on us and help us.” (Mark 9:22)
Can you hear the helplessness and despair behind the words, “If you can do anything”? This is a father who has watched his son suffer for years. He’s walked for miles to carry his child to Jesus. His back aches and his heart is heavy. His feet are blistered, and his faith is tattered. Eyes fixed on the sandy ground; he whispers, “If you could just do something…”
Jesus immediately focuses on the man’s doubts, proclaiming,
23“Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23)
Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed,
24“I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24)
The desperate father doesn’t deny he is dealing with doubt. He doesn’t launch a new ministry to convince Jesus that he’s a good Christian. He doesn’t attend more church services to drown out the doubt. He doesn’t run from his questions by doing more or being more.
Instead, he stares unflinchingly at his BIG doubts and TINY faith and cries out, “I do have doubts. I’m not telling you I don’t. Help me overcome them!”
Doubts are not a sign that we don’t believe. Instead, doubt is a sign that we’re taking our faith seriously. That we’re questioning it. We’re probing it and ensuring that what we believe is true.
God longs for us to “worship in Spirit and in Truth” (John 4:24). That means that if any part of our belief system is not true, it does not honor God.
God is the God of Truth. He wants us walking in and believing Truth. But we can’t discern Truth without asking hard questions. That’s why in the middle of a season of dealing with doubt, there are some truths we can cling to…
Truth #1: God Will Meet You in Your Doubts
The night is late when Jesus comes walking on the water. As He approaches the boat, you can hear the knees of every sailor on board knocking. One cries out that it’s a ghost. Two of the men clutch each other. A third cowers.
But Jesus calls out, calming the hearts of His beloved ones.
27“Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.” (Matthew 14:27)
Peter responds, “If it’s you, call me out there, too!”
So, Jesus does.
Peter leaves the boat. First one step, then a second. The water is buoyant, different than the hard-packed sand he usually stands on.
But then thunder cracks, lightning flashes, and the reality of what he’s doing strike Peter. People don’t just walk on water, not without sinking.
The moment the thought enters Peter’s mind, he begins to sink beneath the waves. Gasping and sputtering, he shouts the name of his Friend, the One who is still standing patiently nearby.
Immediately, Jesus grabs onto Peter.
Jesus didn’t wait for Peter to repent of his doubts.
Jesus didn’t wait for Peter to go to seminary and study the more profound tenets of faith.
Jesus didn’t wait for Peter to proclaim truth over his unbelief.
Instead, He grips the hand of His disciple.
Jesus will meet you in the middle of your doubts. Just like He did for Peter.
The whole story of the Bible is God showing up in the lives of people dealing with doubt and proclaiming, “I AM here.”
We see it in the life of Job, who suffered so much and asked,
20“Why have you made me your target? Have I become a burden to you?” (Job 7:20)
God listens in silence for many chapters as Job and his friends wrestle with questions of faith and humanity. He gives space for them to talk about their doubts. He doesn’t interrupt. He doesn’t shush them or say, “You’re being bad witnesses. Don’t talk about this!”
Instead, He waits patiently.
It’s only when they have quieted themselves that God responds to their doubts with questions of His own, asking,
4“Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me, if you understand. 5Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it?” (Job 38:4-5)
He continues with His questions, pointing out repeatedly that Job and his friends who think they are wise know nothing of His wisdom. That’s because God wanted them to grasp a vital truth…
Truth #2: Your Doubts Don’t Change Who God Is
In the story of the desperate father who longed for healing for his child, those doubts didn’t stop Jesus from performing the miracle.
You see, God is still powerful in the face of your doubts. God is still loving in the face of your unbelief. God is still kind in the face of your questioning. That’s because your doubts cannot change the essential character of who God is.
More than that, God does not run from your doubts. He does not shake in His shoes when you question why certain events unfold the way they do. He does not fret when His children wonder about His goodness. He is not intimidated or challenged by your unbelief.
You will never ask God a question that He has not heard before. You will never pose a new doubt to the Heavens. You will never express a misgiving that surprises Him, for He already knows every thought in your mind (Psalm 139:1-2).
God is not angry with you for your doubts. He does not despise them. He is the patient Father who listens to all of your questions and answers each one in His timing and His way.
More than that, there is no condemnation for children of God. Jesus Himself intercedes for you—even more so when dealing with doubt.
34“Who is there to condemn us? For Christ Jesus, who died, and more than that was raised to life, is at the right hand of God—and He is interceding for us.” (Romans 8:34)
Jesus also interceded on behalf of Peter. Listen to His beautiful words,
31“Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift all of you as wheat. 32But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:31-32)
For modern-day readers, “being sifted as wheat” is just an expression. To understand what Jesus said, you need to know how wheat is sifted. It’s grabbed by the stalk and shaken violently. Doing this will separate wheat kernels, so all else falls away.
Satan’s true intent is that Peter would fall away from Jesus and never return. He has that intent for every believer. But listen to what Jesus says about Peter’s coming failure:
32“But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.” (Luke 22:32)
Whether it’s dealing with doubt or failure, you are covered by the blood of Christ. You are drenched in compassion. You are drowned in grace. You are doused in love. This is the core message of the Gospel and the one that’s easy to forget when dealing with doubt—you are still so very loved.
Truth #3: Some Beliefs Should Be Abandoned
Sean attended a church that proclaimed that God’s highest goal for him was a good and easy life. The pastor preached that God wanted to bless Sean with riches and health, to have him live free from stress.
But when Sean was diagnosed with cancer, he was forced to re-evaluate those beliefs. If God’s goal was for him to be happy, then why did he have cancer? What had Sean done wrong, and why wasn’t God healing him?
Sean started to read the words of the New Testament seriously. He let his doubts drive him to seek truth, and he discovered verses like,
33“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:33)
He found solace in Peter’s words...
12“Dear friends, don’t be surprised at the fiery trials you are going through, as if something strange were happening to you. 13Instead, be very glad—for these trials make you partners with Christ in his suffering, so that you will have the wonderful joy of seeing his glory when it is revealed to all the world.” (1 Peter 4:12-13) NLT
After much soul-searching, Sean realized he either had to stop believing in God or stop believing that God’s highest goal was his personal comfort. He chose to continue with his faith and let go of the false belief that God wanted him to have an easy life.
Sometimes God allows circumstances into your life because He wants those doubts to help you release beliefs that are not Biblical. These seasons of dealing with doubt are not meant to destroy your faith but to strengthen it. He’s allowing you to question because He knows there are lies in your heart and mind that need to be confronted.
Truth #4: Dealing With Doubt Leaves You Profoundly Changed
God called Jacob to return to the land of his father, the place where he had come from. He told him, “Pack up your bags. Remember that small hometown you ran from? Return there right away!”
There was just one tiny problem. Jacob had angered his brother, Esau. Twice, he took a blessing meant for the eldest. In his rage, Esau swore to get revenge. That’s why Jacob had run in the first place.
But now, God was sending him back.
Not knowing what will happen, Jacob obeys the command. He prays as he goes, calling out for God to rescue him.
When he’d left his home, Jacob was a single guy. But on returning, there’s more than just Jacob. He has two wives and many children. He has dozens of servants and owns vast flocks of animals. By all accounts, he’s returning with great wealth and blessing.
Yet his knees still knock together.
He sends his precious family ahead, along with his servants, livestock, and everything he owns. Jacob is utterly alone in the night. There is no one to comfort him. Nothing to do to distract him. There is only Jacob and the long night.
Then a man shows up, and they wrestle.
24“This left Jacob all alone in the camp, and a man came and wrestled with him until the dawn began to break.” (Genesis 32:24) NLT
This man was considered an “angel of the Lord” and the very spirit of the Almighty.
For the entire night, Jacob wrestles. He grapples, and he struggles. But not merely to win. Jacob wants a blessing. It’s what he insists on before the end of the night. What he’s given isn’t just a blessing but a new name as well.
28“Your name will no longer be Jacob, but Israel, because you have struggled with God and with humans and have overcome.” (Genesis 32:28)
The new name—the name of Israel—is believed to mean “He struggles with God.” It isn’t the only thing Jacob leaves with. He also leaves the fight with an injured hip, and he limps for the rest of his life.
The struggle for faith and the battle of dealing with doubt will mark you. It will leave you a different person than before. Like Jacob, you may never walk the same way again. You may never go by the same name again.
But there’s an important point not to be missed here: God blesses those who struggle for their faith. God doesn’t look down on His children for dealing with doubt. He lets them wrestle and grapple, knowing that this battle can lead to an even greater testimony.
Truth #5: You Can Ask the Hard Questions
The world today is facing unprecedented darkness. From a global pandemic to political corruption, systemic injustice, and war, many people see the ravages of a fallen world all around them.
Becoming aware of the darkness can make us question the Light. It can cause times of serious reflection, prompting us to consider what we believe in and, perhaps even more importantly, why we believe it.
You can and should ask these questions. Ask the hard questions that make your heart ache. Speak of the turmoil that’s going on inside your mind. Don’t bottle it up and try to put on a mask, pretending to be a good Christian.
In his blog post, Brad Griffin says, “It’s not doubt that’s toxic to faith—it’s silence.”
It’s in the silence that our doubts grow louder and louder. It’s in the silence that we begin to retreat from God. It’s in the silence that we start to think perhaps the whole of Christianity is not what it seems.
But here is the wonderful news—Jesus invites those dealing with doubt closer to him. He did it with Thomas, the disciple so well-known for doubts that through the ages, he’s earned the nickname Doubting Thomas.
All of the other disciples had seen Jesus risen after death. They told Thomas about it, but he scoffed. He said,
25“Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” (John 20:25)
It’s not hard to fault the man. Hope and faith are painful things at times.
Maybe your dreams were shattered by an auto accident that meant you could never play sports again. Perhaps your doctor told you your body is broken and you’ll never have those babies you dreamed of. Maybe your loved one wasn’t healed of cancer or a stroke. Perhaps you watched in shock as a horrific tragedy unfolded in your home or neighborhood.
Now you’re left feeling broken and surrounded by doubts. They’re loud and yelling at you that God doesn’t care. That He’s abandoned you right when you need Him the most.
But the same Jesus who appeared to Thomas appears to you right now. God is never closer to you than when you ache and hurt. He’s never nearer than in your moments of doubt and despair. Psalm 147 tells us,
3“He heals the brokenhearted and bandages their wounds.” (Psalm 147:3)
God is not silent in our suffering. God is not passive in our pain, and He is never distant when we’re dealing with doubt.
Grace and peace,
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