What to do when doubts about your faith enter your mind.
ELISABETH CARTER 26 JULY 2019
Having doubts about your faith may feel scary, but it’s actually extremely normal.
Doubt is a common part of being a Christian, and particularly a Christian teen who may not have been following Jesus for very long.
At face value, a lot of what we believe as Christians seems strange, and even unbelievable. At points, this can cause us to have serious doubts.
So what can you do when doubt affects your faith? How does the Bible talk about doubt? Let’s dig deep into this topic.
What does the Bible say about doubt?
Doubt in the Bible is not hidden away. It is clearly a problem for many of God’s people, both in the Old and the New Testament. But where doubt occurs, the Bible has advice and answers for us – and there’s a lot we can learn from Biblical doubters!
In the Bible, many people have doubts. And while you might assume these are people with weak faith, in fact that’s often the opposite! In his great article Wresting With Doubt: Round One, written for Fervr, Ronnie Campbell outlines just a few of these people:
Abraham, who is considered to be the “Father of Faith,” had all kinds of doubts. When God established His covenant with Abraham, He told Abraham that he and Sarah were to have a child. Rather than trusting God and taking Him at His word, Abraham laughed at the news (Genesis 17:17). No wonder he was a bit skeptical. Abraham was an old man. The Bible tells us he was ninety-nine years old when God reaffirmed that promise to him (Genesis 17:1). Despite his doubts, God used Abraham and gave him a son, Isaac, through his wife Sarah—who also doubted (Genesis 18:10-12).
When Jesus was on trial before His crucifixion, one of His followers, Peter, denied that he even knew Jesus (Mark 14:66-72). But after Jesus’ resurrection, Peter became an outspoken witness for Him (Acts 2:14-36; Acts 3-4:31). According to church tradition, Peter was martyred because of his faith in Christ.
Thomas, another follower of Jesus, doubted that God had raised Jesus from the dead. He wouldn’t believe it until he saw it for himself. But when confronted with the resurrected Jesus, Thomas worshiped (John 20:24-29). Church tradition tells us that Thomas went as far as India telling others about the good news of Jesus. Like Peter, Thomas was eventually killed for his faith.
Given the prominence of science in our culture today, I’m sure that there are a lot of people out there like Thomas who need to see the evidence. That’s ok. Jesus understood Thomas’ heart and knew what he needed in order to strengthen his faith.
Doubt in the Psalms
The Bible doesn’t shy away from addressing the fact that sometimes, we humans question God. In fact, the Psalms are full of people crying out to God, asking why!
Psalm 77 is the story of a person who has wrestled with serious doubts. In verses 7-9, the Psalmist writes that he asked questions like,
Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favor again?
Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?
The very fact that questions like these are in the Bible should be a great comfort to us. Questioning God and wrestling with doubt is not condemned by him. In fact, he invites us to wrestle, to question and acknowledge our weakness.
But what the Psalmist does next is very important: he doesn’t linger in his doubt for too long. He seeks resolution and answers to his questions, and he finds them. Take a look at verses 10-12:
Then I thought, “To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.”
The Psalmist remembers God’s faithfulness to him and his ancestors and that helps allay his doubts about God’s goodness.
Let’s get practical
So the Bible tells us that doubt is normal, but not something we should just accept. There are answers to our doubts, and God wants us to find them.
When doubts enter your mind, what can you do to send them away?
Interrogate your doubt
Firstly, ask where your doubt has come from.
In Round Two of his article Wrestling With Doubt, Ronnie Campbell suggests that doubts can be broadly put in two categories – fact-based doubt and emotion-based doubt.
As Ronnie explains, “The first has to do with facts or the intellect. People who struggle with fact-based doubt often have questions concerning their beliefs. For example, they might ask questions such as:
- Does God exist?
- How can Jesus be both God and man at the same time?
- Can the Bible be trusted?”
Lots of very smart Christians have done years of hard work to uncover and articulate the answers to these questions. Fact-based doubts can be answered and addressed with some research, discussion with wiser Christians, and careful study of the Bible.
Emotion-based doubt is a little more challenging. Our emotions and the difficult circumstances we face in life can cause us to question God in ways like the Psalmist in Psalm 77. We want answers to questions like:
- Why do I feel so guilty if God says he’s forgiven me?
- Why would God let me suffer?
- I feel worthless – how could Jesus possibly have wanted to die for me?
Ronnie Campbell says that many of these doubts actually come from lies that we believe. Lies like, God doesn’t actually forgive us, or God wants us to suffer, or God doesn’t love us.
To address these doubts, we need to replace the lies with truth. As Ronnie explains, “We need to remind ourselves of the truth – God loves us so much that He gave His Son for us (John 3:16). All humans have worth and dignity because they were created in God’s image and likeness (Genesis 1:26-28; Genesis 9:6; James 3:9).
Recognising and telling ourselves the truth sets us free from the lies that we tell ourselves.”
Ask God for help
One of the most important things to do when facing doubt is to ask God for help. That may feel strange if you’re at a point where you’re doubting if God even exists, but if you are seeking to address your doubts, who better to ask than the very source of all wisdom?
In Mark 9, Jesus is approached by a man asking him to heal his son from an evil spirit. The man asks Jesus to help, “if you can”.
Jesus’ response is firm: “‘If you can’?” said Jesus. “Everything is possible for one who believes.” (Mark 9:23).
This might seem a little harsh. Jesus is rebuking the man for questioning whether a miracle is possible. But the way the father responds to Jesus is a great lesson for us:
“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
When we are struggling to believe, we need to ask God to help us overcome that. Pride and fear should never get in the way – remember that everything is possible for God.
Ask other Christians for help
One of the main reasons we need to remain in Christian community even when we’re doubting is because other Christians are a great source of comfort and wisdom in times of trouble.
The ministers at your church, your youth leaders and even your friends have probably all wrestled with the same doubts as you, and they may have answers and advice.
There are also so many resources online and wise teachers that you could go to for answers to your questions. Here at Fervr we recommend these two in particular:
Dr John Dickson – an Australian academic and minister who is passionate about helping non-Christians come to faith and helping Christians address their questions. He’s written many books addressing big questions of doubt, such as ‘If I Were God, I’d End All the Pain’.
Dr William Lane Craig – an American apologist who helps people understand why faith in Jesus is a reasonable choice. His website ReasonableFaith.org is full of extremely helpful videos and articles.
Questions to think about
- What doubts have you dealt with in the past? Where do you think they came from – a lack of facts, or your emotions? How did you deal with these doubts?
- Read Psalm 77. What doubts does the Psalmist have? How does he deal with them? What can we learn from this?
- What can you pray to God when you are doubting?
- Who in your life could help you if you were wrestling with doubt?