Today, we’re going to talk about doubt: how to handle it when we have it and how to handle it if someone comes to us with their doubts.
Doubt is all around us. Many of us will have our own doubts and the majority of us will be close to someone who is doubting. Now, the question is, will they ever talk with us?
When we consider doubt, there are two major directions we can go. We can look at doubt like something that needs to be addressed, where it’s not a good position to be doubting. Then there’s this other tendency today, often not in conservative evangelical circles, where we actually talk about doubt like it’s good. Like if you claim to have certainty in your religious life, that’s bad. You’re doing something wrong.
Clearly, this kind of attitude doesn’t accord with what Scripture says where John writes his gospels so that people will know, and believe, and have life. Jesus says, “Believe in me,” not “kind of be certain.” He doesn’t say things like that, and Peter, proclaiming the gospel in Acts, tells everyone so that they may know.
This place of doubt is never looked upon positively in Scripture. We do not want to glorify the doubting state. Now, the flip side of this is we do not vilify the doubters. This is a reality of the church in a fallen and broken world — one where sin and even our own desires and thoughts are fallen — there will be doubter in the church. The question becomes how do we handle it?
Today, there are two types of people I want to address. The first person we’ll talk about is the person who is experiencing doubt and the second person we’ll talk about is the one who might have someone else come to them and share their doubts. These are similar but they’re quite different concerns.
For the doubters
For the doubters, I understand where you’re at. I’ve been there. I went to church from the day I was born, professed faith at the age of seven, and I listened to hundreds, and hundreds, and hundreds of hours – thousands of hours of sermons.
By about the time I got to be a freshman in college, I had amassed a lot of questions, weighty questions, and I had come to the conclusion that this whole Christianity thing didn’t make much sense. I didn’t think God existed and if He did exist, I didn’t see how he could possibly be good.
For me, I didn’t feel comfortable sharing that with other people. That’s a reflection on me, not a reflection on the people in my life. I still played in the band. I still led a Bible study and yet, all along, I had these deep-seated doubts. I had no peace, practically speaking, in those areas.
In the context I grew up in, people didn’t really share their doubts. If it was prayer request time in small group and you’re going around the circle, it never seemed comfortable to say, “Pray for me. I’m doubting God exists.” (We could question what such a prayer would even mean: “Pray to the God that I don’t think exists to help me with the doubt about Him “).
My point is is I didn’t share this. I didn’t feel comfortable talking about it, but I understand where you’re at if you’re a doubter.
Realistically, we all will encounter doubts. Our toughest critic is probably not the atheist next to us at work or the Mormon at our college campus. Our toughest critic is probably ourself. The questions that will be most compelling to you are the ones that you find in your own mind.
Doubt your doubts
I do have some tips for how to address this if you are a doubter. The first thing, and I can’t remember who coined this term, is doubt your doubts. Ask questions of your doubts. There are certainly things in Christianity and that the Bible teaches that we wouldn’t know any other way. That we have to rely on Scripture to tell us and some things are counter-intuitive. For instance, the Trinity is a mystery in many ways. How one being can be shared by three persons is not something we’re familiar with in and any other area. The question we must ask is not just how probable is what Scripture says, but how probable would it be that we have the evidence we have if the events described in the Bible had not occurred.
We actually talked about this several weeks ago on the podcast dealing with do extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence. Don’t just ask questions of Christianity. Don’t just apply a very high standard to Christianity. Apply it to every other worldview. Ask questions, but use equal scales. For instance, some people want to say, “I can’t believe in God if I don’t understand how He works.” Well, there are many things we believe in and believe exists and don’t know how they work. Gravity, car engines, the batteries in our phones. I can’t tell you really how that works and I trust that it’s going to power my phone and other people do too. If you’re on this quest for truth and you have doubts, be intellectually honest enough to apply equal scales. If you’re going to apply a standard to Christianity, apply it to other areas in your life equally.
You see, my problem was that I had questions and I didn’t go looking for answers, really. I just sat there and soaked in my own questions and I didn’t go looking. I didn’t realize that every question I had and had even considered had been addressed. That’s one of the greatest facts that I have come to learn through my journey with Apologetics: there’s pretty much no issue that’s been raised today or over the last 2,000 years that the church hasn’t addressed and addressed well. That doesn’t mean we’re going to like all the answers, but it does mean there are answers out there for the finding.
Find someone to talk to
That takes us to the next point. Find someone to talk to. I think if I had actually confided in someone, my season of doubt would have been much shorter than it was. Someone would have been able to direct me, hopefully, to those answers that were out there for the finding. Find someone to talk to and just realize that our culture today, especially in the church, doesn’t do too well with doubt. Have patience with that person. You might need to say, “You know, I realized, I don’t want to feel like this. I don’t want to doubt these things, but I could use your help. I could use your patience. I’m coming to you for guidance.”
The last thing I would say or suggest is that you pray. That you search the Bible. That you ask God to reveal Himself to you.
I was telling my testimony, at least the part I just told a minute ago, to a group recently and one individual pushed back when I said I had a season of doubt and said, “Well, were you reading your Bible?” I replied, “Reading my Bible made it worse. I just saw contradiction after contradiction (or so they seemed) pouring off the page.” Getting into the Bible made it worse and I’ve heard this from others too. He said, “Well, did you pray to the Spirit that the Spirit would make it clear to you? Because if you do, He will.” I said, “You know, I may have done that once or twice,” but I actually disagree with this statement.
God is not a genie. He does not bow to our desires and the Holy Spirit has no obligation to reveal things to us. Yes, you should pray, and you should read your Bible, and you should doubt your doubts and ask questions, and you should apply equal scales to the doubts you have, but God isn’t under an obligation to reveal Himself in the ways we would like. We are the creatures, He is God and that may be one of the things you’re doubting and I understand that. There was a time when I did not appreciate that type of distinction. At the very least, apply equal scales. Find someone to talk to. Doubt your doubts.
For those talking with people with doubts
Now, if you’re the person someone comes and talk to, don’t vilify this person. Don’t make them out to be some horrible person. The fact they’ve come to talk with you, that they’ve confided in you, is extremely noteworthy. It’s very important.
Jude addresses doubters in part. When he says, “Have mercy on those who waver or who doubt.” We should have mercy on these people. Our hearts should go out to them. I’ve never met someone who doubted that wanted to doubt. No one wants to question their entire worldview or their religion or their view on God or the truths they’ve grown up standing on and viewing the world through. No one wants to be there, so have mercy on these people. Have grace towards them. Realize if you’re honest with yourself, you most likely have had doubts too.
Jude also goes onto say in that same passage, “Save others by snatching them out of the fire.” We should have mercy on people, but we should also be equipped to talk with them. If you’ve been listening to this podcast, that’s probably a small step towards getting equipped, but be in your Bible. Understand the types of questions people struggle with today. Be glad they talked with you.
Listen and ask questions
Listen is the second point. We need to listen to people. Don’t start saying, “Well, you don’t think God exists? Here’s why God exists.” Let them talk. Explain their journey to you. Let them explain why they think God doesn’t exist. Use questions. Why don’t you think God exists? If that’s the issue. Why do you think the existence of God is incompatible with evil? Let them do the explaining.
Often times, people aren’t going to have much to say. Their objection to whatever Christian truth their doubting might be very emotional and they might realize through your questions that it’s not really based on much. They’ve cloaked themselves in the appearance of intellectual objection, but often times it’s emotional. Listen and ask questions. That’s a great tactic, not just with an adversary, but in a very personal conversation where you are seeking to have mercy on someone. Your questions can be an act of mercy that lead them to the conclusion that their objections aren’t based on much.
Don’t give pat answers
Be glad they talked to you, listen, ask questions, but also don’t give pat answers. That’s one of the worst things we do sometimes in the church. We’ll just say, “You’re doubting God exists? Well, you just need to have faith.” The person might be saying, “Yeah, but science has shown that there’s no soul and this and that.” “Well, you just need to have faith,” we often reply. No, that’s not the answer to that type of problem.
We wouldn’t say that if someone said, “My leg is cut and I’m bleeding out.” “Well, just have faith.” No. You’d go get them a bandage or take them to the hospital and sometimes we need to do the same thing. We need to not give pat answers. We need to be willing to walk through the situation with the person and say, “You know what, I don’t know how to address your concern. I don’t. I’ve struggled with certain things, I still have my own doubts and concerns, but I haven’t had that one. I’m going to need to go find you an answer.”
Be willing to walk through this with the person, to go investigate, to find someone you can trust, to go on the internet, to read a book and find an answer, but to take it seriously because what we’re actually talking about when we talk about belief in God and trust in Christ for salvation are the most important things that exist. We’re talking about life and death. Worship of God or denial of God. Life abundant or life in hell. We’re talking about really important things and a person who is doubting is right on the edge in some ways.
That’s why Jude says, “Save others by snatching them out of thfor the doubterse fire.” When we answer someone’s doubts, we save them from leaving the faith, we save them from hell’s fire. That is a great responsibility but it’s also a great opportunity. Be glad they talked with you. Listen. Ask questions. Don’t give pat answers. Be willing to actually dive into this and do their questions and their doubts justice by finding good answers to them. This might take time. This might be a year or two-year process.
If you’re the doubter, this might not be a quick fix. The problem was probably not quick in the making either. That’s also something I see as I look back on my life. I see that like an infection it started at one point, and it was left, and it festered, and it got worse and worse. Often, that’s how spiritual problems are. If you’re the doubter, talk with someone. Be fair in your evaluation of Christianity and other worldviews and facts, though.
If you’re the one that someone comes to with their doubts, have mercy on those who doubt, who waiver, and snatch them out of the fires of hell by walking with them through this time and answering their questions. Hopefully, you can be someone that God uses in this person’s life to answer their questions, to speak the truth, and hopefully the words that bring eternal life.
I look forward to talking with you next week on Unapologetic.