Have you experienced it before? The ever-irksome foe named Doubt darkens your door of faith, casting a shadow over everything you have believed for much of your life. Paralyzed by the fear of what this might do to your relationship with God, and to top it off, your reputation with those who have always identified you as “Christian,” this existential crisis brings you to your knees.
You wonder, How did I get here? I didn’t want this to happen. I thought I knew what I believed.
You may not readily admit it, but you’ve probably been there. Maybe you were hurt by someone you loved within the Church and thought following Christ was supposed to look different. Maybe you read some works of Sam Harris or Christopher Hitchens and their arguments became compelling to you. Or maybe it was your inability to shake a recurring sin or a lack of feeling the presence of God in your life.
Whatever the case may be, that hideous Doubt has a way about him. He sneaks into your soul to try and woo you away from the everlasting source of hope and strength.
Doubt can be a discouraging and debilitating opponent in the Christian life. We don’t like to talk about it because it feels humiliating. It’s something we’re not proud of. It feels dirty to doubt.
WHEN DOUBT CAME TO MY DOOR
I remember my crisis moment. I was sitting in a stadium seat at a conference, stunned at what John Piper was unpacking in Scripture right before my eyes. That NIV with my name etched on the cover had been in my possession for years, but I had never noticed in it the things this preacher was saying.
I thought I knew who God was, but was he really this? I had professed Christ as my Lord and Savior, but is this what I meant by that? I had to do some serious searching in the days and months that followed to determine how I answered those questions.
This came at a time when I was fresh into college, and as you might have guessed, surrounded by new obstacles to faith: a philosophy professor who assigned me William James to read, and laughed out loud at my theological answers to real-world problems. A speech professor who flunked my speech defending Creationism as a viable explanation of the universe and gave an A to the girl in the class who presented a speech on evolution. Stump preachers setting up on campus to yell at the LGBT students. Varying campus ministries who put “doing life together” at the top of their values but made little room for gospel transformation. A roommate who said he was a Christian but could not have been classified as a “follower of Jesus.” And now this Piper guy wrecking my understanding of righteousness, the glory of God, and the atonement.
I had to answer for myself the question, “Who is this Son of Man?” (Jn. 12:34).
I decided to remove all the outside opinions and instead seek answers in the Word of God. I was determined to be illumined by the Spirit or find it all a ruse. I had to start from square one. “And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight” (Acts 9:18).
THE SPIRITUAL GIANT WHO DOUBTED
There was another man who wrestled with Doubt, a man with a far more gifted mind and compassionate heart than my own. His name was Francis Schaeffer.
In his exploration into the life and thought of Schaeffer, William Edgar, a friend to Schaeffer himself, outlines the crisis moment of Schaeffer’s life. It was early 1951, and during a season of everyday walking and meditation, Francis said he had to rethink “the whole matter of Christianity.”
This was coming from a man who was well-versed in nearly every world religion, every philosophical system. He could tie anyone up in their own logical fallacies like he was tying his shoes. But he was also human like the rest of us.
I imagine Schaeffer going for a walk, crying out with me in my dorm room, and the father of the child in Mark 9, “I believe. Help my unbelief!” I find great comfort in the fact that Schaeffer doubted. If he had to work out his salvation with fear and trembling, what of me? It’s not something that is wrong with me but something that is wrong with us.
As sinful fallen humans we are often tempted to disbelieve the truths about God. We are prone to forget what we know to be true about the Gospel. I share a piece of my own story and of Schaeffer’s story to demonstrate that Doubt pays us all a visit at different times and in different degrees. Even a man as “qualified” and esteemed as Francis Schaeffer faced doubts. The important thing, though, is that he didn’t allow himself to stay in his doubt. He did what was necessary to seek answers and reach a conclusion.
The solution to a struggle with doubt is first to devote yourself to prayer. In the famous “help my unbelief” passage, Jesus seems to imply in Mark 9:29 that finding growth in faith is spearheaded by a commitment to prayer. If we truly believe that Christ is our intercessor and great high priest, and that the Spirit is working to illuminate the Word of God to us, then let's ask the Lord to reveal himself.
FIGHTING DOUBT WITH THE WORD
If you find yourself struggling with the lures of Doubt, remember these additional comforts.
Our doubt is not the fault of God, but the fault of sin. In Eden, God was present with humanity. His existence was undeniable. He was so near that it would have been impossible to doubt his presence. But since man was driven out from his presence due to sin (Gen. 3:24), we now see through a mirror dimly (1 Cor. 13:12). Sin, ultimately, is a rejection of (to borrow Schaeffer’s famous quip) “the God who is there” (see Rom. 1:19-20). Doubt happens not because God himself is doubtable, but because our minds need to be reminded of the light of the gospel.
Though we see in a mirror dimly now, there will come a day when we will see Christ face to face. Faith says, “Come, Lord Jesus!” Even a faith the size of a mustard seed can bring us hope in his coming (Mt. 17:20). Not only will our doubts be erased one day, but the doubts of all mankind will be as well. “Every knee will bow” is a wonderful refrain in Scripture (Isa. 45:23; Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:10). All doubts will cease to exist one day.
Jesus never doubted, but he was tempted to. How did he respond to Satan in those moments? With memorized Scripture. There is something to this practice, especially in waging war against doubt. Remembering and rehearsing Scripture to yourself proves to be a strong weapon in the war against doubt.
When we call upon the Lord to help us in our unbelief, we should not expect “magic 8-ball confirmation.” In other words, it may not be as clear-cut and discernible an “act of God” as we may hope, but this should not drive us into despair. It should only drive us further into communion with God, time spent reading his Word, conversation with other believers, prayer, fasting, journaling, and more. This is the make-up of faith.
Don't let Doubt isolate you from others, and most of all, from God. Leap into this glorious opportunity to grow your faith on the sword of the Spirit and the truth of Christ. Allow God to mold and shape you like clay as you seek him more through your doubts. Search for the truth in the Scriptures. His Word always has purpose and never returns void, even on you.
Zach Barnhart currently serves as Student Pastor of Northlake Church in Lago Vista, TX. He holds a Bachelor of Science from Middle Tennessee State University and is currently studying at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, seeking a Master of Theological Studies degree. He is married to his wife, Hannah. You can follow Zach on Twitter @zachbarnhart or check out his personal blog, Cultivated.