1. What are you doubting? There are three primary things people doubt: 1) Their salvation, 2) God’s love for them, 3) Fundamental issues of the faith. Included with the doubt of salvation is a sub-catergory: belief that they have committed the unforgivable sin. Which one do you find yourself doubting?

If it is a fundamental issue of the faith that you are doubting, which one is it? The reliability of Scripture? The reality of Hell? The exclusivity of Christ? The existence of God? etc.

(This is important as, more often than not, people are having an emotional struggle, not an intellectual one, even if they don’t identify it as such. For example, ninety-nine percent of the time, people doubt hell and Christ’s exclusivity not because they have found some compelling logical argument against it, but because it does not square with them emotionally. This does not speak to the legitimacy of the doubt, but to the source of its genesis.)

2. Why are you doubting? It’s okay not to know. Most people don’t since doubt is a very emotional thing. It is like asking someone why they are sad when they are experiencing significant depression. They don’t know or they misdiagnose it. It is the same with doubt. Most people really don’t know why they are doubting, but it is important for me to see where you believe your doubt is coming from. Some of the following questions may give us a better idea.

3. Is there anyone in your life—a Christian friend, parent, child, pastor, or someone you respect in the Christian community—who has recently stumbled or lost their faith? If so, can you trace the beginnings of your doubt to this timeframe?

(More often than not, we are unaware of the significant impact the faith of others has on our faith. While we may like to talk a big game, believing that our faith stands or falls on our own intellectual prowess, in the end, we are a community of believers and rely very heavily on each other both emotionally and intellectually. When someone we love and/or respect stumbles into serious sin or falls away from the faith, only then do we realize how much we were leaning on them.)

4. Have there been any significant tragedies in your life? Tell me about them. What credit do you give God for these tragedies? What blame do you place on God for these events?

(Notice, I did not say “Has there been any significant recent tragedies,” as the timing of the tragedy may say nothing as to whether or not these happenings are contributing to your current doubt. I know that with my mental breakdown which manifested itself in my time of doubt, there was quite a bit that had built up over the years and I never dealt with it. Suddenly, four years later, I felt like my mind broke.)

5. Have you had any domestic life changes or struggles? For example, have you taken a different job? Are you struggling to pay bills? Are there problems in your marriage or have you gotten divorced recently? Are you overwhelmed with the tasks you have taken on? Any number of things can create an emotional perfect storm that overloads your emotions and can manifest itself in every area of life, including spiritual doubt.

6. Tell me about this aspect of your personality: Would you describe yourself as an intense person who tends toward compulsiveness or a laid back person with a lot of patience? Here is another way, though at first glance it may appear to be odd, to put this (and this will be more relevant to some of us who remember the commercials): “How many licks does it take for you to get to the center of a Toosie Pop?” If you are old enough, you remember the commercial with the owl. The owl took two licks and then could not contain himself. He then bit straight into the middle. So it took him three. He was intense! If you have to bite into the pop, you might be an intense person.

(Why does this matter? Sometimes, more intense people experience times of extreme doubt, often coming on acutely without any warning. This is especially the case when people have—or at least believe themselves to have—more intellectually-based doubts. Ironically, I find this most among young men who aspire to be apologists, believing that they must immediately and completely immerse themselves in every debate, book, and argument that exists, both those for and those against Christianity. Eventually, this type of personality is prone to be a “spiritual emotional breakdown.”)

(In case you were wondering, there have been studies done on how long it takes to get to the center of a Tootsie Pop. It appears to take anywhere from 144-411 licks to get to the core.)

7. Has there been any introduction or subtraction of drugs in your life? Prescription medications? Recreational drugs? Alcohol?

(As much as some Christians would like to think differently, your brain drastically affects your mind. In other words, brain chemistry—affected by many medications—can deeply affect your beliefs, perceptions of reality, and confidence in your faith. When one starts or suddenly stops some medication, doubts may soon follow.)

8. Tell me about your health? How is your diet, blood pressure, exercise routine (or lack thereof)? Have you lost or gained any weight? Are you sleeping okay?

(Changes in physical body can also significantly affect your brain. I know a guy who was suffering tremendously with his faith, doubting beliefs that were perfectly stable his whole life. He began to change his views on things, putting a strain on all those around him. As we discussed the reason for these changes over the next six months, we could not diagnose any reason for them. He admitted to me that he could not find any rational basis for his change. After a year, he called me one day and said that all his doubts had suddenly vanished. I asked him what changed. He said that he was diagnosed with sleep apnea and was put on a machine. After a few nights of good sleep, all his doubts went away. Nearly ten years later and he has not stumbled again.)

9. Are there any books or teachings that you have recently been reading that might have contributed to your wavering faith? If so, which ones?

10. Are you struggling with any of the traditional moral beliefs or attitudes that the church has on social issues? For example, are you trying to reconcile your sympathy or empathy with the LGBQT+ community with what you have been taught? Are you seeing the church more identified with right-wing politics than coming to the aid of the oppressed? Are you having problems with the church’s response to race relations? Do you look with increasing disdain with how people are close-minded or bigoted within the church?

11. Is there any persistent and unrepentant sin in which you are involved?

(This is sometimes the first and only question that people ask. Conversely, for some, it is anathema to suppose that sin might be the issue. While it is not the first question I ask, it is, nevertheless, very important and sometimes the cause of people’s doubt.)

12. Do you believe that faith and doubt can exist at the same time?

(Some people have been brought up believing that everything is black and white. If one has faith, they have no doubt. If they have doubt, they have no faith. I have often found that the alleviation of this falsehood coupled with the introduction and application of the idea of the tension between faith and doubt is all that is needed to reintroduce bloodflow to the soul.)

C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. Find him on Patreon Th.M. Dallas Theological Seminary (2001), president of Credo House Ministries and Credo Courses, author of Now that I'm a Christian (Crossway, 2014) Increase My Faith (Credo House, 2011), and The Theology Program (Reclaiming the Mind Ministries, 2001-2006), host of Theology Unplugged, and primary blogger here at Parchment and Pen. But, most importantly, husband to a beautiful wife and father to four awesome children. Michael is available for speaking engagements. Join his Patreon and support his ministry

    11 replies to "12 Diagnostic Questions I Ask of Those Doubting Their Faith"

    • Haden J-Robbins

      James appears to be very hard on doubters (James 1:5-8 NIV):
      “5 If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you. 6 But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7 That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. 8 Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
      So doubters are unstable, double-minded and should expect to receive NOTHING.
      This is a very troubling piece of scripture to say the least as surely doubt is a manifestation of a question that needs to be engaged with? Are we supposed to just exhibit blind faith? Surely not!
      Hopefully I am just not interpreting the passage correctly. Any help gratefully accepted!

      • C Michael Patton

        Haden, thank you for your thoughtful comment. I do think you are misunderstanding that passage. If we connect it directly to the previous comments about asking for wisdom, then the doubt he is speaking of is not doubt in general, but a double-minded use of the wisdom God gives. In other words, one considers the wisdom of God, yet decides to go a different direction. If you look up the word for “doubt” you will see that it carries this connotation sometimes. I have been meaning to write about this for a while. Maybe I will, but I am double-minded and always decide against it! 🙂

    • edwardtbabinski

      9. Are there any books or teachings that you have recently been reading that might have contributed to your wavering faith? If so, which ones?

      That was my difficulty prior to moving away from Christian doctrines and biblical beliefs. https://etb-former-fundamentalists.blogspot.com/2012/04/edward-t-babinski-if-it-wasnt-for.html

      Number 9. seems to have been a lot of people’s major difficulty, see this list of over 300 testimony books in which people describe moving away from the conservative Christian fold, often due to 9. or, not seeing anything peculiarly divine about Christian beliefs or their effect on people. Often such folks grow increasingly more moderate or progressive, widening degrees of inclusion, plurality, or more liberal and agnostic. Some become atheists as well. https://www.amazon.com/hz/wishlist/ls/3JQ7OLD5KDHWQ?ref_=wl_share

      Entire institutions of higher learning that were formerly bastions of conservative Christian teaching have moved in the direction of moderation, more inclusive views, plurality.. Read about the histories of Harvard, Yale (founded by conservative ministers in reaction to Harvard’s widening spectrum of theological questions being raised, but now look at Yale), Princeton (former home of B. B. Warfield, defender of inerrancy), Fuller Theological Seminary, and others.

      ‘The oft repeated mythical stories that warned about the dangers of higher education, which often include an enthusiastic young preacher who goes to seminary (“cemetery”) and comes back doubting everything are not so mythical. From the world famous evangelist Chuck Templeton (who preached with Billy Graham for many years) until going to Princeton to engage in Biblical Studies, to Robert Funk, the agnostic historical Jesus scholar who had been a fundamentalist in his youth, these myths are real, they are the stories of thousands of people who lost their zeal after engaging in biblical studies.

      ‘As the top conservative New Testament textual scholar in America, Dan Wallace, said:

      ‘“As remarkable as it may sound, most biblical scholars are not Christians. I don’t know the exact numbers, but my guess is that between 60% and 80% of the members of SBL (Society of Biblical Literature) do not believe that Jesus’ death paid for our sins, or that he was bodily raised from the dead.”

      ‘Also from Dan Wallace:

      ‘”In one of our annual two-day meetings about ten years ago, we got to discussing theological liberalism during lunch. Now before you think that this was a time for bashing liberals, you need to realize that most of the scholars on this committee were theologically liberal. And one of them casually mentioned that, as far as he was aware, 100% of all theological liberals came from an evangelical or fundamentalist background. I thought his numbers were a tad high since I had once met a liberal scholar who did not come from such a background. I’d give it 99%. Whether it’s 99%, 100%, or only 75%, the fact is that overwhelmingly, theological liberals do not start their academic study of the scriptures as theological liberals. They become liberal somewhere along the road.” [The quotations above are part of another leaver’s multi-part testimony on his blog, The Reluctant Skeptic]’

    • Lucas

      I really struggling at the moment because I backslide Christian and I because I walk for such a long time away from the Lord I don’t have assurance of salvation like in the past and I see my remaining faith growing colder and colder. I am at the point that I feel desperate and so scared that it’s affecting my work. I don’t really know what to do

      • C Michael Patton

        Lucas. I am so sorry to hear this. I just noticed your comment waiting to be approved. Is there any way I can contact you to help you through this? There really is hope on the other side. You can call me at 405-410-3039. It would be my pleasure to talk with you.

    • Over It

      I have another diagnostic to add to your list – “does God continually crap all over you?” Why add this? Because it’s true for a lot of people, especially me at the moment. God has spent the last 8 years dismantling my life piece by piece. I’ve lost my home, my marriage, my career, my “friends”, my money, my credit, my reputation, my youth, my health, and now my passion for life.

      I’ve been unemployed for 4 months and my savings is all but gone. I have enough cash on hand to pay this month’s rent. In December I’ll be homeless. I can’t find a job making enough to support us. Let me clarify – the jobs are out there, I’m just not being offered one. Former “friends” (work acquaintances since my husband won’t allow me to have friends) are maligning my reputation.

      I never thought I’d be living in my car with three dogs while the people causing me harm continue to prosper.

      I’m so tired of the “spiritual warfare” stance and the “stay strong, God allowed Jobe to be tested” platitudes. Re-read Jobe sometime…it’s short and filled with tragedy before ending with a quick note that he had more children and his skin cleared up. Wow.

      I’m so over it. Sooooooo over it. Just once I’d love for God to test someone else and bless me. I’m tired of being crapped on. I’ve tried to be a good Christian, hang onto my faith through adversity, do good works through my trials but I’M TIRED!!! So freaking tired.

      I truly believe that God hates me. The last decade of my life has been like a really bad country song. I know that “bad things happen to good people” and “Jesus never promised us an easy walk” but I haven’t seen the light of day for eight years.

      That’s not “testing”, it’s punishment.

      • Dante

        Dang it. I’m so sorry. I’ve felt the same way. For me, it was mental illness that effected many other aspects of my life. Do everything right, and still get tortured all the time. I genuinely think I felt the most extreme amount of emotional pain I am capable of feeling. I wanted to die for so long. It seemed nonsensical to believe that all that was somehow worth it. It still seems strange to think maybe it was, and I don’t know how it could have been necessary.

        This won’t fix things, but I found that even when I couldn’t feel positive emotions, I could still sort of enjoy shaking my fist at “fate,” “the universe,” whatever evil thing that was causing me to suffer – even though I didn’t know what I was shaking my fist at exactly, even if it may have just been generic results of the Fall of Man I was shaking my fist at. Not at God, though, except maybe in brief moments of utter frenzy.

        Also, while it may seem almost impossible to ask God for things (he’s left me suffering despite my requests so many times, why should I keep begging?), or to thank him for things (O thank you for this wonderful life! Or thank you for watching me scream and scream!), I could still praise Him for himself – his incomprehensible, transcendent self.

        I prayed some of these prayers a lot: https://www.stmaximus.org/orthodoxprayer Mainly the Third Hour, Sixth Hour, and Ninth Hour, and The Morning Prayers and the Prayers Before Sleep.

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