doubt

Over the years, I have written much about Christian doubt. One of my life-verses is Jude 22, “Have mercy on some who doubt.” Christian doubt is a terrifying plague. Today while reading some of the life of Martin Luther, I came to the conviction that he suffered with debilitating bouts of doubt leading to depression. For him, these doubts were battles with Satan that he handled in his own very peculiar way, but he worked his way through them and was a better theologian as a result.

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The Terror of Doubt

From Abraham to Martin Lloyd Jones, from John the Baptist to C. S. Lewis, from the Apostle Thomas to William Cowper, Christians who seriously doubt their faith are in good company. It is hard to express the magnitude of the need to come to the aid of and have mercy on those who doubt. They are scared. They feel alone. They are groping in the darkness. Some despair their own lives. Most keep their doubt hidden in the horrid chamber of their heart doing everything they can to keep it secret and buried.

When these doubters feel like outsiders to the Christian community; when they feel like they are the only ones; these doubts end up devouring all hope and joy. They so desperately want to feel what they perceive others are feeling . They want to return to the faith that came so easily before. But something broke within them and the panic escalates into severe depression. This depression seemingly has no outlet and no end. They are afraid that they are on the path to becoming unbelievers. They are afraid no one would understand. They are afraid that saying it out loud, “I am doubting my faith” is going to be received as “I love sin more than I love God.” So silence and loneliness gives way to an escalating hopelessness.

[Tweet “When these doubters feel like outsiders to the Christian community; when they feel like they are the only ones; these doubts end up devouring all hope and joy.”]

Suggested Reading: The Miserable Christian Doubt

I write this to let you know how so many people sitting in the pews feel this way. I write this as a plea for Christians, pastors, elders, and friends to have mercy on those who doubt. I write this to beg you to provide a safe place where doubters can begin to find healing.

Why People Are Doubting

We live in a hostile world. I know that the world has always been hostile to Christianity. But the hostility today comes in a different form that breeds opportunities for new kinds of doubt. It is not so much that there has been some new intellectual front that has made the Christian faith less viable than it was before (the intellectual case for Christianity is as strong as it has ever been), but it is the proliferation of unbelief that brings about emotional breakdowns. Sure, apologetics can help stabilize the mind (and is very necessary for the strengthening of peoples’ faith), but it is the heart that has become unstable.

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Before, we heard about unbelief from a distance. Now we see it on our computer screens every day. Why are people still faithless? Why hasn’t Christianity convinced the world of the truth? Why are atheists swaying so many people? Why, if our arguments are so strong, do people still reject God? What do people know that I don’t?

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The Humility of Doubt

Doubt is often birthed in humility. I know this sounds odd, but most people (contrary to how they may come across) do not think they are that smart. With all the changes going on in medicine and science, with all the new paradigm shifting theories in cosmology and physics, maybe we humans don’t know very much. Maybe I don’t know very much. Maybe we are all wrong about everything!

The Breakdown of Certainty

These thoughts don’t have to be wholesale. They can just be little gnats gnawing away at our certainty. And once many people’s certainty has been cracked, in comes the panic. We have just been so used to having this emotional conviction that led the charge of our faith. We were once one-hundred percent certain that our faith was true. Now, in all the confusion, we are only ninety-nine percent sure that it is true. And it is this one-percent drop that throws us in a tailspin. Soon, emotional certainty takes a nosedive and our spiritual compass spins in all directions and we don’t know where it will stop.

My Plea to Christians

I could talk about all the problems we have created due to our felt need to have perfect certainty (what Descartes called indubidibility), I could talk about all the various components that build our faith (knowledge, intellectual conviction, contented trust), I could talk about steps to take to help people rebuild others’ faith (all of which I have done before in dozens of articles), but that is not what this is about right now. My plea to so many out there is to recognize the problem of doubt. I want you to be open about your own doubts. I want you to speak about it from the pulpit. I want you to create ministries that care for those who feel so alone in this black hole. I want you to have mercy on those who doubt.

[Tweet “My plea to so many out there is to recognize the problem of doubt.”]

There is hope. There is a way out. Over the years I have talked with so many people (too numerous to count) and walked with them through this darkness. I know what it feels like because I’ve been there before. Learning to deal with doubt is learning to live a life of credo ut intelligam (“faith seeking understanding”). Learning to live with doubt is no different than learning to live as believers in a fallen world where our faith will never be perfect this side of heaven. But it all starts with recognition. It all starts with you and I opening our arms to those who are terrified that they are all alone, letting them know that their plight is one that is common to all Christians.

[Tweet “It all starts with you and I opening our arms to those who are terrified that they are all alone…”]

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C Michael Patton
C Michael Patton

C. Michael Patton is the primary contributor to the Parchment and Pen/Credo House Blog. He has been in ministry for nearly twenty years as a pastor, author, speaker, and blogger. 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. He can be contacted at [email protected]

    1 Response to "A Plea to Have Mercy on Those Who Doubt"

    • peter

      Thanks for sharing. I recently wrote a post about this too:

      I am convinced that everyone doubts to some extent (Christians and non-Christians) but few actually admit it. Christians; however, seem to be pressured by other Christians and churches to not have any questions or doubts. Many are being told that, “God is good and everything is awesome, so if you don’t believe this all the time, then something is wrong with you. You really don’t believe or you are not mature in your faith like you should be.” And if you do have doubts and questions, then you need to leave the church.

      It’s not just high school and college kids that are struggling with doubts and questions. What two Christian artists can tell us about the state of the church and Christianity:

      John Mark McMillan

      This musician, “…has stated in interviews that he had difficulty in finishing his newest, titled Mercury & Lightning, due to a crisis of faith that required him to deconstruct his faith and then reconstruct it.”
      https://www.jesusfreakhideout.com/cdreviews/MercuryandLightning.asp

      In the BadChristian Podcast #304 (found https://soundcloud.com/bcpod): He discussed a period of time when he was questioning God, struggling with faith- faith life crisis, how Contemporary Christian Music (CCM) pressures Christian artists to use specific words, sounds, lyrics in their songs, how to be a popular CCM artist, musician has to remember that people want to hear what they want to hear and they don’t really want to be challenged, how he felt like he had or had to have all the answers to life but now, is more empathetic.

      In Podcast #410, he further discusses how doubt can allow one to see yourself in new way and other people too-those who also doubt and are of different beliefs. He explains how now he sees and practices Christianity as a discipline, how every one you meet has something to teach you, how it’s okay to not have all answers and to not know everything about God or life.

      Gungor

      Michael Gungor and his wife Lisa have discussed their spiritual doubts and journey and how their church (and many Christians) have reacted.

      In the interview, The Evolving Faith of Lisa Gungor by Tyler Huckabee, Lisa says: ‘“We went to this very wild, charismatic church, and the church was exciting and the way of Jesus was revolutionary to me. And I had little questions, but you weren’t really allowed to ask them.”

      And for a long time, that didn’t bother her. Or at the very least, she didn’t know it bothered her. But not long after she and her now-husband started dating, the questions became harder for either of them to ignore.

      “I think when we’re not allowed to ask these questions it creates this tension in our faith,” she says. “When you finally are able to ask them, it collapses. Our whole lives revolved around [Christianity]. And it was wonderful that as we began to travel more, those questions that we both had from a young age just kept gnawing at us, and we started digging to the bottom of them. In the tribe we were born into, these questions weren’t really allowed. Doubt was the opposition of faith. And so [if you doubt], you’re seen as a bad person. So, I felt like I was a bad person for questioning. That made this perspective shift really difficult and painful. We ended up getting kicked out of the ‘Church’ for some of the beliefs that we had.”’ (https://relevantmagazine.com/issues/issue-94/the-evolving-faith-of-lisa-gungor)

      See also: https://relevantmagazine.com/current/why-are-people-so-upset-about-what-gungor-said; https://relevantmagazine.com/issues/issue-94/the-evolving-faith-of-lisa-gungor/; BadChristian Podcast # 26, 110, 262, 301 at https://soundcloud.com/bcpod; https://world.wng.org/2014/08/gungor_drifts_from_biblical_orthodoxy; https://www-christianpost-com.cdn.ampproject.org/v/s/www.christianpost.com/amp/gungor-i-dont-believe-in-god-anymore-227508/?usqp=mq331AQECAFYAQ%3D%3D&amp_js_v=0.1#referrer=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.google.com&amp_tf=From%20%251%24s

      n my experience, metal bands seem more open and willing (and free) to talk about and address these issues and struggles that no one else wants to.

      You won’t hear about these issues on pop radio, Christian or secular. Instead, what you will mostly hear is thinks like, “God is good and everything is awesome”. However, for some reason the metal genre tends to address these deeper issues that most Christian bands and churches avoid. Most “Christian” songs and sermons today promote (intentionally or not) that we should just ignore our true feelings

      A lot of Christian music comes off like: “God is good and everything is awesome, so if you don’t believe this all the time, then something is wrong with you. You really don’t believe (are not a Christian) or you are not mature in your faith like you should be.”

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