If John the Baptist doubted, I don’t think anyone should feel too ashamed when they doubt. I believe that we as Christians doubt all sorts of things. We doubt our interpretation of the Bible. We doubt our salvation. We doubt that God really loves us. We can even doubt God’s existence.

In this series, I am focusing on the more fundamental type of doubt which asks questions concerning the truthfulness of Christianity. When a Christian begins to doubt their faith, it can issue a warrant for our hope, purpose, foundation for living, and even our sanity. In part one and two of this series I have attempted get past the fear of admitting doubt. I even put a poll up which eventually showed that the majority of Christians who visit Parchment and Pen do experience doubt, some of them significant. Now I want to begin to talk about the three types of doubt which can rob you of your faith:

  • Emotional/Experiential
  • Intellectual
  • Spiritual

 It is important to realize that these are not mutually exclusive. Almost always, if someone experiences one, the others will contribute to some degree. However, one of these normally serves as a catalyst for the others.

For now, I am only going to define them one at a time. In following posts, I will offer suggestions on how to overcome the various types of doubt.

Emotional/Experiential Doubt:

This type of doubt evidences itself through our feelings. Normally it is brought about by some type of experience which enacts a tailspin on our faith. Unmet expectations: That is a good way to put it. This type of doubt essentially comes when God is absent in ways you believe he should be present. This causes emotional turmoil, fatigue, and despair. God’s silence in what we believe to be important situations can cause us to wonder if he is really there.

The suffering of this world can lay a heavy burden on anyone’s shoulders. When this is not relieved, our emotional reaction can cause us to enter into the process of adjusting our most fundamental beliefs. The death of a loved one. A debilitation. Deep depression. Financial suffering. A miscarriage following a long battle of infertility. Most importantly, any situation that causes pain that seems meaningless and causes our emotions to cry out “Why?” If we can find hope and meaning in the suffering—if we can discover a reason why it is happening—then it is not so bad and the doubts will be overshadowed. However, when bad things happen and there does not seem to be any reason for them, this can cause us to doubt God.

Unanswered prayer. Now that is a loaded saying. Suffice it for now, let us continue to frame this in the category of unmet expectations. Here though we focus on the aspect of the Christian life where God does not seem to be “coming through” with regard to your petitions. You are single and you desperately want to find a mate. You pray and pray for years with no result. You are out of a job. At first you attempt to see this as the hand of God making needed adjustments. But now, more than a year later with bills unpaid and a family to take care of, you still have nothing. You pray and pray for God’s “perfect will” and provision, yet he does not seem to care. Is he really there? Or how about when you pray and pray for something that you know God wants from you? How about patience, love, joy, or peace? Yet after years of prayer, these things are still not a part of your personality that you can claim. Is God really there? The emotions produced by this experience can definitely turn the rudder of your faith.

As well, emotional doubt can be onset by severe depression or any other “handicap of the brain.” The mind is a funny thing that we don’t understand too well. When depression sets in, it can cause us to be very irrational believing all kinds of things that don’t make sense. The clouds of the mind can deny access to the more rational faculties. People can see things that are not there, devise irrational conspiracy theories, and become uncontrollably angry for very little reason at all. On top of this, people can doubt things that they would otherwise know to be true, including God’s love, concern, and existence. 

In short, emotions are very powerful. They can mislead us and bend us in directions that we don’t want to go. This fact alone can cause doubt!

I believe that John the Baptist’s doubts while in prison as he was about to be executed were very emotional (Matt. 11:2-5). His circumstances caused him to begin to question what he formally knew to be true. At the Baptism of Jesus he proclaimed that he was the one who needed baptism from Jesus. He even heard the voice of God from heaven proclaiming Christ to be his son (Matt. 3:13-17).  John knew that he was not even fit to tie Christ’s sandals. However when God did not pull through for him the way he expected (unmet expectations), he sent his followers to ask Jesus, “Are you really the one, or should we look for someone else.” If your circumstances have caused you to cry out to God, “Are you really the one?” “Are you really there?” “Do you really care?”, take heart. You are in the company of one of the greatest men of God who ever walked the earth (Matt. 11:11).

Questions to ask yourself to see if your doubt is emotionally initiated:

Have you recently experienced a tragedy?

Are you in serious financial difficulties?

Have you been disturbed as of late by the suffering of others?

Does everything seem meaningless?

Are you going through chemical depression or anxiety?

Do you feel as if your are acting irrationally in much of your thinking?

Are you experiencing doubt in other areas (marriage, economy, job security, loyalty of friends and family, etc.)?

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

    12 replies to "Dealing with Doubt – Part 3: Emotional/Experiential Doubt"

    • Channie

      As Christians I think we sometimes forget that we are still influenced by the effects of the fall and corruption of sin. We quickly blame God for the bad things or the “failure” of His rescue from our circumstances which then leads us to doubt. Instead, we should realize that when God says “He works all things out for good” He’s not saying only good things will come your way but that WHEN bad things happen, whether they are from His hand or from the nature of a fallen world, He will redeem them and work it out eventually to strengthen us for His purpose or deliver us into His arms in Heaven. One way or another it will work out for good!
      I suffer from depression and doubt creeps in, but I ride that wave and remember that I have truth on my side and I break it down to one simple job, keep my eyes on Him! Then when the darkness subsides and I find that I’m still standing I fortify myself by His word and His truth so that WHEN the battle has to be fought again I win!

    • Jeffrey

      Suppose an unbeliever experiences a tragedy, and consequently comes to faith. Do you consider this to be a really good sign that rationality has nothing to do with it, and that they should give unbelief another shot? After all, they’re walking away from their nonbelief for purely emotional reasons.

      Although, I suspect I know the answer already. When emotions push someone away from faith, that means they are being irrational, while when emotions push someone toward faith, that means God is working in their heart. An atheistic existential crisis is proof that atheism is unlivable. A theistic existential crisis is proof that you must press on and not be swayed by emotions.

      If a majority of scientists lay awake at night wondering if there really are loads of transitional fossils, and wondering if man and animals really do share a common ancestor, this would rightly be seen as near proof that scientists don’t really have that good of evidence. I suspect Christians are aware of this on some level, which is why confession of doubt is usually taboo. If God is real, you’d think he’d actually do things. If he did actually do things, you’d think maintaining a belief in him would be pretty easy.

      With what other truth-claim do you have to *try* to believe it, instead of just looking at evidence and reason and seeing that it’s true?

    • JRoach

      At the desparate times in my life when I whined and questioned God, He always pulls me through the trial and then I feel foolish for not trusting Him through the rough times. I am known to say that God is rarely early but never late. The main method God uses in my life for my sanctification is to go through trials. These are trials that only He can fix. He forces me to rely on Him and I come out with a little more faith in His faithfulness.

    • TDC

      Does everything seem meaningless?
      Do you feel as if your are acting irrationally in much of your thinking?
      Are you experiencing doubt in other areas (marriage, economy, job security, loyalty of friends and family, etc.)?

      Yes to these three.

      In many cases, when we are “discerning” between two beliefs, we are more hopeful that one is true than the other. At one point I wanted Catholicism to be true, another time I wanted Protestantism to be true. Sadly, I now think I’m, deep down, hopeful that none of it is true. My search and research feels like just an exercise in confirmation bias (of course, this can apply to agnosticism and atheism just as much as Christianity) rather than a search for truth. The doctrine of hell and the enormous disagreements between Christian groups turn me off every time I begin to want Christianity to be true.

      There is definitely irrationality in my thinking in all this.

      And I do also have doubt in other areas. Sin plagues me, and I have doubts about the loyalty of some of my loved ones. I’m also at the time in my life when I’m sposed to grow up and get a job, but I wasted my college major on religious studies (to search). Now I have no real practical skills and no idea where I’m going.

      I do have a very generous family and the luxuries of middle class american life, so I probably shouldn’t complain too much, but thanks for the opportunity once again.

    • TDC

      I would like to add that my problem with hell and the disagreements between Christians is part intellectual, but largely emotional.

      It isn’t that I see no reason for a hell, but I’m not convinced by the reasons. The worst part is the sheer terror of it all. Forever??? Really?
      Eternal Conscious torture???? For the majority of people in the world??? (this point is dispute by some, but I am convinced that the Bible is clear that this is the case)

      Of course, I had much less of a problem with it when I was a Protestant who believed in eternal security. Why? Because I had no threat. Then I learned about the Catholic/Protestant divide, and realized that eternity hangs in the balance (another point I know people would dispute, but on which I’m convinced). Every time I think of returning to active Christianity, a voice in my head says “which Christianity?” and my resolve dissolves into oblivion.

      People do often tell my I need to stop focusing on Christianity and focus on Christ, but I don’t think this is honest. That’s a form of Christianity just like any other that needs to be defended, and we’re back to square one, “which Christianity?”

      Thanks again for the time.

    • mbaker


      I have often asked myself the same questions, but I don’t really think it is a question so much as the Protestant/ Catholic divide, but what can we know really know as truth? I have chosen what Christ says, and if I am wrong then I know will suffer for it eternally. So I’ve still got to honestly admit that while I have my human doubts sometimes, and sometimes it is scary to me whether I’ve made the right decision or not, I have to believe that I that I have – simply because I can see no other hope for us fallible humans than through our final redemption in Christ.

      God bless.

    • Ed Kratz

      Jeff, emotions and the intellect are not mutually exclusive. One drives the other. However, often one is the catalyst which ensues the change.

    • Sam

      Life is so hard. I feel hopeless. I feel that my timing and timing with the world is off. I feel like I can’t keep up. I ask God for help. I feel like we are backwards and not in sync. My heart aches soooo bad. I need Jesus and He is slow to come to my rescue. I’m just so lost and never been this lost. I pray that Jesus come save me before I truly get lost and stop praying and give up because that’s what I feel like doing. I feel like God gave up on me so I should stop bothering Him. He has other important things to take care of besides me and my prayers.

    • Mike

      I have depression and anxiety. I feel as if this is the root of my problems. it is chemical in my case. and now i find myself doubting the bible and jesus claims to be god (messiah). i even doubt the existence of god

    • […] to overwhelm our trust?  This is a three part series on dealing with doubt (part 1, part 2, part 3). This is a post I found on the site CHRISTIAN DOUBT, but I slightly altered it and added some […]

    • mmeeww321

      Where is part 4?
      It seems that this article stopped in the middle of the different kinds of doubt.

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