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:
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.
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.)?