Doubting our faith can facilitate one of the most emotionally traumatic events in our lives. Whether it is doubting your salvation, God’s love, the accuracy of Scripture, or the very existence of God, doubt can wreak havoc on your emotional well-being and stability. It can send you into a matrix of depression and, for even the most committed believers, thoughts of hopelessness often leading to suicide.

The most traumatic time of doubt comes when it first knocks at your door. For those of us who have been believers all our lives, we think a “do not disturb” sign was placed there by God and would prevent entry to any militating thoughts of doubt and unbelief. When doubt shows its ugly face, the Hows? and the Why? are in no short supply. “How did this happen to me?” “Why am I doubting?” Fear and disillusionment are flanking doubt with swords drawn. The hardest thing for Christians are the thoughts of abandonment and betrayal. For those who retain some of their belief, they wonder why God would allow this to happen to them. The only thought is a return to their first love, but that road is closed. “Just help me to love and follow you the way I did before,” is the cry. When the answer does not come, they begin to succumb to their life on the road to unbelief or perpetual stagnation. Coping with doubt becomes the only hope.

I am going to try to make an argument here that puts doubt into perspective. No, it is not going to apply to everyone. And no, it will not necessarily kick doubt out of your house. But it may help to see that the What? of doubt is not as important as the Why? of doubt when our goal is to overcome it.

Why do Christians doubt?

I contend that many Christians doubt for no other reason than a passionate desire to grow in the Lord. Did you get that? Many times an enlightened passion to grow in our faith makes doubt appear for the first time. And you know what? This is not a bad thing at all. Let me explain.

When many of us begin our faith journey, we are very young. I became a Christian when I was 4. At least that is the earliest I can remember knowing and trusting in Jesus. My faith was simple and naive from an intellectual standpoint. But it was also very green from an experiential standpoint. Just as I was not critical enough to recognize or work though the challenges of my faith (i.e. Is Christ’s resurrection historically true? Did a snake really talk? Are there factual errors in the Scripture? etc.), neither had I accumulated enough of life’s experiences to harmonize them with the truths of the Scriptures (i.e. How could God allow me to go through pain? Why is God so “hidden”? Why aren’t Christians better people? etc.). Therefore, my faith was present, but my faith capacity was low. It was not hard to have the kind of faith that I had at the time since its threshold was minimal.

Some people just stay at that level. Their faith remains simple, naive, and, might I say, weak. But for most Christians we would hope that their is a passion that ignites within them that ups the ante of their faith. At some point in our lives we desire to leave behind the elementary teachings and thinking and graduate to a more robust faith. Ironically, this is the time when paralyzing doubts begin to surface. But, as I will argue, this is the way God intends it to be.

These doubts come in many forms, but I want to focus on two:  intellectual based doubts and experiential/emotional based doubts.

Before I briefly speak to each of these, let me provide a picture.

Notice the first person on the left. This is a simple faith that we have as a child. He is happy because his faith is strong. Well, at least it is as strong as it can be from his perspective. He may be a child. Or, more importantly, he may be an older Christian who does not care to grow much. He is content with his level of faith and does not seek or have any reason to strive for more. A lot of “cultural Christians” are this way. The faith that they have is whatever minimal amount that they need. They are all to happy to remain “weak” in faith. Often, they are “luke-warm” if you will. They are not too engaged in living a life radically committed to the Lord. Therefore, study, contemplation, and prayer are not a big part of their hope. Evangelism and reaching others for Christ is not a reality or even much of an aspiration. Sure, they may tell people they are Christians, but they are content with their blind-faith-like witness.  Therefore, their faith does not need to be high capacity. The key thing to notice here is that when your faith has such a low threshold, you will rarely doubt as there is not too much to doubt.

The person on the right is much different. While he shares the same level of faith as the person on the left (illustrated by the dark gray), his capacity for faith is much higher (illustrated by the light gray). This person has decided to live a thoroughly converted life. He or she is not content with a blind faith. They want to grow. They want to tell others about Christ. Whatever questions the unbeliever might have, they want to have an answer. They want their understanding of God to increase in every way. They want to harmonize every thought with the Scriptures. In short, they are passionate. However, with this increased desire to grow in their faith, they have a new perspective. They begin to understand how weak their faith really is. Before, they could care less about what the carnivores ate after they got off the Ark. Before, they simply believed Jesus rose from the grave without any need for a critical defense. Before, they believed the Bible was true because that is what mom and dad told them. Before, they had not even read through the entire Bible. Now they are reading it for themselves and finding some things that are disturbing and hard to reconcile with other sources of knowledge. Now, when they watch the news and hear stories of murder, rape, holocaust, and tsunamis, they have to reconcile it with their passion for a sovereign God. For the first time, they begin to approach the throne room of God with questions and a confused faith.  As they seriously engage their faith for the first time, they begin to realize how weak their faith really is. They find it wanting. The threshold required for them to live a faith-filled converted life is much higher than it was before. The key thing to notice here is that when your faith threshold increases (a good thing), so, often, does the capacity for doubt.

People react to this in many ways:

1) They begin to think that they never really believed to begin with. Sometimes this is the case. Sometimes the cultural Christianity which they adhered to before, was nothing more than a flash in the pan. When challenges come, both experiential and intellectual, they abandon ship.

2) They fall into depression and despair only wishing to return to the “childlike” faith from before. But the sands of time cannot be turned back.

3) They see their doubt as being from the Lord and make any and all necessary adjustments. God is exposing how much they need to grow. As a result, their faith begins to grow significantly.

Emotional/Experiential Doubt

I was listening to a guy on the radio the other day. He was experiencing significant doubt in his Christian faith. His knowledge was keen and insight very deep. He was not lacking at all in the intellectual aspect of his faith. His faith was a very rational faith. However, he explained how he was in severe depression because he could not “feel” God’s presence at all. He wanted to walk with Jesus, not just think rightly about him. He wanted his faith to be more holistic, but he could not find a way to get his emotions and experience of God to catching up with his intellect. The doubts produced were from his desire to grow. If he did not desire to grow, he would not have experienced doubts. Ironic, eh? This is how his faith looked:

Intellectual Doubt

This next person is just the opposite. He has experienced God all his life. His emotional connection to God has been very strong. During prayer, he can feel God’s presence. Every experience in his life is interpreted though the grid of his faith. God’s subjective presence could not be more real. However, he has just begun to challenge himself intellectually. He desires to be a greater witness for Christ and begins to engage in apologetics (defending the faith). He is now studying the theory of evolution, other religions, and the accuracy of Old Testament history for the first time. He finds the study very disturbing for his faith and begins to experience significant doubts. Once again, his faith has not necessarily changed, just his capacity for faith has grown. With the growth in capacity comes the growth in requirements to be content with our faith. He interprets his doubts as from the devil and attempts to go back to the faith he had before. But he can’t. Pandora’s box has already been opened.

In both cases, faith has been challenged. In both cases, doubt has surfaced. In both cases, if the desire to grow was not present, the doubts would not be either. However, in neither case is this evil or, necessarily, from the devil.


We all begin our faith green. Sometimes it is very naive. This is especially the case for those who grew up in the church and accept Christ with a “blind-faith”. At some point, we must graduate from this naive faith to one that is more secure and real. However, we must go through many storms of doubt and confusion to arrive.

I think of the faith of the Apostles’ faith when Christ was here on the earth. Early on it was very naive. The capacity threshold had not risen much and they were ready  do anything for Christ, even die with him. Remember the story when Martha and Mary sent word to Jesus that Lazarus had died. The disciples told Jesus not to go back to Bethany where Lazarus was since there were people who would stone him (John 10:8). When Christ made clear his purpose to go there anyway, what did the disciples say? “Let’s go with him so that we can die too” (John 10:16). I love it! Childlike faith. They thought their faith capacity was filled to the full. However, what happened when push came to shove? What happened when Jesus was arrested and crucified? They all ran and hid. Life’s experience showed them that their faith was small. Life’s experiences put their doubts on display for all of us to see.

God wants our faith to grow. But he cannot grow it unless our lack of faith is revealed. When our lack of faith is revealed, yes, doubts will surface. But take heart. None of us have perfect faith. All of us have room to grow. Whether the doubt you are experiencing is emotional, experiential, intellectual, or (as is sometimes the case) based on wrong information (bad theology), God exposes our doubt for one purpose: to grow our faith. I know its hard. I know its painful. I know it is often traumatic. And I know you would often rather go back to the “little” faith you had before. But don’t. Work through these doubts. Don’t let them control you. We will overcome so many of them, but don’t think your faith will ever be without some doubt. We have to learn to live with our doubts. But doubts don’t mean we don’t believe. They just reveal the imperfection of our current faith.

Just as we have to learn to live with our sinfulness in thought and deed, we also have to learn to live with how sin affects our faith.

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

    14 replies to "Learning to Live with Your Doubts"

    • I agree with your concept here. Doubt is frequently what need to go through for our faith to grow. It is unfortunate that many times when people experience such doubts instead of being helped through them they are told to suppress the doubts and just believe or even condemned for having them.

    • Chris

      I can relate to this as I was working with my youngest, trying to teach him how to dress himself. Before he would even try to put on his shirt, he would burst out in tears because he couldn’t figure out how to put it on. But i knew that, with a little patience and instruction, he could learn how to do it. There are many other things that he will need to learn that will be difficult, but my hope is that when i teach him how to tie his shoes or ride a bike, or write his name, he will learn how to persevere through struggle, seeing that if I can do these things, then he can learn to do so as well. I see the same parallel in our growing faith. As we surround ourselves with others who have worked through doubts similar to ours, we can learn to persevere through our doubt and strengthen our faith. We simply need the community of believers to encourage us, as we seek to find the answers to the doubts we wrestle with. Yes we will doubt, but we don’t have to do it alone. Great post.

    • Adulcia

      Thank you. This makes good sense to me.

    • Karen White

      Ah, so that is what it is all about. Now I know what to do and what I must do to get it done. thank you so much.

    • Ed Kratz

      Karen, was that I serious comment? Sorry, hard to tell. What do you now know that needs to get done?

    • Preston

      Thank you, Michael, this was wonderful. Very, very helpful!

    • Seeker

      Your introduction could have been describing me. I was halfway through an undergraduate degree in Christian Ministry, when because of certain life experiences I began questioning core tenets of my beliefs. One question led to another and eventually the questions turned into doubt, and doubt turned into severe depression. It didnt take me long to realize that there was no going back to the faith I had, although I wanted to and prayed for it. The biggest problem I began to see was that the faith I couldnt go back to, I still heard regularly sunday mornings and from my friends. I finished my degree, knowing I wouldnt use it directly, and went into teaching.
      My faith had been tested previously, and I wanted to radically follow Jesus with my whole life. I was pursuing that course only to be both intellectually and emotionally rocked to the core. The essential question it finally boiled down to wasnt if God loved me, but if I wanted that love. Six years later, I still dont know.

    • Nathan Buskell

      I am going through this right now. Just about gave up completely. Still not sure how it’s going to turn out. There are so many questions that don’t seem to have satisfactory answers. The further you dig, the longer the tunnel gets. I question, is there going to be a light at the end?

    • Stan Lewis

      Great post! My question is how to deal with the people that refuse to even want to grow in their faith. I have had numerous discussions with family members after God gave me a passion for apologetics and they have no desire to even broach any “hard” topics and almost demonize me for bringing up any objections to “the way I was raised”. They believed at one point in time in their life and now they are “four-wall” Christians. No desire whatsoever to serve the least of these, no desire to increase in knowledge, no desire to step foot outside of the comfort of the four walls of church and their close, inner circle.

    • Sara

      I have to say that I am scared because I have so often wanted to drop my faith. I’ve been struggling with this for almost a year and I feel like I keep going in circles, but I want to thank you for writing this. It gave me some hope that this can be worked through. I don’t think it’ll get any easier, but I am still clinging on to the Jesus I have put my trust in even if I can’t necessarily “see the light at the end of the tunnel”. Thank you for posting this and letting believers know that this isn’t uncommon. It brings comfort.

    • David T.

      Good article, from experience the sands can’t be turned back, I’m hoping for the day I have faith again though.

    • Marcus

      I read quite often, but rarely post.
      I always thought a Calvinist could never have doubt about his/her faith. For one, they never chose it, rather it was placed upon them (thus not really faith to begin with but knowledge). Second, they can never lose it.
      It is could to see that doubt impacts the full spectrum of believers, as doubt I believe provides the fire to continue to seek after God.

    • debra walker

      i am the personin the first illustration, having full intellectual assent buy so deeply longing to really KNOW christ and feel his approval in my heart.

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