Some Background to My Forthcoming Advice

I vividly recall a turning point in my life: March 15th, 2010. It marked the onset of a profound period of doubt, a stark contrast to my extensive background in theology. Having graduated a decade earlier with a ThM in theology and spent the subsequent years teaching both theology and apologetics, I was well-versed in the art of addressing doubts and questions about faith. There was scarcely a question I hadn’t deeply contemplated, wrestled with, and “resolved” to my satisfaction. Yet, on that particular day in 2010, something shifted inexplicably in my mind. Despite the rational coherence of my Christian beliefs, an internal fracture emerged. My brain, normally an ally in matters of faith, seemed to malfunction. Emotionally, I found myself unable to embrace the beliefs I had always held dear, even though I desperately wanted to.

I Hated to Read the Bible

This internal struggle even affected my relationship with the Bible. Previously a source of comfort, it now became a trigger for overwhelming doubts. Each attempt to find solace or answers within its pages seemed to only deepen my uncertainties. Reading the historical books was particularly challenging, leaving me with more questions than reassurances. Only the Psalms offered some respite, but the rest of the Scripture seemed to exacerbate my doubts. This story, my personal journey through doubt and the struggle to reconcile faith with a troubled mind, is where I want to begin.

The Dark Side of Doubt

Despite risking many people’s opinions of me, I feel compelled to address those among you grappling with this kind of profound Christian doubt—doubt in a central Christian doctrine, doubt in your salvation, or doubt as to whether you have committed the unforgivable sin (the big three doubts). This isn’t merely about doubting a specific doctrine or theological view as this is often healthy. This is about what I call the “dark side of doubt.” It’s about the kind of relentless doubt that targets what you hold dearest. In this case, it’s your faith, but it could be any number of things like the faithfulness of the one you love, whether or not the house is protected from carbon monoxide, or whether or not you’re gonna get cancer. Even when you find satisfactory answers to these kind of doubt, they’re fleeting. The doubt resurfaces, sometimes in a slightly different form, becoming progressively more distressing than any previous doubts.

My Advice:Put Down the Bible (for Now)

Having outlined this, here’s my (seemingly radical) advice to those of you suffering Christian doubt: temporarily cease reading your Bible and any apologetics books. Most crucially, avoid online resources AND COMMENTS that focus on answering the questions behind your doubts. These only exacerbate and prolong your distress. Your cognitive processes aren’t functioning correctly right now. In clinical terms, this is often labeled as religious OCD or Scrupulosity. It’s a state where your cognitive functioning doesn’t lead to resolution but spirals into more and increasingly more severe questions and doubts.

Addressing the Real Issue: Indubibility

You’ll be able to return to your religious studies routine soon, but first, this episode must be addressed. Rationality isn’t your ally here since your current state impedes rational thinking. You might believe rational solutions are effective, as they provide temporary relief. However, the doubts inevitably return, sometimes morphing into new uncertainties. The issue is that your mind is seeking absolute certainty as a means to feel safe, right, or content. Yet, such infallible certainty is unattainable in any circumstance. Normally, we subconsciously understand this and are able to function. But not during these episodes. Indubitability (the absolute inability to wrong) is not your solace as it is not even possible for anyone but God to have this. Your mind is broke and it’s telling you, subconsciously, that you must to be indubitable to be safe.

Your Mind Needs a Break

Your mind needs a break from this relentless search for answers. Your intellectual capability to feed your soul is broken and needs rest from what you hold most dear. In this case, it’s your Christian faith. When you read your Bible or listen to apologetics, all you will do is prolong the problem or find new ones. I understand this might sound strange, but I ask you to trust me. I’ve helped hundreds of people with similar experiences.

Getting Help

It’s crucial to consult with a cognitive therapist experienced in treating scrupulosity. They can provide the specific guidance and support you need during this challenging time. I know it hurts. I know it’s not easy to follow these instructions. I know you will doubt my present advice. But when nothing else works, come back here and at least give my advice a try.

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

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