miserable

Everyone doubts their faith to some degree. If they say they don’t, they are either lying, they don’t take their faith very seriously, or God has had increadible mercy on them. Let’s get that out of the way.

However, there is a type of doubt that is different. It is the type of doubt you can’t really explain to others. It causes great depression and, sometimes, thoughts of suicide. It is one of those things where there is neither a real cause nor a real solution. Once you enter into it, you know you are in it. If you are reading this now and you have never experienced it, you don’t understand. But if, God forbid, you ever walk into this darkness, you may return here and read this with new eyes.

Please allow me to express my understanding of this so you will feel more justified in giving me your time. First, I have been there. I am not there now and I don’t ever wish to return. Ever since I was there, I can look into the windows of that house and feel the fear of what is was like to live there. Second, I spend a great deal of my ministry talking to doubters. I have devoted myself to this. It is, from my perspective, one of the primary callings the Lord has given me. For example, in the last twenty-four hours, the doubt hotline (my cell phone or email) has been ringing off the wall. I have been talking with three people who are finding it hard to even open their eyes in the morning, as they fear this terrible lack of hope will meet them at their bedside. I answer the phone every time they call. Every time. Why? Because my heart is broken for them. I feel I can hold their hand during this time and, Lord willing, put them back on a path towards the Lord. I am also glad that those whom the Lord has sent me over the last couple of years have all recovered in their faith.

And let me just say this as an aside: to those of you who are doubting your faith significantly and you have no where else to go, you can come to me. While I am overwhelmed with writing books, blogging, planting new Credo Houses, filming theology courses, teaching The Theology Program, teaching church history to teens, and applying for my Ph.D. (not to mention taking care of my mother full-time and loving my wife and kids), I will prioritize your call (at least over every other aspect of my ministry). My wife and kids understand and will be on their knees with me. You can write me at michaelp @ reclaimingthemind dot org.

As I have written so much about this before, I am not going to take the time and reintroduce you to everything you need to know to help those who are doubting or get through it yourself. You can find much more here. But I do want to tell you one more bit of advice that you need to know about your doubt (or that of someone you know and love). I am going to add to this list I have made in the past on what to do when you are doubting:

1.  Focus only on the issues that make or break Christianity.

2. Doubt your doubts.

3. Make sure you don’t lose fellowship with other believers.

4. Realize that the presence of other possibilities does not necessarily equate to the presence of other probabilities.

5. Don’t think you can ever be an expert in everything.

6. Be careful not to make individual emotional preference a decisive benchmark of truth.

7. Don’t stop living out your devotion to Christ.

8. Realize that doubt is not a bad thing.

Here is my addition:

9. Take a break from apologetics.

Apologetics is the Christian discipline of defending the faith. For this reason, it may sound really odd for me to encourage people who are doubting to stay away from it. And this does not necessarily apply to everyone having doubts. But it does apply to those of you who are in the darkest of the dark and nothing seems to work. In fact, during this time, everything seems to only increase your anxiety. You would think picking up Mike Licona’s book on the resurrection, or C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity, or jumping in to see William Lane Craig make a fool out of whomever he is debating would be just what the doctor ordered. But very often this is not the case; doing these may actually cause your doubts to increase. You see, during this time of doubt (at least the type of doubt which I am talking about right now, what I call “Spiritual Doubt” in other writings), it is just about impossible to believe anything at all. It is not that you find the evidence for Christianity weak, it is that you find all knowledge-based propositions impotent. It is not as if you think the atheist is more rational; it is rationality itself that is irrelevant to your current state of affairs. Everything is worthless and everyone is wrong, duped, or living according to a hope that you feel you have lost. You wish you could put on whatever blinders you had before and return to a state of innocent belief. You have no idea why you are doubting and you have no idea how to make it stop. However, one thing you do know is that reading these books, listening to these debates, and doing apologetics in general only serves to make things worse. Even reading the Bible can be a catalyst, as you doubt everything you read, which makes you feel horrible beyond description.

During these times, even if Jesus Christ himself were sitting right beside you, you would find it irrelevant. You simply cannot figure out what this doubt is all about and, therefore, you don’t know how to fix it. And this type of doubt normally comes to people who, on any regular day, put a lot of weight in the intellectual side of their faith. This is what makes these dark times so much darker. Everything you have done to prepare for this moment is as worthless as a white crayon.

Let me try to give you a bit of advice. The one thing you have to do is the one thing that is almost impossible. You need to relax. A drowning man who begins to panic and struggle brings about his doom much more quickly due to his struggling. During this time of doubt, put away the apologetics books. Don’t think about your doubts. You are not in a state of mind for intellectual activity of any kind. Right now the reason why you can’t believe is because you can’t believe. Forgive me, but this is true. There has been a breakdown in your brain and the belief lobe is no longer functioning. Unfortunately, the emotion lobe is, and it lacks the fuel ration that the belief lobe used to give. Please know that you are still a believer. Please know that you are not alone. Please know that this time of doubt does not define you. You just have to let the intellectual side of your brain disengage for a time.

And let me give you permission to do something else (even though this is about the most taboo heresy there is among us apologists): stand on the faith of others. I know, I know… God does not have any grandchildren . . . our faith cannot be inherited . . . stuff like that. But very often the faith of others is all we have. So I encourage you to listen to other Christians talk about God and their faith without giving a defense for it. Just listen to a sermon of someone you respect. When I was in my own dark night, listening to the sermons of Chuck Swindoll saved me. He is a very confident believer with a strong voice and a deep faith you can feel. I was so excited just to hear him believe. That is right, I could hear his belief. This simple type of “faith fellowship” is what you need right now. Stand on someone else’s faith. I give you that freedom and so does God. It is enough for now.

It is no easy task to get your mind off your doubt right now, but you have to. You can train yourself to banish the thoughts from your mind until a better day comes when your wits are about you and you have the emotional strength to re-engage. But right now your intellect is broken, out of service.

This doubt is the miserable Christian doubt that, God willing, will pass with the restoration of your faith. You will never be the same. You have just wrestled with God and you know you have a limp. God has communicated to you in no uncertain terms that he is the author of your faith and he gives it when and how he desires. I don’t know why he is doing this and I don’t know how long it will last, but I do know he loves you. Take my word for it for now. It will just have to do.

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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]

    74 replies to "The Miserable Christian Doubt"

    • theo

      Doubting ourselves, doubting others, doubting government, doubting our way of life and our very future are totally sane right now for all of us, I think. Maybe I am just a major doubter. I don’t know. But doubting God, no, never. He is the way out of the other messes. I think that sometimes we just blur the line between valid things to doubt and God. Let us always separate valid doubts, allowing them to lead us to solve problems, vs. doubt about God, from whom our help cometh.

    • Matthew

      Thank you Michael! I can’t tell you how much your offer means to me. I’m currently not struggling with doubt but I know it helps to know I’m not alone when those times do come. I know what an extraordinary offer you have just made and I just can’t help but say thanks. God bless you! I mean that more than can know.

    • cherylu

      Hi Theo,

      I’m thinking you are are likely one of those that has never been in the place Michael was talking about, right?

      I have been there. It is a horrendous place to be. And believe me, when you are there it doesn’t seem that anything changes the situation. The old adage of “tying a rope and hanging on” is the best you can do–and it may feel that the knot is not going to hold much longer. I cried out to God until I was blue in the face, but it was a long time before all of it went away.

      And the worst of it is, at least it was for me, the knowledge that He is our only hope and that we must trust Him. But at the moment that seems impossible and you may even be questioning His very existence. And yes, I had thoughts of suicide too. The utterly hopeless feeling and darkness are overwhelming.

      But praise God, there is an end to it! He is faithful, very faithful. And when it is all over and gone, the relief if very, very profound.

    • mbaker

      Michael,

      Thank you for such a compassionate article. I went through a period of doubt like this many years ago. What helped me most was doing something entirely different than I normally did. For instance, i treated myself to some fun things I had always wanted to do and never had. That helped immensely.

      One memorable experience was going to an expensive restaurant on a beautiful lake. It blew my budget for a while, but it was so worth it. Another was going to a play. I hadn’t been to one since i was a kid. But, the thing that was most refreshing was taking long rides in the country, by myself, and just enjoying the sights and sounds, and quietness and order of nature. That was very calming and still is.

      The key is distraction, taking a break from those dark, roiling thoughts.

      • C Michael Patton

        mbaker,

        You are so right. I remember that too. When I was on the down side of this time, we had to move our house. I did the whole thing with my sister and SMALL trailor. It took days, load after load. But since it was something that got me out of the routine, it really helpd. This is what is takes sometimes. And people may need to do something drastic to change their lives and lose their thoughts on their doubt. And the sense of normality gets tainted by the doubt for some time. I remember places that I sat, I had to change. Shows or news chanels that I watched, I could not longer watch them. There is the video game that I played with the kids called the Increadible Hulk. Every time I heard it playing for the next two years it drew me back. Things we associated with the doubt become objects of terror!

        Anyway, all of this to say that I agree with you.

        • Danica

          Hi there Michael

          I was moved by your article ‘The Miserable Christian Doubt’. I can relate because I feel as if I’ve reached that point of continuous doubting, specifically to do with questions such as ‘if I’m really saved or not, if God is really real – if so then how can he love me’ etc.

          Until the start of this year, I have never experienced such doubt – depressing, dreadful doubt that consumes and drains one’s faith. I’m currently nineteen and I think my lack of belief right now is due to a number of factors – more emotionally than intellectually. I’ve been struggling with my faith ever since my sister attempted suicide. It’s been stressful and I feel as if I still hold some resentment for her because of it. Among other things, my biggest fear is my own future. I have no idea where life is taking me. I’m too scared to dream or act. I feel as if it’s just not worth it. I keep asking God to guide me, yet I feel so far away from Him all the time. I feel like he’s not listening and I know it’s my fault. He didn’t move away, I did. I just don’t quite know how to get back to Him. To put it simply, I’m lost beyond belief.

          I don’t have that assurance that I am saved. There are times when I am one hundred percent certain that I’m saved and that God is real, but those times are so incredibly rare – it frightens me. Most of the time, I feel as if I’m drowning in doubt after doubt and can’t break surface for a breath. Above all, I just feel entirely alone. I’ve been raised in a christian home – I feel that I will only be judged or called a ‘non-believer’ if I talk to someone (family or friends or anyone close to me) about it. My family, all saved, will look at me differently. I bottle it all up and try to forget about my doubt, but it’s always there, lingering in the back of my mind.

          I see my family so assured in their faith, I envy them. I NEED that assurance in my life. I’m lacking in friends seeing as most are atheists or agnostics. I only have one friend who isn’t opposed to Christ. I go to church every Sunday morning and evening. I attend cell with other young adults (I have social anxiety and have trouble connecting with people) every Thursday evening. But none of it seems to be enough. I just want that fire for God to reignite in my soul again. It seems I’ve lost all passion, ambition and hope in general. My future, my family, my friends – I feel as if they’re all lost to me. I feel alone. I know God can restore my faith, but when will He decide to do it? What do I have to do in order to never doubt this way again?

          However, in spite of what I’m feeling inside, I find what you wrote to be very encouraging: ‘Stand on someone else’s faith. I give you that freedom and so does God. It is enough for now.’ In the meantime, I will rely on the faith of my family and the acquaintances in my cell.

          If anything, thank you for taking the time to read this. All I ask is that you pray for me. Thank you.

          God Bless,
          Danica

    • Jay

      I’m a recent convert, previous agnostic (36 years old). I have to say that faith, and my heart are what brought me to Christ. I’m an academic and read and absorb a lot. I was very self righteous and proud before finding Christ. Sometimes when I feel myself drifting I go back to my heart and faith. That is where my belief comes from. I pause, pray, and feel His love. Interesting post, from where I come from.

    • Chris Echols

      Confusion, being puzzled, even sometimes discouraged and distracted, does not necessarily signify resistance to the leadings of the Spirit of God which dwells inside of you. Such attitudes may sometimes connote lack of active co-operation with the divine Spirit and may, therefore, somewhat delay spiritual progress, but such intellectual emotional difficulties do not in the least interfere with the certain eternal survival of the God-knowing soul. Ignorance alone can never prevent your eternal survival; neither can confusional doubts nor fearful uncertainty. Only conscious resistance to the Spirit’s leading can prevent the survival of the evolving immortal soul.

      You must not regard co-operation with God as a particularly conscious process, for it is not; but your motives and your decisions, your faithful determinations and your supreme desires, do constitute real and effective co-operation. You can consciously augment harmony cooperation with God’s Spirit within you by:

      1. Learning to choose to respond to divine leading; sincerely basing the human life on the highest consciousness of truth, beauty, and goodness, and then co-ordinating these qualities of divinity through wisdom, worship, faith, and love.

      2. Loving God and desiring to be like him — genuine recognition of the divine fatherhood and loving worship of the heavenly Parent.

      3. Loving your fellow man and sincerely desiring to serve him — wholehearted recognition of the brotherhood of man coupled with an intelligent and wise affection for each and everyone you meet.

      4. Joyful acceptance of cosmic citizenship — honest recognition of your progressive obligations to your eternal role and cosmic citizenship.

    • William Orris

      Jay, your expressed thoughts are exactly where they need to be, within God’s word. He is the Counselor, the Master Physician, the I Am in all of life. He wounds and he heals all for the purpose of creating a change in our character like making a brilliant diamond out of a piece of dirty coal and then tells us that we will shine as the stars throughout all eternity. Job was brought to a point where he confessed that “Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him…when He has tested me I shall come forth as gold.
      A very real aspect of the Gospel is missing today and that is that Jesus bids us to come and die, die to ourselves, our insistence on having our own way. God created us in his image and we unfortunately have been trying to return the favor ever since.

    • anonymous

      And foremost: PRAY, and then pray some more.

      for my own self, I find it very helpful to remind myself of the source of this harassment sometimes.

      keep ourselves in the love of God, waiting anxiously for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to eternal life. Jude 1:21 Submit to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. James 4:7

    • Jeremy

      Thanks for this Michael. During these seasons I find myself clinging to Bonhoeffer’s words about Christ being stronger in my brother than he is in me. I believe God ordains times where we are give the opportunity to recognize this. Having been there, my hope is that it will give me that much more grace and compassion for others when they go through it. Despite much of what I’ve been taught in church, it is OKAY for me to look to Christ in others in despair of the emptiness in myself. I’ve come to believe that this a vital part of spiritual maturity.

    • theoldadam

      I’m quite sure that nobody here ever worries…about anything.

      Worrying is an offshoot of doubt. It is a lack of trust in God.

      Jesus told us that we shouldn’t do it (worry).

      Once again…we are exposed for who and what we really are.

      If it weren’t for Jesus, the devil would sift us like wheat.

    • julie

      Thank God He doesn’t doubt me.
      I realize you are not speaking of the depression that I experience with bi-polar, but I experience hell. Not the place but a personal separation from God. Fade to black. I experience heartbreak without knowing why. Who I am is stolen away…
      My doubt lies not with God, but my inability to love and worship Him. I want to…I just don’t know how. I believe and have faith in the Trinity, I acknowledge my belief to others, listen to others teach, and feel and hear Him inside (when I’m not bedridden with depression,) The doubt is within myself to love. I want to understand more.
      I feel like I’m outside looking in. I’m looking at something I see others have that is so wonderful…but I don’t have the ability to get it.

    • Thanks be to God, I have never had such said doubts about my God, I know it is a mercy (His). But, I have doubted GOD’s “will” in my life at times, and having been a leader of men in combat several times, and some to death & dying! It is really here that I have learned practically somewhat God’s sovereign grace and providence! And thus I would agree with Theo and theoldadam, we must not “doubt” the person and work of our God In Christ! We don’t look within ourselves so much as dead sinners, but in the full face of Christ crucified & risen! And we walk by faith in God and not sight, as Paul reminds us.

      “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ liveth in me: and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by the faith of the Son of God, who loved me, and gave himself for me.” (Gal. 2: 19)

      Indeed we never posit ourselves or our sin, but only Christ, the Savior of sinners!

    • cherylu

      Fr Robert,

      we must not “doubt” the person and work of our God In Christ!

      But the whole point of Michael’s OP is that if you happen to be one that is in the middle of one of these deep, dark places, you have been overwhelmed by a doubt that has temporarily seemed to take control of your very being. You can’t “not doubt” for at the moment believing and faith are next to impossible. You may know on one level that everything the Bible says is true and what you have always believed is true and that you must not lose that faith, but there is something else that has swept in from somewhere that is pulling you away from that in a very powerful way. Kind of like a rip tide pulling a swimmer out to sea with a very powerful force.

      I remember being told to “pull myself up by my own bootstraps.” In other words, just knock it off and pull myself back to normalcy and faith. The person that told me that had obviously never “been there” or they would of known that was telling me to do something that was utterly impossible.

    • But we should not doubt too that God somewhat strips and breaks every true man and servant ‘In Christ’! Brokenness is God’s work surely, and never the flesh! (Phil. 3: 3)

    • Btw, St. Paul has some profound thoughts here: “But to me it is a very small thing that I may be examined by you, or by any human court; in fact , (I do not even examine myself). For I am conscious of nothing against myself, yet I am not by this acquitted; but the one who examines me is the Lord. Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time (the appointed time of judgment), but wait until the Lord comes who will bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men’s hearts; and each man’s praise will come from God.” (1 Cor. 4: 3-5, NASB)

      Indeed St. Paul does not always go into this whole affair of self-judgment! But he can press the same Corinthians to “test” themselves, “in the faith”! “Or do you not recognize this about yourselves (in the present), that Jesus Christ is in you – unless indeed you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13: 5) The test or exam, is always “the faith”, and Jesus Christ Himself, i.e. His Person and Work!

      Indeed Paul is not one for this whole ‘poor me’ business, the interior life for him is always simply “Christ Jesus”! Note, his own position of Rom. 1: 1! Let us lift-up our heads, and follow Christ and “our” calling too “In Him”! 🙂

    • cherylu

      Fr Robert,

      Maybe I am completely misunderstanding what you were saying in your last comment, I don’t know.

      I don’t think though that it would be fair to accuse any one that has shared their past experiences with depression and doubt as just giving in to a “poor me” attitude, if that is indeed what you were saying.

      I also don’t suppose that it is possible for anyone that hasn’t “been there” as you say you haven’t to even begin to understand what it is like.

      Let my try an analogy to maybe make this a little more understandable to you and others that haven’t experienced it. Have you ever been extremely sick or injured so that you were so utterly miserable and in so much pain that focusing on anything but your sickness or pain was next to impossible because it was so intense and consuming? Or have you ever been with someone that was that sick or in that much pain? (Ladies, how about thinking natural childbirth. Husbands, have you been with your wife through that and seen how totally consuming the pain is?)

      Now translate that to mental, emotional, and yes, spiritual pain of similar intensity that may go on with not much relief for extended periods of time and maybe you can get somewhat of an idea of what an experience like this can be like. Not taking note of the “interior life” at that point and just going ahead and serving Christ as usual as if what you are experiencing is of no import is a highly unrealistic expectation to put on yourself or anyone else.

    • Valerie

      Thank you for this and thank you for your devotion to doubters. I have been walking through this season for just over a year, now. I know now that my faith and the end of this particular season is wholly up to God. And, that scares me. And, I really wish I was blissfully ignorant, again. And, I want to go back to a time when I didn’t feel so vulnerable. I know that everyone has questions of doubts, but someone in this season has lost their deep sense of “knowing” that God is real, so the doubts, questions and fears just bounce around and echo in the empty space where “knowing” used to reside.

    • James

      Great article!!! It inspired me to write something on my blog on the topic too.

      http://gospelcrumbs.blogspot.com/2013/04/dealing-with-christian-doubts.html

    • Reece

      CMP,
      Thank you for writing this.
      Be blessed.

    • mbaker

      Fr. Robert,

      With all due respect, I am certainly not questioning your view in believing God is number one no matter what. Yet, as you said you have not been through this particular darkness of the soul, or the spirit. So maybe you should just listen to those of us who have and learn how you can better be of help instead of just lecturing folks on how they should feel. God breaks all of us in one way or another, according to HIS own good purpose.

      Maybe you haven’t experienced that yet , but please bear with those who have and don’t preach at them. That is so unhelpful.

    • mbaker: With all due respect, I am a “preacher” of the Gospel of Jesus Christ (well over 30 years now), and I have had some personal “dark nights of the soul” in my own Christian experience, but I don’t agree with this type of model of “projection”, i.e. the unconscious act or process of ascribing to others one’s own ideas, impulses or emotions, especially when they are considered undesirable or cause anxiety. I don’t see myself a whiff of this in the NT itself, and certainly not in St. Paul! Who is the great mystic soul of the NT revelation. And sharing the Texts of the great St. Paul, near this subject I do believe ARE helpful!

      Btw, I don’t think “you” have seen personal combat against the enemies of your country, but I am not asking you or others to measure this either. So in some sense we are even on this score! So let us consider always the Biblical Text’s, and “spirit and truth” itself! The Word of God is always our best measure!

      “Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.” (Ps. 119:11)

    • Again, I am now for the most part a hospital chaplain, and semi-retired. So I engage people at many levels here, both those in the faith, and those who are not. And I just don’t like much modern psychology (though I have had more than my share of it as an Anglican priest). Modern and postmodern humanity has not been served well by psychoanalysis and these kind of methods of therapy. And philosophically, the unconscious mind postulated by psychoanalysis is simply very controversial, to say the least. Now clinical psychology is a bit different for sure, but even here, we must use psychiatry very carefully! 🙂

    • cherylu

      Fr Robert,

      Unless I have really missed something here, no one at all is talking about or recommending psycoanalysis or any such thing.

      We are simply asking that folks realize that “just don’t doubt” is not the answer for folks who are experinecing this type of depression and doubt. Or implying that they should basically ignore what is happening to them and go on with life as usual. When you are in that place neither one is humanly possible to do very effectively if at all and it strikes me as a kind of strange legalism to insist on it. The “just buck up and carry on” mentality.

      I truly hope that if you ever do find yourself in such a place you will have some folks in your life that not only remind you of Biblical truth, but also realize that you are in a desperate and extremely hurting place at the moment and that telling them to get one with life as usual is just not going to help a thing since it is the last thing they are capable of at the moment.

    • And btw, I will surely admit my great dislike for the title of this Post! And just a note I did my Th.D. on Romans Chapter Seven, and I take the classic Reformed and Reformational position (which is Augustine’s later position, btw). He set the bar for the later Reformers here for the most part. Man or humanity is always sinful in this life! And as David Steinmetz wrote in his book: Calvin in Context… “Human wickedness is made all the more vivid for Calvin when he considers its force and staying power in the lives of the redeemed.” (page, 116, Second Edition).

    • mbaker

      Fr. Robert,

      Why does it matter that I have not seen combat in the enemies of my country in order, as you put it, to believe or disbelieve in Michael’s post? Suppose you tell me why or why not, since so may of our service men come back, having seen what they have seen, as doubters. It seems to me we need to honestly address the WHOLE of Christian doubt, not just one aspect of it.

    • @cherylu: There is a great difference between “doubting” to degree, and of course “depression”! Indeed I see most of these so-called arguments as just part of the so-called modern subjective! And I have never suggested to “just buck it up and carry on”, but I do believe the will is very important in the regenerative Christian life!

      Note, I am 63, 64 in the Fall of this year, so I have been around. Btw, my dear wife (younger than me) suffers from chronic COPD, I am something of her care-giver. She is a profound Christian before me, and lives in the depth of her illness, with great faith and hope!

    • cherylu

      By the way, the same Saint Paul who supposedly wasn’t very concerned about the “interior life” commanded Christians in Romans 12:15 to, “Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.”

      Some compassion, understanding, and entering into the pain of another goes a long, long ways.

    • @mbaker: It was part of God’s great providence to use my time attached as a Royal Marine, to the American Marine 3rd Force Recon in the “Nam” (1968), to bring me to Christ! So, rather than just a negative, it has become a central place in my Christian conversion and experience ‘In Christ’! Yeah, even a bit of God’s test and human-Christian pride! Semper Fi! And note too, I was what they call a “mustang”, and later from being enlisted to officer. I also went to Gulf War 1 (as a RMC, Royal Marine Commando) in my early 40’s. So I have lived and worked thru my own PTSD!

    • @cherylu: If you have read my posts? I have surely maintained St. Paul’s use of the Christian interior life! He was the first Jewish-Christian “theological” mystic!

    • cherylu

      Fr Robert,

      Yeah I have read them! I am referring to your first mention of “the interior life” where you said, “Indeed Paul is not one for this whole ‘poor me’ business, the interior life for him is always simply “Christ Jesus”!”

      But I truly have to wonder if you have read our posts?? As a matter of fact I was going to ask you that before I read your question to me! If you truly think we are talking about “doubting” to degree here I don’t think you have read with comprehension at any rate.

      One more time, Michael, mbaker, and I are all talking about an all encompassing, all consuming, jerk your faith right out of your soul/spirit, and replace it with an overwhelming kind of doubt thing. Accompanied with an overwhelming, deep–in the bottom of a deep, dark pit–kind of a depression.

      To be honest, when I look back I am not absolutely sure which came first for me, the doubt or the depression. All I know for sure is that they were all rolled up into one waking, horrific nightmare that felt like it came directly from the pit of hell.

    • cherylu

      Sorry to post twice in a row here. But I want to say that I am leaving this conversation because I don’t believe that I have any more to say that will be fruitful in any way. As a matter of fact, I think I should of quit several comments back. And I apologize for that.

    • @cherylu: I never write on a subjective level, first, but I always seek the pastoral and theological foremost! THIS is the only place of the true human Christian resolve in my opinion, and here by faith even in the midst of doubt we must seek “Christ Jesus”! I have never found the overt subjective to work well in the Christian life and discipleship. Sorry, this is my personal faith and conviction away. 🙂 Indeed we live in the age of the whole psychological hedonism and human bio, and it has filtered into the Church and so-called Christian theology!

    • mbaker

      Fr. Robert,

      Thanks for your service, but you still have not answered my question. My husband was a flight engineer in Vietnam, and twice wounded and with two purple hearts. Does he think that makes him more qualified as a Christian? No, at not all, indeed it makes him all the more a humble Christian, because he has had his doubts too.

      I just wonder why you think you could not someday be subject to what Michael has laid out in his post too, despite your pastoral and theological credentials? With all due respect, I would be careful in having too much pride in that area if I were you.

    • caemt

      Thanks for writing this, Michael.

      I’ve long intended to write you an email expressing my gratitude for the ministry you do through this website, both for the content itself and the heart behind it. Posts like this are the reason why. Over the past year or so, I’ve been going through a process of deep doubt (much like the one you described in a post in the past several weeks, called “Leaving (Christ)ianity,” I believe). Three years ago, as a church leader, I came here for teaching illustrations and references. Now, I come here to, as you put it, doubt my doubts. At any rate, again, I was grateful for this blog then and I’m grateful for it now.

      I think, of the list, #3 – not losing fellowship with other believers – is highly important but also probably the single most difficult to accomplish. At least, it has been for me.

      I’ve distanced myself intentionally from other believers for two main reasons. One, I don’t want to stumble anybody. Two, I don’t want to disappoint anybody.

      The first one is a little more clear-cut. I was in a position of spiritual responsibility in my church – teaching and living out my faith and serving as a role model to others. I mean, I’ve had multiple people say something along the lines of “You know, when I was doubting my faith, I thought about you. You’re the smartest person I know, and you believe in Jesus, so that reassured me and strengthened my faith.” I hardly want to be honest with my doubts with them now, not wanting to be a stumbling block, but it’s hard to be in regular fellowship and not have these issues come up (and I’m a terrible liar) so I’ve just been distancing myself.

      The second reason: among my close peers, no, I don’t think my losing faith will stumble them. But at the same time, I feel like I’m betraying them or abandoning them. I know what it’s like to lose a fellow spiritual warrior, and I don’t want to hurt them that way. So I’ve just been avoiding the question as much as I can…

    • Kimberly

      Please pray for one of my friends. She has struggled with this so terribly and found so little help from pastors that she and her husband have now been out of church for nearly 20 years. Her name is Patricia.

    • mbaker: I was responding to “your” idea that because I have not had personal grave doubts in my walk with God (I speak relationally), that I should just sit back and listen. But as I have said, I just don’t agree with this kind of thinking! If one notes, both St. Paul’s so-called “torn” in the flesh, and the OT Job experience were most certain allowed attacks by the enemy Satan! And I fear this is just not the case with much of this kind of allowed subjective experience, that far too many Christians engage in. But certainly this is just my general opinion, as myself both a pastor and hospital chaplain.

      Btw, I was too wounded in the Nam myself, I was a mere 20 years old. And I was most involved in close combat at times (I can sometimes still smell the Nam, and even the enemy!) and again my own PTSD has a real history. So I am not somehow just pressing human pride, but sharing both my biblical and theological belief and experience, as both a pastor and combat vet. I mean I live with both everyday, but again God In Christ is always my providence and sovereign grace!

    • cherylu

      I know I said I was out of this discussion, but I have a quick question.

      Fr Robert, what do you mean by “allowed subjective experience?”

    • @cherylu: I am for the most part speaking of what I see often as Christians who are in the constant flux of checking their subjective experience, rather than their concentration on the Person & Work of Christ. Again, we live in the day and time of a certain so-called Christian Hedonism, in my opinion!

    • cherylu

      Fr Robert,

      So how does “allowed subjective experience” fit in with the things we have specifically been talking about here? Or does it? What I am basically asking is, do you think the experiences some of us have shared here fall under the category of “allowed subjective experience?”

    • @cherylu: I am not here to judge peoples personal “allowed subjective experience” per se, but I am seeking to press Texts like Col. 2: 20 thru 3: 4! Today’s Christians, especially, are far too subjective and psychological (in the West), rather than biblically & theologically modeled. To be biblical/theological thinkers, is the pattern of our Reformers, and we have lost much of this today, even in the Reformed Churches! And the balance of the interior life with the Text itself, is always our battle! 🙂

    • cherylu

      Fr Robert,

      That Colossians passage is a wonderful part of the Bible. I think the question we are discussing here is how best to help those that are caught in a nightmare of overwhelming doubt and depression to be built up to or returned to that place Paul is speaking about.

      And I think a part of knowing how to help others in this situation is first of all understanding what they are going through and acting accordingly. Telling them not to doubt is not going to do it. And neither is telling them or implying in any way that they just need to snap out of it or to just get on with their Christian life. At the moment they are buried in something that it seems is really hard to comprehend by anyone that hasn’t experienced it. That is why I have been trying hard to paint a picture of it that is more understandable to those looking in from the outside.

    • The Christian life is not a perfection (in us in this life) but it is a most holy commitment, and certain action of the will! (Phil. 3) And make no mistake, ‘the faith’ is quite often not mere “feeling”, but a real life lived ‘In Christ’! (Lk. 6: 45-49)

    • @cherylu: The great question as I see it, and as one working as a hospital chaplain, are my problems as a Christian in my interior life, clinical, or my own subjective self? And one should see the professionals here in the best of Christian psychiatry to make that call! That’s how I see it at least!

      I think we have somewhat exhausted this subject, at least speaking for myself. So I will now bow out! But thanks to engage.

    • cherylu

      Fr Robert,

      And make no mistake, ‘the faith’ is quite often not mere “feeling”, but a real life lived ‘In Christ’! (Lk. 6: 45-49)
      Of course. No arguments there.

      The only problem is, to live the Christian life you have to have faith. And in the experience we are talking about, that faith seems to have vacated the premises! Remember Michael’s statement in the OP? Right now the reason why you can’t believe is because you can’t believe. Forgive me, but this is true. How true. When you are in that place belief/faith as you have known it before has ceased to exist. At least to a great degree.

      And I am not talking about faith as a “feeling” either but as a settled conviction of what you know to be true. So yes, you may be able to keep doing the usual “Christian” works. But they will be done with a lack of conviction or a very deep questioning of the reality behind them.

    • Indeed the loss of “faith” can be temporary, but if it is ongoing and pragmatic, this is a very real and lasting concern for the so-called true Christian!

      Btw, I noted when King David was backslidden, before Nathan the prophet came, it was about a year. Just a point.

      Now I shall withdraw… Thanks! 🙂

    • John B

      I struggle greatly with doubt. After reading a couple of posts here recently I am not encouraged. It seems that we have nothing to hang our hope on anymore. It appears that we have lost the battle of innerrancy. There are errors, but that’s ok because we can trust the Bible anyway- really? Evolution has been proven and the geology of the earth does not allow for a young earth, but that’s ok, we don’t need to take Genesis literally because that genre of material was not meant to be taken literally. Don’t be concerned that evolution impacts theology, just ignore eons of death and bloodshed before the fall, remember the text is not longer bound by convention so we can mold it to support whatever we want. We can’t rely on Christians being any better morally then any other people because we shouldn’t expect God living in people to have any noticable impact – double really? We should hang all of our faith on the resurrection. Unfortunately there is very weak evidence for the resurrection. There are a few coments here and there made by historians which really don’t bowl any scholarly historian over with their informtion. And don’t worry that nobody mentions that jerusalem experienced a mass resurrection of people at the same time as Christ’s resurrection and noone recorded this for histories sake? That’s ok because we can explain that away by knowing that the bible has errors or that a paricular literary technique was being employed to express the greatness of the resurrection. Doubt is easy to come by. But for some reason, faith remains…

      • C Michael Patton

        John,

        Without dealing with your rational (which I believe is in error and can only serve to increase doubt), what do you beleive it means in Jude 22 when it says “Have mercy on some who doubt”?

    • Before I go, let me share again, the story of the great Christian man and poet, William Cowper (pronounced “Cooper). He was of course one with John Newton who wrote the Olney Hymns (1779). But he suffered most of his adult life from attacks of insanity, and even died within a bout here. It appeared he had debilitating depression off and on, and had times of being more toward normal. But we will never really know the exact mental problems that plagued him, however. But, he did have doubts whether he was one of God’s elect, and came to believe he was one rejected by God. “Strange indeed a doctrinally orthodox Christian who proclaimed the gospel of grace to others yet believed himself to be uniquely condemned by God. Even in the midst of despair over his own salvation, Cowper firmly believed that there was no possibility of happiness or healing apart from God, and to his dying day he waited for a divine word that would cure his misery.”

      See his hymn: “God moves in a mysterious way”.

    • Phil

      Just listening to beautiful poetry can be of great help in these times… http://sacrificialpoetproject.org/open-mic/adam-skinner/amazing-grace

    • Richard Klaus

      A good book to pursue on some of these topics is “In Search of a Confident Faith: Overcoming Barriers to Trusting God” (IVP, 2008) by J. P. Moreland and Klaus Issler. I’ve written about this book and related it to a recent post by Michael Patton.
      http://whiterosereview.blogspot.com/2013/03/on-doubt-apologetics-and-affections.html

    • mbaker

      To all,

      I just heard the most sorrowful news. Rick Warren’s 27 year old son just committed suicide after a life time of mental illness. I don’t agree with some of Warren’s theology but as a loving parent I feel so sad for them in this terrible tragedy.

      If there are any reading this post who are thinking about doing the same thing, don’t. You will never believe the far reaching consequences it has on both family and friends.

    • mbaker

      A P.S. And don’t think it is a revenge thing, in case you do, because they will only go on living and someday you will be a distant memory, whose only influence on their lives has been your own sorrow put first, with out considering theirs.

      So if you love them too, don’t even think about it.

    • Here is a piece by the Roman Catholic Church on suicide, I was myself raised Irish Roman Catholic in the 50’s and early 60’s. And suicide was always a very hard subject, and still is! It is not just a subject of some kind of personal moral decision, as we so often see today, but also must stand before the very doctrine of God, of God Himself! Myself now, as a Calvinist, I see it too before the doctrine of God’s so-called common grace and responsibility.

      http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14326b.htm

    • Jody Moodie

      Thank you, thank you for your ministry. God has seemed so illusive in the past. now that our son has died, I am not sure of much and sometimes I don’t even feel real. But your ministry helps because It seems you understand.

    • Katie Lynne

      Thank you for writing this article. I lived in this sort of darkness for a year, pleading with God for deliverance but finding no help. My doubts convinced me that I couldn’t possibly be a Christian and that God had rejected me. Prayer, the Bible, the sacrament, everything was empty and silent. I tried to talk to Christians about it but no one understood. Thank you for acknowledging the existence of deep doubts and despair in the Christian life. It means something to have the illusion of complete isolation broken.

      What you say about apologetics and relying on others was also true in my experience. The more I studied about assurance and the attributes of the Christian, the more my fears were confirmed and my doubts increased. There also came a point when my faith was all gone and I relied wholly on the testimony and prayers of my church. Recently, God, in his mercy, released me from the darkness. I am overwhelmed with gratitude but still I tremble. God is not who I thought he was. He is much more powerful, much greater and higher than I understood. I don’t know the ‘why’ of any of it. I do know that Jesus understands since experienced doubt and despair on the cross.

    • CH

      Why is doubt about faith always something to overcome or avoid? In all other areas of life we find doubt is a reasonable indication (not proof) of the falsity of a belief. Why can’t we follow the doubts and better understand the source of conflict? It may be in some cases doubt exists because we proclaim beliefs that we know really aren’t true but we hold for other reasons – social pressure, etc.

    • mbaker

      I know we are told to love the Lord with all our heart, soul and mind. but what if our mind gives out on us? I think that happens in many cases, and we get to thinking we are not saved because we just can’t think ‘right’.

      This lack is a way too much of a judgmental thing, IMO. in Christianity nowadays, but who knows in the end what the Lord judges us upon when we have lost hope? That’s why I believe in once saved always saved, although I do not want to make this discussion about that alone.

    • Indeed a true faith always has not so much doubt or the dubious, as the intuitive of the desire to know and believe, and even when we don’t know fully, we press thru the time of darkness to the place of knowing without sight! And yes, oftentimes this can be a spiritual sense of warfare, (1 Tim. 6: 12). And as Paul says, “we walk by faith, not by sight.” (2 Cor. 5:7)…And, “We are confident then and pleased rather to leave home out from the (our) body and to be at home with the Lord.” (5: 8)

      Again we are often pressed into the place of the Lord’s antithesis and dialectic, i.e. His mystery, the “already but not yet”? Such is faith in God and His “knowing”!

    • mbaker

      Well we cannot suppose our salvation only depends upon our continuning to have the right mind toward these things, as you seem to think it does. How about those with dementia or Alzheimer’s who have believed before but now have to depend upon the faithfulness of the Lord instead of their own faith?

    • Josh Pratt

      This post was pretty helpful for me. Not because I’m in a period of difficult doubt, but because I had been for a while, and it wasn’t until I let go of apologetics and trying to rationalize my way to belief that I finally started to rest and be ok with my current state. And indeed, as you say, one of the most helpful things for me was fellowship with other believers, and seeing their faith.

      So, in my own hindsight, I can definitely reinforce what you have outlined here and say that I confidently agree. It may not work out the same for everybody, but it has for me. Thanks for sharing these wise words.

    • @mbaker: I already mentioned the righteous need for clinical psychology, but I am not one that sees the need or use of psychotherapy per se (that means intrinsically). In fact as a hospital chaplain I see the pop use of the latter all the time, and with Christians too. This has been my point, all Christians go through times of darkness and doubt, this comes mostly from a fallen and sinful world, and ourselves too as sinners living therein. But, just how many Christians have real clinical issues is very questionable to my mind! Indeed we live in a very hedonist and even narcissistic society in these days of postmodernity! The real Christian simply must seek to live “above”, with Christ and dead to the world! (Col. 3: 1-3)…and this is both the position & state of the Christian! Indeed this is a spiritual battle, but one that we have already won ‘In Christ’!

      And btw, faith is of course the “gift” of God…”not of yourselves.. (Eph. 2:8). Would that so-called modern Christians could see the difference between just mere mental and intellectual belief (Matt. 7: 21-23), verses the real biblical of “spirit and truth”, there really is a difference!

      Btw, I know on a blog like this, my statements might appear trite, but I seek the power of God, in spirit & truth. For man or the human being is “spirit”!

    • Brother Stumblefoot

      Our God is big enough to handle our doubts, and he doesn’t cut us off during those times of our doubt. We may feel that He has, but He doesn’t. (feel that way.) When He said that nothing can separate us from the love of God, He meant it.

      It seems best to not try to win arguments with our doubts, Don’t continually wrestle with them, just move on. Sometimes we might “move on” by hearing or reading edifying instruction, other times we might “move on” to something so mundane as cutting the grass or cleaning the house.
      Martin Luther found therapy in hitching up the horse and cleaning the stable, as I recall. It is amazing how our
      God restores faith when we leave it up to Him, and get on to the business at hand. I think faith once implanted in the heart never completely dies out, even if we can’t seem to connect with it at any given moment.
      Brother Stumblefoot

    • Melissa

      Michael
      Thanks so much for this post. I stubbled onto your website in the thick of my doubt just over a month ago. Your words brought so much clarity to my situation because I felt exactly what you described. It was such a painful, bitter time. I came so close to ending my life. It was truly a miracle from God that I made it through my doubt in one piece. Your words in addition to the grace of God and love of others has placed me back into a secure but child-like faith. Now I am currently healing from the hurt I had to endure to reach faith again.
      I know that my life will never be the same. And as much as I want to forget about this awful time in my life, I know it is ultimately for my good and his glory. But I pray that I never have to go through it again.
      Thanks again for your wisdom and encouragement.
      Melissa

    • Dale

      I’m about a week in on my second go around of this. It happened 16 years ago the first time. I cried out to God then just as now. The flood of memories from the first time have not been overly helpful. I know we all try to ‘figure out’ the way out but that doesn’t ever work. God and my walk with the Spirit in Christ is my everything. It is comforting to me right now that I can write that despite the dark hole. This tells me that there is something holding me in Him even though my mind tries to say otherwise. The one piece of faith that hangs on – is this will be over eventually.

    • Dale

      By the way, do not think this will hit you again as it has me. I wonder though that if when any difficulty in life comes, our faith is shaken and therefore tested? I am convinced the difficulty here for me is some sort of PTSD/nervous breakdown/burn-out. Since I’m broken the trust mechanism is unavailable until I’m repaired. I think about Elijah’s crumbling…God got him out through rest, food, time and His still small word. I will wait.

      • C Michael Patton

        I thought of Elijah just before you said it. I am so glad that you wrote this. I will pray that this second season will end quickly.

    • Dale

      Thank you. It is ending more quickly.

    • Dale

      The darkness grew so intense tonight. Funny, we cry out to Him when we feel the furthest from Him. I’ve noticed the pain recedes when I call out to Him – with all my heart. Then I remembered, isn’t this what I would do continually – before I stumbled? I’ve now had a constant “I need You” going in my heart for thirty minutes. I’ve now had thirty minutes of peace and knowing His presence again. Doesn’t this match ‘pray without ceasing’?

    • Dale

      I finally had enough tonight – and realized I had been lied to by an enemy. Going around seeing everyone living normal (Christians as Christians and non-Christians as they do) while I felt turned inside out – I knew something had been continually lying to me. I now know the truth and the truth has me free. I had been lied to and was trying to work within the lie. This was not working at all – doing away with it altogether works great. Praise God. I hope this helps someone else.

    • […] The subject of doubt in the life of the Christian, and really in the life of anyone as it concerns doubting the gospel, seems to be vastly overlooked in many church pulpits, small groups, and Bible studies. Yet most, yes most, Christians have, are, or will struggle with doubt. “Everyone doubts their faith to some degree. If they say they don’t, they are either lying, they don’t take their faith very seriously, or God has had incredibly mercy on them” (M. Patton). […]

    • John

      For I say, through the grace given unto me, to every man that is among you, not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think; but to think soberly, according as God hath dealt to every man the measure of faith.

      God dealt EVERY man a measure of faith, if that’s not true then none of the bible matters, and as long as that’s true you can rest in God’s truth that you have saving faith if you want it, basically if you desire to accept it then you have it. I have prayed for an increase of faith and recently I stumbled upon that scripture, it was what worked for me. Praise the Lord that piece of scripture found it’s way to me.

    • John

      ^romans 12:3

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