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 @ credo house 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.

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

    78 replies to "The Miserable Christian Doubt"

    • 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.


    • 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

      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.

    • 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.

      • Zion

        Please what do you mean doing away with it completely?

    • […] 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

    • Zion

      This is years later and I’m experiencing this. I’m just wondering, how does the belief come back? Does it just snap back one day? Just wondering when this ends

      • C Michael Patton

        I am so sorry you are experiencing this. I would love to have a conversation with you if you are still doubting and want someone to talk to. Please text me at 405-410-3039.

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