When I was 26, I experienced a crisis of faith. I grappled with intellectual doubts regarding tenets of Christianity I had believed since childhood. During that dark time, I felt distant from God — almost like I did not really know Him. The thought of losing my faith terrified me.
Dealing with doubt
I recently attended a seminar on doubt taught by Dr. Jonathan Morrow, an author, apologist and professor at Biola University. As he works with Gen Z students, he teaches them that doubts are a natural part of the Christian life.
Many of our Bible heroes, including Abraham, Moses and David, experienced doubts. John the Baptist is an especially compelling case study on doubt. John leapt in the womb when preborn Jesus entered the vicinity. John baptized his cousin and watched the Holy Spirit descend in the form of a dove. John was Jesus’ forerunner and one of His greatest supporters. And yet when he was imprisoned, in a dark moment, he sent word to Jesus, asking, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” (Matthew 11:3).
Instead of shaming John for asking such a question, Dr. Morrow pointed out, Jesus answered His cousin with evidence.
“And Jesus answered them, ‘Go and tell John what you hear and see: the blind receive their sight and the lame walk, lepers are cleansed and the deaf hear, and the dead are raised up, and the poor have good news preached to them.’” (vs. 4,5)
Three kinds of doubt
Doubt is not the same as unbelief, and doubting is not necessarily sin. A Christian’s doubts can show up in many ways and for multiple reasons. In his seminar, Dr. Morrow described three kinds of doubts, which I will paraphrase:
Intellectual doubts. This type of doubt happens when something in Scripture or our basic beliefs doesn’t seem to add up. Each of us could probably name a few such doubts that have troubled us. These were the kinds of doubts that caused my previously strong faith to go into crisis. After having some of my beliefs challenged, I felt shaky about several of my convictions.
Emotional doubts. These doubts often stem from disappointments, wounding, or unresolved conflict in our lives, particularly those that center around other Christians or the church. For example, if we had a bad earthly father who claimed to be a believer, we might doubt that God is a good heavenly Father. Or if we feel wounded by the church, we may feel what the Bible teaches about the church is not trustworthy.
Spiritual doubts. This type of doubt often occurs when a person is actively breaking God’s moral law through repetitive sin. The resulting shame, guilt and dissonance can make God feel distant or non-existent. Someone may also experience spiritual doubts if she is not growing in faith and experiencing the power of the Holy Spirit. The person struggling with spiritual doubt may even desire that Christianity not be true so that the dissonance can be resolved.
A treatment plan for doubt
These three types of doubts present differently, but Dr. Morrow suggests a similar “treatment plan” for each.
Examine your doubts. Many times, people allow their doubts to go unexamined until significant or irreparable damage has been done to their faith. Dr. Morrow encourages young adults to list their specific doubts and think through each one. Read what other thoughtful Christians have written in response to such doubts.
Don’t doubt alone. Hidden doubts hold more power than those we reveal. The enemy’s strategy is to isolate you and convince you doubts cannot be overcome. Often reaching out to a Christian friend, mentor or pastor can provide needed perspective and diffuse deepening doubt.
Be honest with God. Our big God can handle our doubts. He is our greatest resource for overcoming doubt. Like the man who brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for healing, we can say: “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24) God is an ever-present help in trouble, including doubt.
When I was struggling to believe, I asked God for help. I also talked to a few trusted friends who listened, counseled, and prayed for me. I told a leader at my church group about the dark feelings I was experiencing, and he reassured me my doubts were normal and that God would help me keep believing.
That’s exactly what I needed. Within a few weeks I felt my faith strengthening. There were still aspects of Christianity I couldn’t perfectly explain, but I knew I could trust God with the things I didn’t understand. Walking through doubt was scary, but by God’s grace, I didn’t have to walk alone.