I was 27 years old and felt like I was losing my faith.
Oddly, the crash came just a few days after returning from a Christian conference. The worship had been energizing, the teaching thought-provoking, and I’d come home thinking I had taken a tangible step forward in my faith.
Perhaps that’s the very thing that made me vulnerable to an attack.
Around the same time, I was exchanging emails with a high school friend who had recently renounced Christianity. We often had lengthy email discussions regarding the veracity of Scripture, the person of Jesus Christ and the points in favor of (and against) acceptance of Jesus as the only way. I enjoyed the intellectual stimulation and deeply hoped my friend would come back to faith in Christ.
One afternoon as I was doing online research to build my next argument, I came upon the website of an ex-Christian who made some seemingly solid points against Christianity, including raising the question: “How can a good God send people to hell?” I had heard the question before, of course, but I had never heard it stated in quite this way.
The words were like fiery arrows to my heart — a direct hit. I felt incredibly shaken as I entertained doubts that had never even entered my consciousness before. I decided that some things didn’t make sense, even though I had constructed what I considered to be an airtight box of apologetics around my faith. Suddenly, I wondered if everything I’d believed all my life could be wrong.
Battle for the soul
Thanks to social media, the Christian community has recently witnessed some high-profile “deconversions.” It’s distressing and heartbreaking —but it shouldn’t be surprising. The Bible clearly says that some who follow Christ will “depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits” (1 Timothy 4:1).
Satan is a deceiver, and his main objective is to oppose God by drawing people away from the truth. We are also told that our battles in this life are not primarily of a physical nature. Ephesians 6:12 says, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.”
My crisis occurred on a Friday afternoon. The next day I stumbled into a leadership meeting for my young adult group. Zac, one of the assisting pastors, asked me how I was doing. For a moment, I thought about covering up the darkness I felt inside and answering with the usual, “Great!” But something about Zac’s sincere gaze prompted me to fess up.
“I’m actually struggling,” I told him as we sipped our coffee. I briefly explained all that had happened, revealing the truth about my newfound doubts. He listened carefully.
At the end of our conversation he said, “That’s hard, Suzanne. I’m going to be praying for you. And let me know if I can help you in your search for answers.”
Reason to doubt
A crisis of faith can occur for many reasons. Sometimes people give up on God for a personal reason, such as the death of a loved one or unanswered questions about suffering and injustice in the world. At other times, dissonance between biblical commands and a sinful lifestyle may be the catalyst. Sometimes intellectual struggles are at play.
Regardless of what brings on a crisis of faith, a primary concern for a true believer is to survive it. Here are three ways to address spiritual doubts and move toward deeper faith.
1. Reach out for support from other Christians.
Sometimes doubts can be so startling that you feel like you can’t talk about them. But confessing our doubts to a fellow believer allows light to shine in, dispelling the darkness.
At first, I didn’t want to tell people what I was feeling, because what if my doubt was contagious and transferred to them? But after I told Zac about my crisis of faith, I immediately felt a sense of relief wash over me. I wasn’t walking through scary doubts alone.
My sister Sarah was another support during that time. I still remember sitting in the dark on the couch in my townhome talking to her on the phone. She was still in college at the time. She listened to my fears and doubts and said, “That is hard to understand. But we have to trust in God’s sovereignty — that He always does what is right whether we understand it or not.” The truth she spoke to me quieted my doubts and reminded me of what I had believed since the day God had saved me.
2. Remember where you’ve been.
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.”
Peter’s words have comforted me during times of doubt. I also love David’s words in Psalm 73:25 which say, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you.”
When I consider the alternative to knowing Christ and trusting Him with my life, the reality of that is almost unimaginable. I only have to look back on my life and the many times God has been faithful to answer a prayer or provide for a need to remember that life apart from Him is nothing to be desired. Even Charles Templeton, who preached with evangelist Billy Graham but later became an agnostic, once tearfully said of Jesus, “I miss Him.”
3. Trust God with your big questions.
During a crisis of faith, God can seem distant and the tendency can be to draw away. There was a time where I felt having doubts was a sign of spiritual immaturity. But Scripture offers many evidences that God can handle my questions. We don’t have to — nor can we — hide our doubts from Him.
Think about Job. He suffered extreme loss and pain, and unfair judgment from his wife and friends. In the midst of his hardship, he essentially tells God, “You have some explaining to do!” Instead of greeting Job with silence, God offers him an explanation in the form of revealing to Job his extremely limited understanding of life and the universe. What’s remarkable about this story is that God answered! Later on, He blessed Job immensely, proving that He didn’t hold Job’s questions against him.
Once a man brought his demon-possessed son to Jesus for healing. He said, “If you can do anything … help us.”
I imagine Jesus raising an eyebrow as He said, “’If you can!’ All things are possible for one who believes.”
“Immediately the father of the child cried out and said, “I believe; help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24).
Our Savior is gentle and patient with our doubts. Jesus invited Thomas to touch the wounds on his hands and feet in order to believe that He was truly risen.
The path forward
For the good part of a year, every time I saw Zac, he asked me how I was doing. And as I continued to focus on the truth of God’s Word, receive support from other believers and trust God with my questions, I was able to assure him that I had indeed emerged from the dark valley of doubt.
Five years later, Zac would walk through his own valley that would ultimately lead to him meeting Jesus at the age of 33. I owe him a profound debt of gratitude for reaching out a hand to help me regain my footing when I was stumbling in my faith.
But the true hero of this story is God. During my crisis of faith, He met me in deep and incredible ways. He continually proved himself to me until the cold fear of doubt released its grip. If you are experiencing the darkness of doubt right now, run to Him. He is big enough to handle your questions. He is mighty to save.
Copyright 2019 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.