For much of my life, I didn’t believe that a person could have faith and doubt simultaneously. I am a “professional Christian,” called to help people come to and grow in their faith, so for years, I mistakenly felt that faith and doubt were mutually exclusive. Then I ran across a conversation in the New Testament between Jesus and John the Baptist that changed my thinking.
John -- in prison and facing imminent execution -- had real doubts about the identity of Jesus. It starts this way: “When John heard in prison what (Jesus) was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’” (Matthew 11: 2, 3) John, the cousin of Jesus who had announced to the world that Jesus was the “Lamb of God,” had doubts about Jesus – serious doubts. Jesus heard of John’s doubts and responded with these flattering words: “I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist.” (Matthew 11:11) Who wouldn’t want those words said of us?
Like John, doubts normally arise when life is difficult. For some, doubts begin when they hear the news of a terminal illness, a spouse leaves the marriage, or a child lives a destructive lifestyle. When dreams die, hopes evaporate, wrong prevails, or disaster looms, doubts arise. But years of faith are not wiped out by a season of doubt. Jesus’ commendation of John proves that God honors your years of faith even in the season of doubt.
If you are going through a time when you have doubts, do not question your standing with God. Learn from John and don’t live silently in your doubts. Instead, like John, express and vocalize your doubts to other Christians and seek answers. Truly mature followers of Jesus will not think less of you because of your doubts, just as Jesus did not think less of John when he expressed his doubts about Jesus. In your “Room for Doubt” group you can feel free to express your honest questions and feelings because there is room for doubt with God and at HDCC.
–David Smith, Discipleship Pastor
In a few weeks, we are jumping into a church-wide effort called, “Room for Doubt”. The purpose of this effort is to help those within the church and outside of the church know that it is okay to ask questions and have doubts on faith issues. In fact, it’s encouraged and healthy to ask questions of your beliefs and your faith. Sometimes we feel like having doubts, asking questions or not completely understanding everything about God or Christianity is wrong or even sinful. We want to help people see that it’s not wrong or sinful, it’s natural and normal. Even ministers, like myself, have doubts (and I’m a “professional Christian”, read that with 100% sarcasm). In this post, I want to share a bit about the doubts I’ve had on faith issues and some things that have helped me along the way.
For me, doubt creeps into my mind when I perceive that God has let me down. What I mean by that is whenever I’ve had a plan for my life in mind and that plan changes, or whenever an unexpected tragedy hits me or my family, I begin to question this whole faith-in-Jesus thing. The time I remember questioning God the most and whether or not I could trust him was when my dad passed away.
I was just starting my freshmen year at Ozark Christian College. I had made the leap of faith to dedicate my life to vocational ministry and was excited to accept the call and challenge God had placed on my life. I never expected that the first step in that call would include the unexpected death of my dad. I was standing in line to register for classes when I got the news. As I made the 8-hour drive home with my brother, I sat silent in the car in disbelief. My mind was racing. Between the moments of grief and tears to the moments of anger and crying out to God, doubt began to creep into my mind. I was dedicating my life to ministry; I was accepting the call to live for Jesus; my dad was a great man–had worked hard all of his life and was a couple of years away from retirement; what kind of God kills a man like that...the father of a man like me (granted, not the humblest of thoughts, but loss can take us to dark places). This did not fit into my plan for my life. I began to think about my future and all the things my dad wouldn’t get to see. My dad wouldn’t get to see me graduate Bible college; he wouldn’t get to meet my wife or my future children on this side of heaven; he wouldn’t be at my ordination service or wedding; he wouldn’t be there to see me accept my first ministry position; he would never hear my first sermon...he would miss everything. It wasn’t fair!
God had let me down. I began to question whether or not I could trust him. For me, I never questioned whether or not there was a God. I knew God existed; I just wasn’t sure that He actually cared.
At this point, I’d love to tell you the three steps to success or the five quick fixes that restored my relationship with Jesus, however I never discovered those along the way. What I will share are the things that (over a long period of time) helped ease my doubts and questions and helped me learn to trust God again and hopefully they will help you as well.
1. Pray- even when you don’t feel like it.
For several months, praying was very difficult for me. I didn’t want to talk to God. I didn’t like God very much. There were days and weeks I went without praying. It was sort of like I was giving God the silent treatment. But this didn’t make me feel any better, if anything it made me feel more alone. So I started to pray. Short, disrespectful prayers. I told God how mad I was, how unfair life was, how I didn’t feel like He cared about me at all.
After a time of being disrespectful, I began to really open up to God and express the raw pain I was feeling. I began to have an even richer and meaningful prayer life than I had before the tragic events unfolded.
If you are doubting God’s existence or struggling to feel like He cares, pray. Talk to him. Talk at him. Be real with him. What’s the worst that could happen if you pray and God doesn’t exist? You waste a few minutes a day talking to someone that isn’t there. What’s the worst that could happen if you don’t pray and God does exist? You waste your life here on earth not connecting with the being that loves you, knows you and values you more than you will ever know.
2. Surround yourself with good people.
When I returned to school after the funeral, I was not the most pleasant person to be around. I was angry, bitter and felt like everyone owed me something. In addition to that mess, I hadn’t made any friends yet because I’d only been at school a couple days before my dad passed away. I wasn’t sure how I was going to make it through the first semester, yet alone get to graduation. But as we will look at later, God had already been at work. There was a group of older students at Ozark that took me under their wing, accepted me as I was and let me hang out with them even though I was a punk.
These three guys were critical in helping me see the faithfulness of God in the worst of times. They had so much grace and patience with me. I’m not sure where I’d be without their friendship. Even though we are now all spread out over the country and I don’t get to see them that often, I’ll be eternally grateful for Josh, Andrew, and David.
If tragedy has struck and doubt has crept into your life, I implore you not to isolate yourself. You need friendships. You need community. Surround yourself with good people who love Jesus…even if you aren’t so sure about him.
3. Remember His faithfulness.
Another thing that helped me was to remember the faithfulness of God to his people throughout Scripture and history. In Bible college, the first class I took my freshman year was Old Testament History…every school day…at 7 a.m. (that’s in the morning). Now initially, I thought that was entirely too early to be getting up to learn about the Old Testament, but as the year progressed, it quickly became one of my favorite classes.
The concept that intrigued me the most throughout the Old Testament (OT) was God’s faithfulness. If you’ve never read the OT, let me give you a brief depiction of how it flows: God provides for his people, they are grateful, they become ungrateful, they rebel, they are overtaken by an enemy, they cry out to God, God saves them (rinse and repeat). Characters, places, issues all change, but a common thread running throughout the whole story is the faithfulness of God. He was faithful to them even when they were rebellious, even when they were suffering, even when they didn’t see it.
If you are doubting whether or not God cares about you, I highly encourage you to pick up your Bible and begin reading God’s story of faithfulness and love for his people. As you read, remember that God is always the same and will never change. The love he had for those people is the same love he has for you and me, even if we don’t see it or feel it.
4. Look for His faithfulness in your situation.
Sure, seeing God’s faithfulness throughout history gave me hope, but for a long time, I didn’t see his faithfulness throughout my story. This took a while. And it may take you a while.
After a few years (yes, years), I began to think about where God has taken me throughout this whole process. As I look back on the details of my situation, I can see God’s faithfulness in every step along the way. Whether that was the funds for college, friendships, ministry opportunities, etc, I could see that he was preparing my life to continue moving in the direction he wanted even though tragedy was looming.
Not only did I see his faithfulness in my life, I began to think about my dad’s life and how God was faithful to my dad as well. My dad was the greatest man and hardest worker I’ve ever known. He worked his tail off to provide for our family. He never stopped working, even when he had a massive stroke (I was 6 years old). He didn’t stop working when he was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis (I was 12), as a mechanic you can imagine how difficult that was. He didn’t stop working when he fell out of a deer stand and broke his back (I was 17). Aches and pains were a normal part of life for my dad. And even though I wish God would have healed my dad on this side of heaven, I know that he is with the Lord and is pain free. The heart attack he suffered could have left him on earth with one more obstacle to overcome, but instead God had mercy on him and brought him total relief. Plus, my dad died instantly, fishing in a boat with his best friend. If you knew my dad, you know that’s way he would have wanted to go. Even in tragedy, God is faithful and still knows what is best.
Even though it felt like God had let me down, I can now see his hand was with me the whole time, just as he was with my dad, my mom, my siblings, my friends, just as he was with Israel throughout their history and just as he is with you now. I don’t pretend to know the details of your story or the pains you’ve faced if you are currently having doubts about your faith, but this I know: God is Faithful. He is for you (Romans 8.31). He knows hard times will come in your life (John 16.33). He knows your pain and hurts with you (Psalm 56). He will never stop pursuing you, even if you aren’t interested in him right now (Luke 15).