Wednesday, February 16, 2022

10 Steps for Dealing with Doubts

Man staring out window
It’s normal, even healthy, to ask hard questions about your faith. We live in a world that constantly tries to make you do just that, but the world wants you to despair over the questions and walk away from your faith because your faith makes them feel bad. It’s not about you, it’s about them. You’re not supposed to come out the other side with a stronger, more vibrant faith. You’re supposed to walk away from your faith entirely — or at least turn it into something that’s more acceptable to them. So you’ll find lots of encouragement to surrender to doubt and give up.

I want to share some encouragement to address your doubts and stand strong in your faith. These ten steps come from Natasha Crain’s Faithfully Different, which I just reviewed.

1. “Be honest with yourself about the nature of truth.”
When we talk about truth, we’re not talking about feelings or opinions. Truth is what is. Truth is true whether we believe it or not. Real religious truth is true the way gravity is true — gravity affects you whether you believe in it or not.

Sometimes the truth is unpalatable. Sometimes it makes us uncomfortable. We have to be committed to the truth, no matter how it makes us or the people around us feel.

2. “Remember that truth has nothing to fear—even if the Christians you know don’t welcome or can’t answer your questions.”
Truth isn’t afraid of questions. If people can’t answer your questions, it doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with you. It doesn’t even mean that your questions are especially hard. What it probably means is they have never asked these questions. There are believers who have wrestled with these questions. Keep asking until you find them. (Feel free to ask here.)

3. “Search your doubt to find its root.”
Try to get to the real question. Crain points out that a long list of “Why would God...?” questions is probably really “a nagging uncertainty over whether God even exists.” Keep digging in yourself until you get to the heart of the matter. Once you address that, the rest will be easier to deal with.

4. “Know the truth test for Christianity.”
Jesus said his resurrection would be the proof of what he taught (Matt 12:38-40, John 2:19). Paul also pointed to the resurrection (1Cor 15:14-19) as determining whether Christianity is true. We are not promised we’ll hear from God or see miracles. We’re not promised any kind of subjective experience of the presence of God. We’re not promised that all of our questions will be answered. Was Christ really raised from the dead? If so, Christianity is true, and we have to decide what we're going to do about that.

5. “Make sure the things you’re doubting are things the Bible actually teaches.”
So many of the things people who “deconstruct” or “deconvert” are reacting to are not things the Bible actually teaches. Many grew up in abusive churches or were taught things that are not in the Bible. Don’t reject the real Jesus because you didn’t like the fake you were presented with.

6. “Separate problems with the church or Christians from problems with Christianity.”
Christians sin, and not everyone in a church is really even a Christian. The scriptures predict both of these things; they are not signs Christianity is false. Are your problems with nasty people or with true Christianity? If it’s the former, you need a new church, not a new religion.

7. “Be willing to put in the work to resolve your questions.”
We live in a sound-bite culture. Some are very skilled at using that to their advantage. Skeptics can ask a carefully worded question in 30 seconds that cannot be properly answered in 30 minutes. CS Lewis addressed the question “Why does a good God allow evil?” in about 160 pages; most books on the subject are longer. How important are your questions? How important is what you may walk away from? Are you willing to put some effort into answering your doubts?

8. “Explicitly identify your alternative to Christianity.”
If you’re thinking about leaving Christianity, what are you going to replace it with? “Nothing” isn’t an option. You will have a worldview, and every worldview has questions that need to be answered. Be as skeptical with this new worldview as you are with Christianity.

9. “Pray and read the Bible.”
Don’t give up on prayer and the scriptures because you have questions. Take your questions to the Lord and to his word. Be careful to distinguish what the Bible teaches from what people claim it teaches. Learn to read it well.1

Finally, one to protect yourself long-term, maybe before you even have these questions.

10. “Proactively expose yourself to faith challenges.”
As Stand to Reason’s Alan Shlemon put it, “inoculate, don’t insulate.” If you expose yourself to the hard questions a little at a time and in a controlled way, you’re not going to be as thrown when you come across questions you can’t answer. You’ll know answers to more questions, sure, but as you learn more you realize how much there is out there. When you come across a question you’ve never seen before, it’s less surprising, and you’re more likely to just look for the answer.

Two final thoughts on the topic: Faith is not certainty. Faith is trust. We have faith in a lot of things we’re not absolutely sure about. I have faith that when my wife walks out the door she’s not going to visit a boyfriend. I don’t know for certain, but I trust her based on what has come before. Trusting God does not require having all your questions answered. It only requires deciding what you’re going to do based on what you do know.

Second, God can handle our doubts. God is neither surprised nor angry when we raise questions. People have always questioned God. When believers wavered, Jesus did not get angry with them. He helped them. When John began to wonder if Jesus really was the promised Messiah, when Thomas couldn’t quite get himself to believe that Jesus could have been raised from the dead, the Lord didn’t berate them or embarrass them; he welcomed them and gave them what they needed.

So take heart that God is not mad at you when you ask hard questions. Just make sure to doubt your doubts, be equally skeptical about your skepticism, and work hard to find the truth and follow it where it takes you.

1 Helpful posts:
The Bible: Introduction
Never Read a Bible Verse

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