Do you ever have doubts about your faith? You may have been a Christian for many, many years, and suddenly there is a situation which causes you to pause, think, ponder, question, even doubt the reality of this whole “Jesus” thing. Strange things happen and we wonder why. It doesn’t make sense. Things don’t go the way we think they should, especially when the “victim” is a fellow-believer who follows Jesus. He/she didn’t deserve what seems unfair.
Spiritual doubt of various degrees has always been part of the Christian experience. Both the fathers of the faith and the disciples struggled with it: Moses, going to the Pharaoh (Exodus 3:11—4:13); Abraham and Sarah, no son (Genesis 16); Peter, walking of the water (Matt. 14:29–31; Matt. 26:69–75); and, of course, Thomas, believing whether the other disciples saw Jesus or not (John 20:24-29).
I believe. Why do I sometimes question that belief? I really want to peel the onion on myself and see why and how I end up with these feelings. After long periods of thought, I concluded that I do not question God or the truth of the scriptures. What upsets me and makes me question my faith is what other people expect of me. I simply cannot live up to it and thus wonder if my faith is the real thing.
Preachers, teachers, writers, scholars take a passage of scripture and interpret it so figuratively that I wonder if they are running out of good, solid material for messages. Or they want to make a point so they string together bits of various verses out of context to prove it. But the worst for me is taking a portion of scripture and making it say all sorts of wonderful things I can’t find there anywhere. They set standards we are all desiring in our Christian walk that are simply unattainable in this life and then make me feel guilty if I don’t live up to those ideals.
I conclude that I am not a spiritual giant or muscle-man, super-saint, walking display model of the perfect Christian. So I am discouraged and wonder if what I am is the real thing or am I really just faking it because it is the way I was brought up.
That’s when I retreat to my strong belief in God, Jesus, the Bible, etc. and see that it is well-meaning, but (in my view) disillusioned men who are causing my doubt. I believe our faith should be growing but that I should not be side-tracked when I fail. Someday, not now, we will be like Him when we see Him as He is. (I John 3:2) Until then I live in the non-perfected state we call the flesh. Jesus said, “Be ye holy as I am holy.” This perhaps is a dichotomy we cannot presently resolve. I cannot expect perfection of myself, but neither does this give me license to sin. (Rom. 6:1,2)
In his book, In Two Minds: The Dilemma of Doubt & How to Resolve It, theologian Os Guinness wrote, “If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply.”
I googled “famous people who experienced doubt” and came up with these names and the details of the doubt on the first of many entries: C.S. Lewis, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther, Charles Spurgeon, John Calvin, Pope Francis, Anne Lamott.
The Barna survey reports that millennials, who have grown up in a more secular and pluralist culture, experience more doubt—twice as much as other generations. Men are much more likely than women to actively experience doubt (32 percent, compared with 20 percent of women). And the higher your educational level, the more likely you are to experience doubt: 37 percent of college graduates experienced doubt as opposed to only 19 percent of those with just a high school education.
The report also cited evidence that during a crisis of faith many Christians stop attending church, reading the Bible, and praying. This seems almost counterintuitive because Christians usually turn to these practices in order to build their faith.
When these spiritual lapses assail me, I always come back to the veracity of the Bible. Either it is all completely true, or, if there is a falsehood somewhere, we can begin to question the whole thing.
My pastor is a Cleveland Browns fan (pity him!). He uses the following example to show the chances that all 300+ references in the Old Testament concerning Jesus first coming (birth) could be fulfilled in that one person at that one time and at that one place. “Suppose,” says he, “I prophecy that the Browns will win the Super Bowl next year. (They came in last place last year.) They win! You say, ‘that was a lucky guess’. But suppose that I also predicted the opponent and what the score would be and was correct? You might pay attention to what I have to say. But let’s go further: suppose I correctly predicted the exact scores for each of the other 16 regular season games and the attendance at each stadium and hit them all dead on? Just for good measure, suppose I predicted which players would be injured on both teams, the nature of the injury and the exact time on the game clock that each occurred? The next time I make a prediction, would you accept it? Would you believe me?”
That’s precisely what happened when Jesus came. The odds of all of the predictions in the Old Testament coming true were put in a computer and it concluded that the chances were 1 in 19 followed by 300 zeros. Let’s say that is a gross exaggeration by some zealot trying to prove the Bible. So we’ll make it 100 zeros. Who cares? What’s the difference? It’s impossible.
Now when my season of doubt arises, I retreat to those facts and ask myself the question, is it logical, practical, or even sensible to believe the Bible or should I to trust my doubts?
Secondly, I recall all of the situations which caused me to doubt in the past and see how God solved them. Can I think of a time where God really “let me down”? Absolutely not, so why would He this time?
When in doubt, don’t feel that you are alone in questioning, that He is disappointed in your humanity or even that your faith is weak. Recognize that faith is just that, faith, feelings based on spiritual understanding rather than proof. Simply cry out to God using the words of a man who, in desperation, brought his son to Jesus for healing: “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
Written By Neil Fichthorn: Rev. Neil Fichthorn is a seasoned conference and camping servant having served at Gull Lake Bible Conference, Sandy Cove Ministries as President, and an interim Executive Director at Pinebrook Bible Conference. He also served in church music for decades as a choir director and arranger. He has been Bill Welte’s mentor and friend for over 45 years.