Maybe you believe in God, but you’re not sure how to respond when someone asks why you do. You call it absolute truth, but you’re not absolutely sure about it. At times, you may have your own doubts about God and Christianity.
You probably know someone who is “deconstructing” their faith. They grew up in church, went to a Christian school or were even in ministry, but now they are not sure what they believe. They’re questioning the very foundations of their faith. And it’s incredibly uncomfortable, unnerving.
Let me lower your expectations right from the start. It’s unlikely you’ll have all your questions answered, and your doubts will not be eradicated. And that’s ok.
When we’re asked to accept Christian truths blindly, it does not form thick faith. Although it seemed helpful, the sentiment of the old bumper sticker which declared, “God said it, I believe it and that settles it,” has actually weakened faith.
It’s vitally important that we each take ownership of our faith. It’s not enough to believe in something simply because someone told you; there’s no depth to that. The realizations we uncover on our own terms have the potential to transform our lives. Fyodor Dostoyevsky wrote, “I believe in Christ and confess him not like some schoolboy; but my hosanna has passed through a great furnace of doubt.” From the refining fire of doubt strong convictions can emerge, forged by pursuing answers to our hard questions.
Doubt often gets a bad reputation, especially within Christian settings, but doubt can be hugely productive. It can paralyze us, yes, but it can also propel us to seek out truth. Times of deep doubt and earnest questioning have developed me—spiritually. The process of questioning has the power to open minds, give rise to new ideas, and reveal new horizons.
When the World Health Organization declared the novel coronavirus outbreak a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, it rocked the world. Instead of going to school, work or church, we sheltered in place. The simple act of hugging a family member—or even being in the same room with them—went from a show of affection to a potential threat to their health. Our mental health deteriorated. According to the World Health Organization, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression jumped by a massive 25%.
The pandemic also had an unavoidable impact on people’s thoughts about God. According to the Journal of Economic Behavior & Organization, “During the early months of the pandemic, Google searches for prayer relative to all Google searches rose by 30%, reaching the highest level ever recorded.” Their estimates indicate that by as early as April 1, 2020, more than half of the world population had prayed for an end to the pandemic. Death of loved ones spawned doubt about a good God.
Even before the pandemic, nearly everyone (including me) experienced seasons of wrestling with serious doubts about their faith. That questioning process often takes a person deeper in their exploration of God. Theologian Paul Tillich wrote, “Doubt is not the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.”
Embrace your doubts, ask your questions and seek out truth. Not every question you ask will have a clear answer.
Mystery abounds in this life, and there are spiritual realities that exceed our understanding. But I agree with theologian Peter Abelard when he said, “Constant and frequent questioning is the first key to wisdom…. For through doubting we are led to inquire, and by inquiry we perceive the truth.”
Even if you are not struggling with some doubts right now, it can be all too easy to dismiss someone else’s questions. You may want to tell them to quit worrying and to accept that there are some things we will never understand. And when you’re the one asking the question, it’s tempting to busy yourself with work, family and hobbies, trying to distract yourself to avoid the issue.
It’s easier than ever to dodge serious questions by engaging with our ever-present screens instead of the life around us. But dismissing someone’s fears or hiding from your own struggles doesn’t help anyone.
I surfaced from my struggle with doubt during dark days of doctoral work with an epistemological humility. After examining many other points of view in the history of ideas, I came to a place of acceptance regarding the limitations of human knowledge. There is much we cannot know. We don’t know exactly how our bodies extract all the nutrients from the food we eat, but we know enough to eat healthy food. We don’t know everything about life or why some things happen, but we can know enough to develop a relationship with the living God.
Our doubts can drive us to discover God’s reality, and more importantly to experience God’s love in Christ, and thus forge a solid faith. Even with our persisting doubts, and a lack of absolute certainty, we can be confident enough to love God and love others.