How to deal with doubts
to handle doubts that challenge belief and faith; examining and
on the path to ever stronger faith.
CLICK HERE FOR PRINTABLE
might seem strange to include an article about ‘doubt’ in this
section of the website, that is actually devoted to
for themselves that God exists (see Section Contents to the left).
However, the concepts of doubt and
faith are more inter-related than might be considered at first.
need for this particular article was made clear by a
reader of this website who forwarded a number of pertinent questions
via email. I had clearly overlooked, in my writing, the significance
that the process of doubt plays in all our journeys of faith.
Julie!) It is a fact that every
believer has the occasional doubt about his or her faith. Granted that
most believers have their own ways of knowing that God does exist, but the
fact that he (God) does not normally have an ‘in your face’ presence in our lives has to work against that to a degree at times.
The most important thing to remember about
religious doubt, as I have already indicated, is
that it is not an altogether negative frame of mind
at all, unless
we choose to make it
so. A previous church leader of mine told our
congregation from the pulpit, quite rightly, that doubt and
faith are not really opposites. In fact, he maintained that they should coexist
with each other to
assist us to better see. He actually saw the process of human doubt as
a gift from God that opens us up to deeper levels of understanding and
closeness with him. And as I shall later explain, it does!
Fundamentally then, doubt is a process that should
closer to God, rather than the reverse. By actively
these types of thoughts, analysing their
looking for answers, can provide us with the means for
stronger belief and faith: in the existence of God; and as Christians
accepting Jesus as our Lord and Saviour.
On the other hand, by suppressing doubt or not
addressing it, we place
ourselves in the vulnerable position where faith can unravel when it
is needed most, i.e. at the onset of a genuine life crisis. Yes, doubt
important issue on the
road of faith – for
both beginners and the experienced alike. And I have endeavoured in this article to approach the issues of doubt from
the perspective of both. I have also examined doubts that
particularly confront Christians (applicable to beginner
and experienced alike).
Answers simply need to be found as and when
doubts arise. This requires
some work on our part, but those who have enjoyed the fruits of faith
will understand that it is definitely worth it. Do not think that it is
beyond you! It is common for each of us to be tempted with
thought at times too.
DOUBTS OF BEGINNERS
are a number of hurdles that can confront beginners on the
road to faith. Firstly, we need to
really examine those ideas that challenge the very possibility of God’s
existence. Once we do have an open mind on the possibility
existence, we can then start to move forwards in building faith.
Our thoughts and feelings may also need to be confronted during
process. We must also
maintain the correct mindset on
our importance to God –
that is, he would want to enter into
a relationship with us.
that God’s existence is possible, or probable!
Doubts for beginners are often
about broad confronting issues. You
know what I am talking about. In this day and age too, with our outlook on life, it can be
challenging to even contemplate the possibility of something ... well
... as amazing as the concept of God. His existence just does not come
into the equation of
everyday life for a great number of people. Even though I do have deep
belief and faith myself, I absolutely understand these thoughts can arise, so
read on please!
Then there are those simplistic or
concepts of God
that we may hold, and all those deep, deep questions we
up over the years: “Isn’t
religion only for those who need a crutch in
life?” or “How come various religions have different views
on what God is
supposed to be like?” or “Why
do suffering and evil exist in our world if our creator God is
supposedly good?” or “Doesn’t science prove that God cannot exist?” I
have tried to answer these sorts of questions in the website’s section, “Faith and reason”. The
Article for that section, of the same name,
lightly discusses the issues. Supporting articles in
that section discuss individual concerns to a greater depth.
we genuinely evaluate all
to faith I can assure you that we find there is nothing
of substance to negate the possibility of God’s
evidence of God’s presence
For most of us, belief in God comes through the recognition
of his presence in the Church (in the case
of Christians) and within
our everyday lives. As I have said elsewhere, belief is built
experience of each and everyone of us, and we need to have accumulated soundly evaluated evidence from
within our experiences to support genuine faith, as opposed to
This whole section of the website is devoted to the task of finding
evidence of God's existence, by recognising his presence as defined above. As I
stated, this particular article resides in that same section. The Lead
Article of this section titled, “Believing in God” is supported by two other major articles, “God within the Church” and “God within our lives”. The Lead Article pulls the
two articles together to achieve, as I see it, the best
outcomes for each of us.
questions may still present themselves to those who are pursuing new
faith, such as, “Why can’t I quickly find the
God’s presence I need?”
or “Why haven’t important prayers of mine been answered!”
Again some of these types of concerns have been targeted in the
articles mentioned above.
I think that the two greatest
obstacles to faith, with
beginners, is trying too hard to gain faith or maybe just
expecting too much too quickly. And
when sound evidence, with
absolute clarity, does not appear as quickly as hoped, then the old
doubts rear themselves again. What
is needed is an element of patience in
approach. The term “hasten
slowly” could never be more true than in the
case of faith. St Paul was referring
to faith when he said, “But if we hope for what we do not yet have, we
wait for it patiently” [Romans 8:25]. My advice is not to worry, it will come!
do not forget to pray about the matter either. Bear in mind though that
God may wish to lead you towards some source of evidence that may not
initially sit well with you. If you feel you are being nudged in a
certain direction by God, e.g. attending a particular church or church
then go with it. I speak from my own experience here. In my late teens
began to have severe doubts. I prayed for help with them. In
answer God gave me a leading to attend a particular church
that I already attended at that time). Because having fellowship within
a different church was outside my comfort zone at the time, despite
having a friend
in that congregation, I did not follow through on it. I
subsequently became agnostic and eventually went on to become a
hardened atheist. It took me some fifteen years to find my way into
type of church environment that God had previously wanted me to enter,
and reap the benefits of palpable evidence of his presence there. You
about some of my experiences within differing areas of the Church in
the article I mentioned above, “God within the Church”.
a beginner’s sense, building faith is usually about taking
one little step at a time into unknown territory. Countless
people, over thousands of years, have built a case for God’s
in their lives, i.e. not through wishful thinking. They, by necessity,
have worked through their doubts and, building on their experiences,
developed sound faith. I am sure
too that it well pleases God when we start on the road to faith, but he
knows that the road may be bumpy for us at some
emotions and feelings
In the article, “Faith
I mentioned that all of us humans are somewhat cynical these days ... and
probably out of necessity! A commonly heard adage states that,
“If it seems too good to be true, then it
This saying is born out of the prevalence of scams
that abound in this time of ours. Therefore, none of us should be
surprised when our mind tells us that what is shaping up
us, on our search for faith,
is all just too incredible! I
know that I experienced that feeling a few times myself along the way,
and I still do on rare occasions despite the
significant amount of evidence resting in my ‘grey matter’. We must
thoughts, feelings or moods with intellectual reasoning, i.e. yes,
things that are happening really do
indicate there is something in
I have written elsewhere that proof of God’s
existence should appear to us ‘beyond
reasonable doubt’ if we are to build faith that will serve us effectively,
and that is what I meant earlier in this article by soundly evaluated evidence. But, it is to be
expected that the term itself, “beyond
reasonable doubt” will mean different things to each of
us, bearing in mind that
no two individuals think exactly the same way. Emotions and feelings definitely play a role
in this decision making. For an atheist, who has his or her
negativity for this subject, no amount of evidence will ever be enough.
It is most
unlikely that God will ever actually appear before us, in this lifetime
at least, to change such a view (and that it is what is expected by
many an atheist). God has chosen to be invisible for good reason, and
that is explained under Heading 6 in the Lead Article “Believing in God”.
Unfortunately, I also know that some
people who actually want
to believe in God, maybe badly, seem unable to relax into a
faith. Their minds continue questioning, “what
if?” or “why?”
long after others would have accepted the likelihood of God’s
existence. Often this is a result of our genetic inheritance,
can be just born with a questioning nature. Sometimes too, it stems
from an emotional or psychological state that
affects all areas of life and not just religious faith. And
some people have suffered considerably in life, to arrive at that state
of mind, not the least being those who have done so at the
others that they trusted.
The questions ringing in the minds of those particular folk are, “If God exists, where was he during those
times?” or “Why
did he let it happen to me?” Counsel may need to be sought
from someone who will
use indoctrination or fear as tools of coercion, but would
all else, if
you find yourself in this frustrating position of not being able to accept that you do have enough evidence to fully allow God into your life, please do not hesitate to invite him to assist
you. And somewhere along the line we all must acknowledge that enough is
enough, then just flow with faith! It is within the application of
faith – i.e. walking with
God by following his guidance, asking for and receiving
his assistance, attending church services etc –
that, as I have already said, we find genuine evidence of his presence
in our lives.
I have stated under the heading, “Christian
Doubt” later in this article, will apply to the
beginner as much as the experienced believer.
Christianity itself has a high degree of believable substance.
Understanding the high
probability of fact within its scriptures,
and the application of their guidance to life, helps to deliver a self
religion to us.
God wants a relationship with YOU !
area of thought that can prevent the growth of faith, and
therefore increase doubt for beginners,
is related to comparisons of ourselves to God. That
viewing ourselves as insignificant specks of life in comparison
to God, the creator and sustainer of the universe. Maybe you
know these nagging
too insignificant to be bothering God?” or “Will God
really have time to help me with my small issues?”
or again, “How could God love me, let alone forgive the
bad things I have done in my life?” The
truth actually is that each and everyone of us is just as special and
important to God as anybody else on Earth, or anything else in the
universe for that matter. God is all powerful (i.e. absolutely without
can readily deal with each and every one of us, on a one-on-one basis,
at any one time.
remember that God wants
us to invite him
lives. So we must not
to involve him there. Also remember that he loves each one of us
deeply, whether we love him
back or not! By becoming
us, in any way that he can, allows God to demonstrate
his existence to us through his love. And that folks is what
is all about! We must
ourselves a degree of self importance in the greater scheme of things.
If we do
not approach him, or otherwise let him into our lives, then we
cannot truly discover his presence and enter into that all important
two-way relationship with him.
think that you are not important to God!
DOUBTS OF THE EXPERIENCED BELIEVER
is okay to have doubts, no matter what our stage in faith
or life might be. As
I have said it is never uncommon for us to occasionally think that this
is all just too incredible to be true! Yet, as I also stated above, if
we challenge doubts when they arise
then faith will endure and grow. Indeed it is useful to actively
challenge our beliefs at times, to identify or pre-empt flaws that may ‘trip us’
a later date, and then subsequently eliminate them through research and
logical evaluation. This is particularly applicable when we reach major
stages in our lives and journeys of faith, e.g. adolescence, old age, fresh faith, mature faith.
3.1 Doubt affects
It does not matter how long any of
us have had faith, doubts will still arise. The
to doubt, from us, might be one of annoyance. That is, we thought we
had it all
together and now here comes some new question to challenge our views.
When it does happen, whether due to emotions and feelings or a question
raised by an external source, the mature believer knows better than to
shirk off the
new doubt allowing it to fester in the unconscious mind, to
periodically surface and undermine faith.
Doubts need to be
analysed rationally, i.e. “why?”
when they occur. My own
experience has actually verified my church leader’s
provided earlier, in that questioning
of doubt has only ever led me towards a deeper understanding of God and
relationship with him. And I have had to accept some significant shifts
my thinking over the years I can assure you. Also, when I am
extremely vexed over a doubt I admit to praying for assistance in
seeing why things appear to be as they are.
my experience too, serious religious doubt more
often strikes when I have, through selfishness, left God out of my life
for a little too long. I think this happens to most of us at some time
or other. When we turn our minds back to him again all manner of doubts
flood our thoughts. My
own antidote is to just ‘fast forward’ my
memories, revisiting past experiences of God, and then reopen my
mind to recognise him in my life again.
Obviously it is best
to continually walk closely with the Lord, rather than allowing a gulf
to grow between
us. To my mind again, the more we involve ourselves with him, the more
evidence of his presence will occur thereby regularly reassuring us.
So, it is best to talk to him regularly, and
to best live our lives as he guides us to do.
it is useful to keep our knowledge of God growing; maturing by
regularly reading the Bible . There are many publications available to
assist us in understanding the Bible's big picture for us etc.
faith when life circumstances change
is also true that beliefs require a serious re-examination
at different stages of life. There is a real risk that serious doubts
may occur as a result of challenges arising at these times.
beliefs change as powers of reasoning, knowledge and social
interactions grow. Simple views of religion learnt from parents, Sunday
during earlier years may no longer support faith during the approach to
adulthood. Additional learning and a new informed, more mature
commitment to faith may be necessary. As in my case, explained above,
look for God’s
leadings to assist you.
Those approaching old age, or
those suffering from debilitating illness or injury, may also need to
re-examine their faith to understand how it fits within a life where
independence and so-called quality of life may have been lost.
The article, “Suffering
and Evil” found in the last major section of this
website certainly examines related issues and God’s
role within them.
DOUBTS ON CHRISTIAN FAITH
is a fact
of life that we Christians will occasionally have our core beliefs
and/or personal values challenged by other people who are ill
or simply have alternative outlooks. Even our own minds may throw up
such doubts. Either
way, we need to be prepared to face these assaults on our belief and faith.
4.1 Knowledge and
Research and study will
demonstrate that belief in the Christian
scriptures can be based on the very high probability of events they
include. The New Testament’s
complex and interwoven information is
self supporting. Important historical
facts within it are also supported by written
records from secular sources of around that time. The final section
of this website provides an understanding of Christianity and its Lead
Article is titled, “Christianity
explained”. One of its supporting
articles, titled, “Evidence
of Jesus” evaluates the credibility of
Christian Scriptures. Understanding the scriptures themselves, and
knowing that evidence to support the historicity of major events
them does exist, is the way to address these types of challenges to our
Talking with people, or reading works, from
other religions can also raise challenging problems
for the experienced Christian. Knowledge from another person’s
may simply conflict with our own beliefs. We need to know how to deal
with this, so that our own faith is not compromised. As I
have written elsewhere, most religions contain some Truth. As a
Christian I obviously believe that Christianity holds more Truth than
others, or I
would not be committed to it. But, when in tolerance of other
religions and I talk to people with different views, I expect to be
confronted with opinions which just do not fit with doctrine that I
accepted through faith alone, e.g. an afterlife with God as opposed to
say reincarnation of the human soul. Obviously I
cannot receive evidence of eternal life until I die
myself, but because other things stated in the Bible are well evidenced
in writing, or are proven out through everyday life and church
experiences, then I feel confident when accepting the promise of
with God after physical death. The article, “So,
What is God?” includes an attempt to reconcile
differing religious beliefs.
either that regular attendance at church, and as
much involvement with its events and mission as possible, can make
the ‘reality’ of
Christianity very clear to us. Again I recommend you read the
within the Church”. Contact with the Church
and every one of us to better make the quantum leap of
accepting Jesus (the Word)
as genuinely alive and intimately connected with us, rather than
just an identity existing within the Bible.
communication with God is also essential, i.e. prayer. As Christians,
it is not sufficient to just to believe in God, but to have a personal
and intimate relationship with him. As Christians we must also commit
ourselves to Jesus as our
Lord and Saviour. Such a relationship really helps when the ‘chips are
be it when a life crisis occurs or when a serious doubt
confronts us. We can ‘soldier
on’ through God’s grace, as it were,
until a state of emotional recovery occurs.
Conflict from the pulpit
in mind that what follows is my opinion only, and not necessarily
accepted by all others. I really do feel a bit uncomfortable in
challenging the views of other committed Christians, but I obviously
feel the need. So.....
upon where we have fellowship (which church we attend) it
is possible to hear statements from the pulpit
that can actually create
doubts within our minds. This can occur for example when clergy,
fundamentalist views, insist on doctrine being exactly this
or that when, as I see it, it is not necessarily essential to
doctrine unreasonably conflicts with deeply felt ideals or
knowledge held by
can be based on a single verse here or there in the Bible and to my
not reflect the
full context of related issues presented elsewhere in it. We can hear
sorts of narrow opinions on: how one is ‘saved’or
not saved; whose prayers will be answered or not answered; odd
statements in the Bible (Old or New Testament) that have
to be taken absolutely literally no matter what the cost, even when
as I say they are unrelated to the essential teachings of our religion.
particular area of concern to me, that also occasionally occurs within
fundamentalist churches, is the denial of doubt itself,
i.e. considering it to be wrong, and maintaining that it
relationship with the Lord. Doubt itself thus can become a source of
for lay people in this environment. (Of course this is the opposite
view to the one held by my own church.) As much as
I respect my fellow Christians, my belief is that
such a view
misses the very
basis of Christianity. It is a religion of
fear! In fact, its God
– i.e. the God that most Christians attest to
believing in – so
loved humanity that he
became human and painfully sacrificed himself for us all. I think most
would accept that we will
if we commit ourselves to
Jesus as our Lord and Saviour. A few doubts along the way, in
journey of faith, will surely not deny us
the outcome of that promise made by our loving God.
the views or doctrines of our church interfere with the very basis of
our faith, then we need to think rationally, pray about the issues and
then seek advice from other credible sources. I am not suggesting that
we should leave our churches in all such circumstances, especially if
we feel largely fulfilled
there, but we do not have to accept every word that is spoken from the
pulpit either. The Lord himself will guide us to what is right and
proper in our individual journeys of faith.
4.3 St Paul’s
following verses, written by St Paul to the church in Philippi, can be
applied to guide us when faced with doubt [Philippians 4:6-9]
Do not be anxious about anything, but in
everything, by prayer and petition,
thanksgiving, present your requests to God.
And the peace of God, which transcends
guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Finally, brothers, whatever is true,
whatever is noble, whatever is right,
is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is
or praiseworthy –
think about such things.
Whatever you have learned or received or
heard from me,
in me – put it
into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
from these verses when applied to doubt and faith are: don’t be
stressed and duly pray about those issues; remember what holds us to
faith; put the scriptures into practise with that faith; God
will protect our faith in both our emotions and reasoning; and
God of peace will therefore always be with us.