Surviving Bouts with Doubts

For God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.

2 Timothy 1:7

Coronavirus. Political Cannibalism. Toilet Paper Shortages. Unending Negative News Cycles. Loss of connection. Loss of our general sense of well-being. Loneliness. Economic toll. We can all add to the list with our own stuff. We can all relate to feeling overwhelmed. It is easy to have nagging doubts creep in.

Every couple of years I sponsor a DOUBT NIGHT. A group of people gather and are given a 3X5 card to anonymously jot down their top doubts about God, life, death, and suffering. When read aloud the responses are usually not belligerent, arrogant questions of God but vulnerable, raw, naked, honest cries of the soul. Why do so many starve? Why pandemics? Why does the killer go free and the honest man die of cancer? Why does God not give me the desires of my heart? Why did that horrible thing happen to me in the middle of the night? Most find it cathartic to be given space to voice doubt and empathize with others.

We then blow up the three big myths about Doubt.

The first myth is that true people of faith never doubt. An imprisoned and surely weary John the Baptist asked Jesus if he really was the Messiah (Matthew 11:3). Jesus did not slam dunk John but was so kind. Some of the disciples doubted even in the presence of the resurrected Lord, and he commissioned these doubters to reach the world (Matthew 28:16-20). One disciple was nicknamed “doubting Thomas” (John 20:25). Jesus simply said to him, “Touch me,” not “Straighten up” or “Drop dead.” We can all relate to the man with the sick son who said, I believe but help my unbelief” (Mark 9:24). Mother Teresa, Martin Luther and other greats of history have experienced “dark nights of the soul.” Go ahead, breathe a sigh of relief. It appears that struggling with doubt is a natural part of being a follower of God.

The second myth is that doubt is always damaging. The truth is that a dose of doubt may strengthen our faith. Many who never wrestle, struggle, battle or question remain shallow. Faith built on emotions, feelings and pumped up experiences, often blows up down the road of life. Our faith can be refined by the purifying fire of honest doubt and come forth healthier and deeper. Do not be afraid to ask questions. In fact, “test everything and hold fast to that which is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).

The third myth is that doubt is the same as unbelief. Unbelief is a deliberate decision in the light to disobey God while doubt is grappling to understand sometimes in the dark.

A friend wrote me this week to ask this question. “If God loves us so much, why is it I feel He is not around or doesn’t consider answering my prayers? I wonder sometime where He is. Sorry to bother you.” What honesty. Welcome to the perplexity club. Many of the Psalms are lament, pain, sorrow, grief, pain, and uncertainty. God put those psalms in His book so we would identify and take those things to Him. In our brokenness and humility, we often meet God.

On cloudy days we learn to not doubt the existence of the sun or think the sun is not doing its job. It is always there. It is just a cloudy day. The same is true of God. Some days we do not see or feel Him, but He is always there caring and working. As Corrie ten Boom, the great follower of Jesus who survived a German concentration camp where her sister died under the cruel treatment of the guards, wrote, “When a train goes through a tunnel and it gets dark, you don’t throw away the ticket and jump off. You sit still and trust the engineer.” We may not always understand what God is doing, but deep down we know He is in control and He is taking us to our intended destination. Even in dark tunnels we hang on and keep trusting our Engineer.

How does one’s faith grow? The size of your faith is determined by the size of your God. A big God will lead to a growing faith. A small God will lead to struggle.

Are you familiar with Old Faithful in Yellowstone National Park? If one wanted to grow in faith in Old Faithful’s consistency, I would recommend the person go and hang out with Old Faithful for a while. After a day or a week or a month everyone confidently ends up saying Old Faithful is Faithful. Jesus does the same thing. He says, “Follow me” and “Come and see.” As we get to know Jesus, we get to know God. We discover there is no one as faithful, compelling, mysterious, gracious, and holy. Read the biography Jesus’ best friend wrote called the gospel of John. You can find it in any Bible. Pray the most dangerous prayer, “God if you are real show me.”

In the process of getting to know Jesus your faith will grow, and you will survive your bouts with doubts during our National Crisis. You will find: 

COVID-19 is limited.

It cannot quarantine hope.

It cannot shelter-in-place love.

It cannot kill faith.

It cannot cripple peace.

It cannot slaughter courage.

It cannot hospitalize confidence.

It cannot destroy friendship.

It cannot lockdown memories.

It cannot infect the soul.

It cannot reduce eternal life.

It cannot quench the spirit.

It cannot flatten the curve of creativity.

It cannot lesson the power of the EMPTY TOMB

PRAYER: Lord, thank you for your understanding when I have doubts. Help me to trust in you, and know that you are there, that there is a reason. Strengthen my faith through my doubts.