Doubt can be defined as “A feeling of uncertainty or lack of conviction.” While I have known a handful of believers who would state that doubt was never a struggle in their lives, the overwhelming majority of Christians I know have struggled with doubt at some level.
Unsurprisingly, doubt usually strikes in moments of uncertainty. Situations arise in our lives that are beyond our control and we are left with questions only time will answer.
Four Levels of Doubt
For the Christian, doubt often strikes at one of four different levels.
Level 1: Why has God delayed in doing what I know he can do?
Level 2: Does God care about me and my situation?
Level 3: How could God be good and allow this to happen?
Level 4: Does God even exist?
Notice how the question shifts at every level. The first category represents the doubts most Christians wrestle with in their lives. A family member dies unexpectedly and there seems to be no reason. Health complications emerge. An unexpected career change is looming.
Level two gets deeper. It still acknowledges that God is kind of in control but perhaps does not have a deep interest in our current affairs. Three openly questions God’s character and four gets us to the place of doubting his very existence.
How believers handle level one doubts will determine whether or not they regress to a level four condition.
Two Unhealthy Extremes
When I listen to Christian leaders speak and read what is written on doubt there are perhaps two unhealthy extremes. One camp calls for the dismissal of doubt all together. The second wholeheartedly embraces it.
I struggle with each of these camps for differing reasons. To those who dismiss doubt, I feel there is often a bit of naivety and lack of compassion. I agree with Timothy Keller that,
“A faith without some doubts is like a human body with no antibodies in it. People who blithely go through life too busy or indifferent to ask the hard questions about why they believe as they do will find themselves defenseless against either the experience of tragedy or the probing questions of a smart skeptic. A person’s faith can collapse almost overnight if she failed over the years to listen patiently to her own doubts, which should only be discarded after long reflection.”
Fortunately, there has been a lot of pushback against the “anti-all doubt mindset.” But along with this pushback has emerged another extreme that suspiciously represents itself as a lack of faith. Absolutes begin to dissolve and everything in life is a question. Personally, I have not found authors and communicators who land in this category to be very helpful.
In the words of Lesslie Newbigin, “To choose doubt as a philosophy of life is akin to choosing immobility as a means of transportation.”
How Do I Deal With Doubts?
So what do we do? Here are four steps that have greatly helped me in this area. And because I am a pastor these points are even illiterated!
1) Recognize Your Level
If you are struggling with level four doubts, your questions will be very different than if you are struggling with level one doubts. Ask yourself, “Am I just feeling uncertain and confused or am I starting to doubt the character of God?” Big difference.
2) Reach Up and Reach Out
Not once have I ever worked my way out of a time of doubt by myself. Without exception, every time I rose above doubt came as a result of reaching up to God and often reaching out to other people. Joy was restored by spending meaningful time with God in prayer and in his word. Help came when I was willing to reach out to other strong Christians and share my concerns. For believers, I believe this step is critical. We must be so careful not to let a day of doubt turn into a season of unbelief.
3) Reorganize Your Schedule.
At its core, doubt arises from a loss of perspective. I believe if most Christians were to be honest with themselves, they would see that their times of doubt are often linked to seasons of imbalance. Work, family schedules, and extra hobbies begin filling up the calendar while time alone with God is sacrificed.
It is amazing what taking an honest look at a schedule will reveal. Ask yourself the tough questions such as: “In the past week, how many days did I actually have meaningful time alone with God?” “Is attending a local church a priority on my weekly calendar?”
Consistently, when I counsel people who struggle with doubts, often these basic foundational pillars are missing from their lives. By reorganizing our schedules, we take a proactive stance rather a reactive approach to doubt. As Mark Batterson often states, “Change of pace X change of place = change in perspective.”
4) Reaffirm your commitment.
This last one I have taken from the Psalmist David. You cannot help but notice how often David would voice his concerns to God and then finish with a statement like this, “But you, O Lord, are a shield about me, my glory, and the lifter of my head.”
A statement that has helped me over the years is “Never doubt in the darkness what God has shown you in the light.” I love the illustration that when our spiritual train enters a tunnel of doubt and darkness, we do not choose to jump off. Rather, we sit back and trust the conductor.
Struggling with doubts today? That’s okay! But take some time to deal with them. Reach up and reach out. Don’t let a day of doubt turn into a season of unbelief. And most importantly, trust your conductor.