What’s a Christian to do with doubt? Let’s plunge into the Deeper Waters and find out?
Recently, my father-in-law Michael Licona had an article show up where he was interviewed about doubt. Mike has been a very upfront person about the doubt that he has in life. We’ve had many discussions on visitations around times like Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’ve also known him to be very helpful when I meet people who struggle with a very deep doubt. He’s learned well from his mentor, Gary Habermas. I’d like to share some of my own thoughts on doubt to go along with his.
First off, Mike and I are very different people. Mike is a constant second doubter and I would not doubt he is much more emotional than I am. It takes awhile for me to be emotional, but when I am, it is intense. There are many people who think I am just cold, which is not really accurate. My wife would be the first to testify otherwise that I am a very sensitive fellow in many ways. Of course, this is important because there will be varying ways that people experience doubt.
Second, one mistake I think many Christians make in the area of doubt is that they think they have to have an answer for everything. Well in reality, you won’t. Mike and I could both defend the resurrection, but if it had to be one of us doing it, I’d hand it over to him. If it came instead to something like the arguments for the existence of God, he’d let me handle that one. Too many Christians think they have to have an answer to every question and know everything about every subject, but if you try to be a jack-of-all-trades, you’ll wind up being a master of none and just have a shallow knowledge that is easily exposed.
Third, one of the ways to better deal with doubt is to not run from it. It is to face it head on. This is often what we try to do with negative feelings. We try to suppress them instead of trying to face them head on. Now of course, when dealing with really negative feelings, you might need the help of a good therapist. When dealing with doubt, you might want to get the help of those who know more than you do. (You essentially will in any case since that will require that you read the best books that you can.)
I really recommend trying to read both sides. When you come across an objection that’s a really good one in your eyes, look into it. Also, try to avoid just looking on the internet for answers. In the age of the internet, anyone can be seen as an expert just because they have a blog or a web site. Now does that mean you should treat me seriously? Well that’s your choice, but certainly not like a scholar at this point. Please definitely avoid a web site like Wikipedia. One of the best tools you will find for your situation is really just going to a library and doing the research there.
Fourth, while you deal with your feelings, it’s best to try to not focus on them. Mike talked in his interview about not feeling the presence of God. This is another way where we’re different. I cannot describe my own Christian walk as one of regularly feeling the presence of God. This seems to be normative to many Christians that you’ll find in a church service, but I do not think I am alone in my own way of thinking. The great danger is that if this is made to be what every Christian is to experience, then what happens to the Christian who through no fault of his own and no lack of devotion to God does not experience such a thing?
The reality is you cannot make yourself feel something. If we could, we would make ourselves feel happy all the time. We can’t. What we can do is try to think things that could bring about a sensation of happiness. I often get the concern when we want freedom from anxiety or just a good feeling, we come to God and want Him to do that for us, but we don’t come to know Him for Him at those times. It is what is known as morally therapeutic deism. This is like a man who consistently comes to his wife because sex feels really good for him (As it does for any husband), but he just isn’t interested in coming to her for her. This is something we must be careful about in our Christian walk.
Fifth. as hard as it can be, try to not listen to your emotions. This is one reason you talk to people outside of yourself. They can see past issues that you might not see past because you are too busy listening to your emotions. You could also try writing down your arguments you are experiencing mentally and asking if B really follows from A. There are many cases where we think A, and then we just jump ahead to Z from that point on.
Finally, it’s important to note that we usually want absolute certainty and that can rarely be found in anything. When I meet someone who cannot be wrong in anything that they think, I often wonder why I should think they are right in anything that they think. Doubt should not be seen as a disease, but rather a chance to get further growth and a natural part of our learning cycle. In fact, I have more concerns about a Christian who never doubts what they believe. If you do not doubt it, you are not seriously thinking about it and if you are not seriously thinking about it, you’re just not taking it seriously.