I’ve always been a bit of a doubter. Growing up, I was that kid who asked way too many questions. I laugh now when my son comes to me with questions no other five-year-old is asking. I know exactly where he gets it from!
I’d like to think I’m just a little more analytical: an investigator or a good question-asker. Like most personality traits, there’s nothing inherently wrong with being wired to ask questions. It can even be a strength. But it can also have a shadow side.
That shadow side for me has often manifested itself in spiritual doubts. Growing up in a very legalistic church environment, those doubts often centered on my relationship with God. Sure, the Scriptures say, “There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Romans 8:1),” but am I sure that I am in Christ Jesus? If so, why would I have thoughts this bad?
Are Seasons of Doubt Normal?
Absolutely. My own doubts have taken different forms throughout my life, and even as a pastor, they haven’t disappeared completely. It’s normal to walk through seasons of struggle and confusion. Over the last ten years, as a pastor, I’ve been invited into many painful moments in the lives of individuals and families. As I’ve sat at bedsides where children were dying and prayed and cried with families, I’ve often struggled with them to understand why. The suffering in front of me seems so purposeless.
Perhaps my greatest period of doubt happened during my first two years as a college undergraduate. I left my fundamentalist church and Christian school bubble and became a philosophy major at a large, secular university. I fell in love instantly with this new world of ideas. But I also found myself, for the first time, under the teaching of brilliant professors who didn’t share my faith and were openly hostile toward Christianity.
I found out quickly that I wasn’t good at taking things with a grain of salt. I had to have answers to the new questions I was facing about my faith. I found these questions taking up more and more time each day as I researched, read, and begged God for answers. I can remember one night where the torrent of doubt became so acute that, as I laid in bed, I pondered how empty life would be if God wasn’t real. I cried out in my heart for God to give me a direct message, a sign He was really there.
How Do We Know God is Really There?
The Apostle John begins His Gospel (and His very lofty version of the Christmas story) by telling us God has given a direct message. We’re told “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God (John 1:1).” We learn that Jesus, the second Member of the Trinity is the Word, an idea that to John’s original readers would’ve meant that Jesus was a direct picture or expression of exactly what the eternal God is like! In other words, we’re told God has given us a definitive message. And that message is a Person, Jesus.
John goes on to say that all things are created or have their being in Jesus (John 1:3). We’re told that in Jesus is light and life. Although this passage certainly teaches that through Jesus, the Father created everything, it goes one step further. It lets us know that Jesus is the One who animates and illuminates all life.
If our very being depends on Jesus, and if He is the One who animates our lives from moment to moment, then life is never really going to make sense unless it is centered on Him and illuminated by His life. When we find ourselves lost in a cloud of doubt or confusion, grief or anxiety, depression or sin, the way out of the fog is to recenter ourselves on God’s living message to us – His Son Jesus.
3 Places to Encounter Christ in Our Doubt
Through my struggles with doubt, I’ve found there are three places I can go to meet the Living Word: a manger, a cross, and an empty tomb. At the manger, we’re reminded that no matter how hard life gets or how alone we feel, God is with us. We know He’s near not just because He told us, but because He showed us. In Jesus, He chose to leave heaven and enter the mess we made of our world and become one of us.
At the cross, we’re reminded that no matter how bad we’ve messed up or how dark life seems, Jesus wasn’t afraid to step into the darkness with us. He faced our darkest sins and didn’t turn away from us. And at the empty tomb, we’re reminded that no matter how bad this world seems, evil will not win. Jesus defeated sin and death. His resurrection life lives in us. We’ve got reason every day to live in hope not because life is easy or this world isn’t bad, but because good truly is ahead.
Lots of things have been helpful for me in my journey from doubt to faith. Study, conversation with good friends, and counseling have all played a role. But nothing has been more helpful than reminding myself over and over again of the Living Message, Jesus, and the story of the Gospel that’s embodied in Him.
What shape do your doubts take? Maybe sometimes you doubt whether God is there or whether His word is reliable. Maybe the events of your life make it difficult for you to trust His plan. Or maybe, you’re tempted to doubt your standing with Him. God sent a message for you the very first Christmas. His light still “shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:5).