I thought I was done with this. This feeling of being consumed with doubt. Of questioning everything I thought I knew about God and how God saves us.
I thought I’d beaten it — that I’d fought hard and won. I thought I’d conquered the fear that it shackles me with. I thought doubt was a season I’d moved past; a trial I’d overcome.
But here I am. Back at that place of uncertainty and doubt. I conquered this last year. I beat it. How did I end up in this place again?
Here’s the thing: Christians don’t like to talk about doubt. When I went through my crisis of faith last summer — months of consuming doubt — I realized that pretty quickly.
Nobody wants to hear you question the core beliefs about God and salvation. They aren’t prepared for how to deal with those types of questions. They don’t know how to respond.
Just pray, they say. Ask the Holy Spirit. He will guide you. That’s great, but since I don’t often hear God speak in an audible, crystal clear way, that’s not going to give me the immediate reassurance I’m craving. It’s not going to provide the scientific clarity I seek. That’s not how God works. God whispers, while we’re looking for shouting. And when all my certainty feels like it is falling apart, I don’t want to wait for the softness of a whisper.
I didn’t expect to experience this questioning in the first place. I’ve never wrestled with doubt. I told my mom I wanted to give my life to Christ at age 3, before I fully understood what that meant. I’ve gone to church all my life. As a teenager, I worked hard to make my Christian faith my own — not just something I believed because my parents did, but something I believed for me. I’d never once doubted the doctrine I was taught in church. But churches don’t get everything right. How do you figure out what is misguided or misunderstood human teaching, and what is the truth of God? Especially when Christians ourselves can’t even seem to fully agree?
I wish Christians would talk about doubt more. Because I know I’m not the only one who’s going through this. Maybe someone close to you dies, and you wonder how a good God could leave you all alone. Maybe an innocent child is murdered. My doubt didn’t come from pain like that, but mine still cuts deep.
Our world is full of pain. We live in a strange tension: God’s kingdom is already here, but at the same time, it has not come yet. And so we sit here in the middle of the pain and brokenness — being comforted by a God who weeps with us, but whose a time for destroying death and evil hasn’t quite come yet — and we wait. We wait for the day when God will wipe every tear from our eyes. But that day isn’t here yet.
After my summer of fear and questioning, I landed with my feet on solid ground. I felt stronger in my faith than ever.
I knew I didn’t have all the right answers. I couldn’t best everyone in a theological argument. But I had a sense of supreme calm and comfort. I’d wrestled with God — cried, yelled, begged — and God had wrapped me in love and peace. I felt so loved, cared for, and secure. I knew God wanted me to know and spend time with God, I just had to figure out how to see and hear where God was, and what God was up to. And learning to do that takes training, practice, and growth.
But I felt confident that as long as I kept searching for God, doing my best to live (and love people) like Jesus did, and follow God’s way, he would lead me more and more towards God … in God’s timing, not mine.
And I was good with that. For a full year. I felt stronger, more certain, and more secure than I ever had before.
Then this weekend, it all came crashing down again. The crippling doubt slowly wormed its way in. It took hold, and it began to grow like wildfire. Like a cancer, bent on destruction.
I’m back in the same place I was last summer. How do I escape? For the past year, I have being working — for the first time in my life, in earnest — to put Jesus at the center of my life and actions. Daily. Even when its not easy. I’m praying and reading the Bible daily (well, most days). I’m making habits of certain spiritual disciplines. I’m not standing on the sidelines. I’m out on the field, playing — sometimes I play well, and sometimes I fall flat on my face. But I get back up. And I try again.
I’m trying to live more like how Jesus did. I’ve been able to find ways that I can spend time with orphans and widows (as James encouraged early Christians to do), I’ve found ways I can help feed the hungry (at homeless shelters, nonprofits, and also college students at church), and I’m trying to help bring comfort those who are mourning. At the same time, I can’t crush the doubt that’s managed to creep in and fill me with fear.
But that’s what it’s like to follow Christ. It’s knowing we don’t have it all figured out. It’s knowing we don’t know. But it’s trusting — and trust in something you see clearly is sort of cheap; it doesn’t require much trust. Faith is trusting in a God we can’t see; in a truth we can’t fully grasp. It’s belief amid uncertainty. It’s scary AF.
Right now, it feels like my circle (church, work, family) is under some sort of attack. Pain, grief, and loss are showing up everywhere I turn. Our world is not right. Maybe everything around me is seeping in, maybe it’s part of what’s fueling my tornado of doubt. Wherever Satan sees God at work, he attacks and tried to destroy. Maybe this doubt I’m facing is where Satan knows he has a foothold.
Plenty of other things can’t rock me. This can. So maybe this doubt, this crippling fear, will be something I’ll face periodically throughout my life. Maybe it’s not something you overcome once, never to be attached by again.
Maybe doubt is like addiction. Like the eating disorder I conquered over a decade ago. Maybe it will always be there — pushed below the surface, crushed and barely breathing — but something that can gain strength and resurface when you’re at your weakest. Like a virus that’s just waiting for an opening, waiting for its chance to take you down.
Faith in God is being sure of what you hope for. It’s being confident in things not seen.
It’s like when I bawled my eyes out during the Lord’s Supper at church on the Sunday after my grandpa died, because after all that doubt and pain, I’d never felt so loved and so secure in my life. Because I’d never felt so sure that God loves me, and God will do all he can to make sure I can spend eternity with him.
It’s the feeling I got when I realized how much God wants to heal me. When one Sunday during Lent, I realized that God had just exposed a foothold the eating disorder still had in my life — something I thought I’d conquered, but actually still had power over me. A pattern of unhealthy eating I’d still been maintaining. And through practicing spiritual disciplines during Lent, that unhealthy pattern was exposed, and I was able to stop it.
The more I focus on God, the more God helps me to see chains that are still holding me down. People talk about how God works to heal us. Experiencing that healing — in whatever way you need it in your life — is amazing to experience.
And in the midst of all that, I still have doubts. How do I know I’m on the right path? What if I’ve misunderstood? What if I have this wrong?
All I can do is to trust.
To trust in God with all of my heart.
To not lean on my own understanding.
In everything I do, to acknowledge — to follow, study about, chase after, cry to, wrestle with, talk to, and work to emulate — God.
And God will make the path straight, will direct my steps. I don’t know where I’m headed, but I know who is leading me. It’s terrifying sometimes. But I know what it feels like to be covered in God’s love and peace.