Do you ever struggle with doubting God? Do you ever say or think, “Is all of this all really true? Does God really exist? Am I spending my life believing in something that is ultimately empty?”
While I’ve been a Christian for a long time and have attended three Bible colleges and pastored a church, I’m amazed at how doubt can still insert itself. And I’m really troubled by this. What’s going on here and how should I think about my doubt and how should I respond to it?
While there are many stories of doubting in the Bible, two stand out to me as examples of my struggles:
At times Peter could be a radical faith-filled risk-taker, but at other times he could be a real failure (Luke 22:54-62; Gal 2:11-14). In the story of Peter walking on water we see both:
And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” – Matthew 14:28–33, ESV
In this story, when Peter was eager to experience the miraculous life, he followed Jesus’ call and left the boat at great risk to his life. Peter is believing that Jesus will be faithful here. He is entrusting his life to Jesus. We also see that when Peter started focusing on the earthly problems in all of this, he started sinking. But Jesus would not let him die.
So, when Peter’s focus was on Jesus, he was on solid ground and was able to follow. When Peter’s focus moved to the obstacles he started to sink.
John the Baptist Doubts
God overtly had his hand on John from the very beginning (Luke 1:41-44) and, I think it’s safe to say, he was raised with a God-saturated vision of life and calling. And John’s doubting moment came after he had experienced the reality of Jesus and his miracles.
…And John, calling two of his disciples to him, sent them to the Lord, saying, “Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?” And when the men had come to him, they said, “John the Baptist has sent us to you, saying, ‘Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?’ ” In that hour he healed many people of diseases and plagues and evil spirits, and on many who were blind he bestowed sight. And he answered them, “Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, lepers are cleansed, and the deaf hear, the dead are raised up, the poor have good news preached to them. – Luke 7:18–22, ESV
John is in prison and about to be executed and evidently, he doesn’t think this is the way his life should end. And so he has questions about whether Jesus is really the One. Jesus’ answer was to simply pay attention to what has been happening. Jesus is miraculously changing lives and the declaration of hope is moving forward.
So, with both Peter and John, doubting God happens when their focus moves away from Jesus and on to the difficulties and distractions that surround them. Doubt happens when worldly logic is in control.
Just to be clear, it’s important to make a distinction as we face doubt. Are you doubting God as a Christian, or are you doubting as someone who doesn’t believe the gospel and is looking for evidence of truth? These are two very different things.
The unbelieving doubter – If you’re not a Christian, your primary need is to deal with your sin and the reality of what this means to your soul and to your standing before God.
The believing doubter – If you’re doubting as a true Christian you need to tighten your grip on reality. It could be that the distractions of this world have pulled your eyes away from Jesus. Here are three things you should do to overcome your doubt:
Go to Scripture
Just like Peter and John, we need to focus on Jesus. Dive into the Bible and prayerfully read with interest and observation. Read and re-read the gospels (and all the New Testament books).
Bring it to Jesus.
Confess the truth of your situation and where your focus is wrong. Pay attention to how the world is distracting you. Be like the desperate father in Mark 9:24 and cry out to Jesus, “I believe; help my unbelief!” or like the apostles in Luke 17:5, “Increase our faith!”.
Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. – Hebrews 4:16, ESV
Bring it to your church family.
Make sure you’re faithfully committed to a fellowship that is biblical in its focus and calling. Doubting God often brings a tendency for isolation from those who can help. We cannot survive without being connected to other believers who are there to help us.
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“God is never more glorified than he is by the believing confidence of his people when difficulties seem to come in the way.” – Charles Spurgeon
Make sure you read God in the Dark by Os Guinness