Wrestling, limping, and wrestling again: what to do when you doubt God

I’m quite pleased with that title, but I feel it’s a bit too generous for what I’m actually about to say. I don’t actually know what to do when you doubt God. I’m just making that clear right now: I am not an expert! Go and speak to someone who is actually qualified to talk about these things!

I’m just a person.

Usually I like to be honest. (Not in a ‘I’m sorry, I need to say what I think, because I’ve GOT to be honest, that’s just who I am!’ kind of way, shortly after saying something completely unnecessary and insulting. Those people suck.) No, I like to be honest in a slightly exaggerated ‘look at how rubbish I am’ way.  Or at least in my happy internet space I do.

I don’t like being honest about certain things, though.

I don’t like to tell people when I’m doubting that God exists.

It’s not a good thing to say, is it? I don’t know. I’ve just never felt that safe to say it. Even amongst my closest, they’ve-seen-me-in-my-darkest-days friends. Because I don’t like to worry people. I mean, as a Christian during my happier times when faith came much more easily, if a friend approached me and said ‘do you know, sometimes I wonder if God actually exists’ I would have worried, at least a little bit.

I go to church. I go to a wonderful, vibrant, and frankly excellent church that everyone else should be jealous of. (I’m aware of how unChristian that last sentence was). And yet I’m too wimpy to discuss it. Because when exactly? Do I stick my hand up in the meeting and say ‘er, does anyone else ever feel like this whole thing is kind of weird?’ Do I drop it into conversation in the queue for coffee and cake with the person I only know to say hello to on a Sunday? (‘How are you, my love?’ ‘Oh, you know, having an existential crisis, questioning everything I’ve ever believed. You?’)

In reality, of course, church is the perfect place to talk about this stuff. As a family of believers, its our job to encourage one another. To lift each other up when someone is falling behind. To be honest with each other. To have the courage to say ‘I’ve been there.’

But it’s harder than it looks to  be that honest. To purposefully make yourself vulnerable to someone else.


I do doubt. Sometimes. Sometimes when I am feeling low and I am drifting away from God a little bit, I start to question the whole thing. But usually the doubting comes in dribs and drabs. I start to wonder about certain elements of my faith, and it feels like if I start picking it apart the whole thing might crumble around my ears, so I try to leave it.

But leaving it doesn’t work. Some elements of having faith are just hard, and ignoring that difficulty instead of looking at it full in the face and dealing with it is just not the right thing to do. But looking at it and praying about it and talking to other people about it just seems like hard work, and I start wondering why faith doesn’t come as easily as it used to, and why I have to keep being so pernickity all the time, poking and prodding at things that should be left well alone.

And I know. There’s room for this kind of thing within faith. There’s a purpose for it at times. Because questioning is better than being stagnant. Worrying about your relationship with God is better than not ever thinking about it. And doubting is a natural consequence of not being able to fully understand something. Anything that helps break the idea that we’re totally in control all the time is a good thing, right?

But while I’d happily reassure a friend that, yes doubt is okay, doubting is fine, don’t worry, everyone doubts, I don’t think I have the confidence to walk into a room of people I know and say ‘hey, yesterday I had the unbearable thought that maybe I’ve imagined this whole thing.’

Because in real life it sucks. In real life, doubt isn’t some kind of neat little hurdle you have to hop over to be handed a cool, relatable story to tell afterwards. Doubt is really hard and scary and isolating. I mean, I want to be like my mother in law. Arms in the air, singing with abandon. (During worship, obviously, although she does like a good sing song.) When I’m in my deepest doubts, I look at people like her and think ‘Lord, just once I want to be standing here doing that and just believing and trusting in You and not standing here wondering about the inerrancy of scripture or why You allow suffering.’

When you’re in the midst of doubt, it can feel like you’ve been there forever and that you might not ever get out of it again.

When you’re in the midst of doubt it feels like no-one else in the world has ever felt the same way and that you must be, without a doubt, the worst Christian, at the very least in your church, and if not, the whole of England. (Not the world. Let’s not go that far. I mean, I do attend church most of the time.)

I mean, I say it all the time to my friends. ‘You just need to have faith.’

But that is the essence of faith, isn’t it? There’s got to be an element of unknown. Otherwise it isn’t faith. It’s just knowledge. Those are two very different concepts.

And check out scripture (I mean, this might not be a quote you would want to have printed and framed):

Long enough, God— you’ve ignored me long enough. I’ve looked at the back of your head long enough. Long enough I’ve carried this ton of trouble, lived with a stomach full of pain. Long enough my arrogant enemies have looked down their noses at me. – Psalm 13:2

I particularly like the Message translation above because it sounds extra dramatic. (‘Long enough, God. YOU’VE IGNORED ME LONG ENOUGH!’)

And the whole Doubting Thomas thing, in which Thomas, despite having just witnessed Jesus appearing in front of them, demands more proof before he will finally believe what he is seeing.

And pretty much the entirety of Ecclesiastes, in which the writer is basically asking ‘what is the point? Of life, I mean? Seriously, what is it?’

But if you’re going through this then all these quotes might not feel particularly helpful right now. I’m sorry. But you should look into it. See how much of the Bible is made up of people struggling, doubting, wondering, feeling abandoned, desperately screaming out to God and not hearing him, and generally not coping with life. You are not alone in your doubt. You never have been. Doubt existed long before you did.

And to make use of my (frankly, great) blog post title, here’s a few things that you might find helpful:

  1. Talk to God about it. He knows anyway, so you might as well.
  2. Tell other people about it. People that you trust, obviously that part is extremely important.
  3. Look up doubting. Seriously, look into it. Read books about it. A lot of well known Bible teachers have delved into the topic of doubt at some stage. Podcasts are a good source, too. I’ve been enjoying the Mid-Faith Crisis podcast at the moment. Sometimes just knowing other people go through the same thing is a huge comfort.
  4. Remember what it was that drew you to God in the first place. Or rather, how God drew you to Him. Consider the origin of your faith: recall your past experiences with Him.
  5. And finally: don’t allow yourself to overthink things to the point where you get stuck in a depressing corner of bewilderment. Go outside, get some fresh air, talk to people, take the pressure off. Things will get better in time – not everything has to resolve itself right this second.

And know that sometimes I don’t actually take my own advice so I won’t judge you if you don’t take mine.

Linking up with:

 

14 Comments

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  1. It’s interesting the language and connotations. Good and bad, light and dark. I believe that you can be good independently of God, just as you can be bad independently of God. I also know that there’s no proof, so it’s up to the individual if they want to believe or not. Despite what a person chooses being a ‘good’ person, whatever that means for you is a path we all can take, outside of religion. #AnythingGoes

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for your comment. You’re right, we can all make good or bad decisions outside of religion. I see a need for kindness in the world right now and I hope that people will step up to that and be kind to one another regardless of their beliefs x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I struggle sometimes as well. God is big enough he can take it. Look at all the guys in the OT that struggled with the tasks God gave them. Yet he still managed to use them! Hang in there! #anythinggoes

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  3. I love that you write you need to have faith. Because if it’s not faith, it’s knowledge. This is all a world I can’t relate to, but I think it’s lovely there are things available to help you to make up your mind or clear the fog a little, like the podcasts. That’s really lovely and I’m sure many, many people have benefited. #TwinklyTuesday

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  4. A very strong post. I admire you for that and I struggle with telling people that sometimes I also doubt God. Not only in his existence but his love. I know I shouldn’t, and like you say, I should have faith, but sometimes I’m just not strong enough. But I always go back to his words, find strength in his words and take it a bit at a time. #DreamTeam

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    • I think I doubt His love more than His existence. Which is ridiculous when you read scripture, but little niggling thoughts get into my head sometimes. That’s good advice – just taking it a bit at a time x

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  5. I LOVE this! I love your honesty and your worries and, in strange way, find it encouraging. I am very involved in my church (I lead the worship team & head up some of the kids work) and most of the time, it’s fine, but then you go through a patch where you’re just not sure… but all of those church jobs still need doing so you just kind of carry on, feeling like a fraud… and then after a while you realise that you’re okay again and your faith is back. But you’re right – faith wouldn’t BE faith if it was obvious and easy – there has to be an element of doubt to make it faith. #dreamteam

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much! It’s a relief to know I’m not alone. Glad you feel encouraged by my own wobbly-ness 😉 yes, some weeks I’ve found myself helping at church like normal despite battling with doubt, and not really knowing how to balance it all! x

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  6. I really admire you for admitting your doubt – it can’t have been easy to write that post. I confess that I am not a believer myself but us non believers get to have doubts in other stuff too. Thanks for linking up with #TwinklyTuesday

    Liked by 1 person

  7. I agree that you have done such a strong thing to put yourself and the doubt out there through your writing. I hope the process of blogging everything down has helped to untangle any knots you may be feeling. Thank you for joining us for the #dreamteam x

    Liked by 1 person

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