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:
- Talk to God about it. He knows anyway, so you might as well.
- Tell other people about it. People that you trust, obviously that part is extremely important.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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