Doubts: Fatal or Futile?

October 21, 2013

Doubts - Fatal or Futile

Doubts - Fatal or Futile

Doubting. It is something familiar to all of us. Doubting covers the gamut of our human experience, whether it be doubts about your favorite sports team doing well this season, or whether or not the sun really is going to come out. Those types of doubts, however, are more often than not easily dealt with and alleviated.

As you move further and deeper into the human heart, doubts can become a bit more serious, stubborn, and chronic. They can be doubts about moving towards someone who has broken trust with you, or doubts regarding if God really and truly cares for you and is good. These types of doubts, spiritual in nature, have the ability to unmoor a person. Doubts like these often serve as the doorway towards deeper issues like depression, paralyzing fear, and chronic anxiety.

Spiritually Seasick

James, the brother of Jesus writes that one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind (cf. James 1:6). It is a fairly descriptive metaphor, and one, which most people you counsel with doubts can resonate with. The sense and experience of not having a fixed reference point, of being constantly in flux, of one’s emotions never truly matching up with what one knows to be true is at the end of the day enough to make one spiritually seasick.

If you counsel at all, you will inevitably encounter the doubter. It can be difficult and frustrating to counsel someone who doubts because encouraging them to turn to God and his word when they doubt his person and word only compounds the problem.[1]

How are we to come alongside the doubter? How are we to help and care? Jude, another brother of Jesus, writes in Jude 22, “Have mercy on those who doubt.”

It is always the simplest of truths, which are the most profound and helpful. Jude’s command to be merciful to those who doubt opens up the full-counsel of God in Christ to those who struggle in this way. You as a fellow believer are called to incarnate and serve as an ambassador of the Savior’s mercy and grace. You have opportunity to be a living, tangible, flesh and blood testimony to something greater, Jesus Christ himself.

Before his command to be merciful in 22, Jude writes:

  • “Building yourselves up in your most holy faith…”
  • “Praying in the Holy Spirit…”
  • “Keep yourselves in the love of God…”
  • “Waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life…”

Moving Forward in the Midst of Doubt

It is interesting to note that Jude’s words here are so relationally and action oriented. Build, pray, keep, wait…these are all practical steps of obedience to Christ, which can be done in and by his Spirit’s empowering with the body of Christ. So often, it is easy in counseling to seek to ‘convince’ someone out of their doubts. I have not found this to be as productive as simply listening to the counselee’s doubts, and then slowly asking some probing questions:

  • Are your doubts about your eternal standing (union with Christ) before God or doubts about His current care for you (communion with Christ)?
  • What do your doubts circle around? Are they doubts about God or about you?
  • Where currently in your life do you see God at work? Where do you currently see Him bearing fruit?
  • If you sense God is far and distant from you, have you considered that it is you who have moved and not God (cf. Isaiah 59:1-2; Jeremiah 5:25; James 4:8)?
  • In what ways do your doubts paralyze you or keep you from fulfilling your calling in Christ?
  • What would it look like for you to move outside the cycle of your doubtful thoughts and fears and move in small, faithful ways towards others?
  • Have you considered that God communicates His presence, power, and purposes through the body of Christ (local church) and through creation, which sings His praises and tells of His handiwork? If not, how can you engage in both of these in a more deep and meaningful way?

All of these are intended to help the counselor know the heart to whom he talks. Doubt is a powerful tool of the evil one. He used it on Eve in the garden, opening up the possibilities to doubt God’s goodness, provision, word and care. He has not stopped using it since then.

A seasoned pastor told me once that doubts about our faith are neither futile nor fatal. Neither futile, meaning that we should not ignore them and do nothing with them, but seek to grow in our understanding and love for God and others. Neither fatal, meaning that just because one doubts in no way means that you are not saved. The help of a merciful counselor and the Counselor will help the doubter rightly go to Christ in faith rather than engage in the endless cycle of speculative and paralyzing thoughts which so often accompany doubting.

Join the Conversation 

Have you ever struggled with doubt before? If so, what helped you in the midst of those doubts? What do our doubts say about us? How can they move us closer to God and towards others?

[1]I’m not saying that you should not point the person who doubts to God and His Word, but how does the counselor do so in a way which is gracious and merciful and not merely the dispensing of theological tidbits.

9 thoughts on “Doubts: Fatal or Futile?

  1. Thank, Jonathan. I appreciate your kind words on a subject that is so pervasive within the church.

  2. Thanks for the great article. I have struggled with, what I would consider to be severe chronic doubt / anxiety for the past year or so. It gets so discouraging as I fail to see beyond it and find hope. When I try to assert to myself the truth of God’s promises in Christ, I often find myself doubting myself…”Do I really believe?” I feel so distant and disconnected from God…yet every time I cry out to Him, He answers my prayer and shows me He’s there. I just feel so stuck! 🙁 I worry that I will just become so numb and caught up in this cycle that it will never end, and I will never be able to grow in the Lord, or I will fall away.

    Anyway, thanks again for the good article. Those questions will be good to ponder.

    God bless.

  3. How can a merciful counselor help someone who is struggling with doubt about their standing before God? The counselor can’t convince the person that they’re saved… Is there something else they can do to help?

  4. Thanks Drew for your openness and honesty. I myself have struggled with doubts like you have too. I think one of the signs of a person seeking to handle doubt wisely is that you do wrestle with it. The person who tries to ignore them or let them run unchecked typically run into more problems.

    The book of Psalm is so helpful here. Consider reading through Psalm 73, 88 and 89. The book of Habakkuk as well could be a helpful book for you on thinking through God’s faithfulness and care even when we don’t see it.

  5. Dear Han, thanks for the question here. I think some of the things mentioned above would be good starting points. I also think that people who are doubting oftentimes aren’t able to be intellectually convinced out of their doubts by some sweeping argument, but what can minister to a person is to stay with them in the midst of their doubts.

    Ed Welch at this year’s CCEF Conference had a line where he said essentially- walk with your friends in the midst of the darkness, until they see the light…and then stay with them in the light until they see it as beautiful. I think that really is a beautiful illustration of faithful, loving presence on behalf of the counselor who embodies the mission of the Wonderful Counselor!

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