Doubting My Salvation

By “Matt”

I was so strong in my faith as a very young man. I believed, trusted, had faith or whatever terminology you would like to use. Christ was the central focus of my every thought. Then, after years of feeling a call to ministry, God opened a door for me to begin preaching and teaching youth. I was 20 years old at the time, and one day, out of no where, I began to question if I was really saved or not. So I went to the Lord and “nailed it down” (Asking Jesus to save me if I was not already saved). I have actually “nailed it down” many times. This lead to wondering then what is true faith? I picked apart the word faith instead of just stepping out and trusting Christ. But over the last ten years, I have wrestled with doubt about if I am really saved. Strange enough, I don’t doubt the validity of scripture at all, never have. My doubt is “can I truly be saved”? Do I really have faith in Christ or more recently am I able to have faith in Christ.
The most terrifying thing is that assurance is gone. I actually had to start adapting around it and just say that its too much for me to deal with anymore. I never walked away from faith or Christ, never denounced him, but I certainly shelved it and began just going through motions. I have read evey possible publication on doubt through the years and been to so many pastors and counselors and called every single radio ministry, been on every kind of depression and anxiety medicine imaginable, etc. But, nothing ever seemed to help. So, every few months since 2007 I would put it away for a little while, that is to say I can’t deal with another dead end, only to pick it up or re open the case again hoping this time would be different;But, to no avail. Each time, it gets worse. Now, over time, as with anything that goes on for a length of time, you become desensitized. I guess I have felt it would never go away.

I have not sought a new religion, I still don’t question the validity of scripture or the power of Christ, or any theological things. I never have. Now, I am at a place of this: is my doubt emotional, volitional, a combo of both. Am I choosing not to trust Christ and hence am destined to live in this torture forever? I told my wife recently that I just want faith in Christ. That is all I want. People say “then get saved or just believe”, I guess I am the current version of the man in Mark who said “I believe, help thou my unbelief”. Never until now have I seen a community online, or otherwise, that specializes in this. If this community had been present earlier, maybe I would not have gone now 10 years with this thorn in my flesh. I commend the writers, and participants of this website and I am just discovering it.

Finally, one thing is certain in the midst of of my uncertainty and that is that I will not shelve it this time. I can’t! I need to know. I need help. There is so much more I want to say of my story, but I don’t have time to do so today. But I look forward in joining this online community. Let me leave this advice for people who may be new to doubt or have not been there as long as I have: I have heard it all from the devil, I have believed a great deal of it. His ultimate goal is to rob us of joy and faith. I hope this will bring healing in my life! God bless!


Piper on Doubt

 

Dr. John Piper, pastor at Bethlehem Baptist Church and founder of Desiring God, one of the men of faith I admire most, was once asked when he doubts God the most.  What he said struck a chord with me: “When do I doubt God?  Not in tragedy, but when I see the slowness of my sanctification.”


On Talking to Those Who Doubt

It is easy to find yourself in a position of illegitimacy. The first thing that you have to know when talking to most doubters is that they have a strong suspicion that you have never been there . . .  That you just don’t understand. I’ll get back to this in a moment.

Since I went through my depression three years ago, I have noticed something: there are those who understand depression and there are those who don’t. When I am down, I want to talk to someone who understands. And you know what? If you have not been through it, you normally don’t get it. I know that before I went through it, I did not get it. Solutions were simple. Stop sinning, trust God, talk yourself out of it, pray, listen to Christian music, read your Bible, get out of bed, think positively . . . Next! These were all my quick remedies that I would give to those who were groping for hope in the darkness of despair. Not so anymore. Now, when I enter into that darkness (and I still do),I  need to find someone who has been there. When I talk to people who don’t get it . . . who are like me before I went there, I just fall deeper into the black hole, finding less hope. It is only when I find someone who has been there, can admit it, and is not there now do I find some degree of solace. And I can tell. Those of you who have been there, you know exactly what I am talking about. Whether it is a look in the eye, their lack of judgmental advice, or their description of their own darkness, I know if they have been there. But most people are illegitimate to the plight of those who are in depression as they just don’t get it.

It’s easy to find yourself in a position of illegitimacy. It is no different when it comes to dealing with people who are doubting their faith. How do we talk to people who are in the process of walking away from their faith? You see, those people who are in doubt, are in a very similar black hole and they need to know you have been there before they will listen to you.

I am going to tell a story and change some of the details a slight bit for the sake of privacy.

Last year I had a church leader of a church in Oklahoma City call me. He was down and discouraged. He informed me that his daughter was doubting her faith. She was twenty-one and was just entering college for the first time. While she grew up in a Christian home of a conservative church, while she had been to youth group all her life, while she served in AWANA, the children’s ministry, and even led a Bible study, she was now questioning everything she knew. ”She is having doubts about the trustworthiness of the Bible,” he told me. “I heard from someone that you deal with this kind of stuff. Can you talk to her?” I had them come into the Credo House.

They arrived the very next day. We sat down at the Cappidocian Bar. It was a hot day so I made them a Nicene Mocha Frap. They were amazed at both the taste and the presentation of the frap ( . . . now I am getting off the subject and self-promoting my amazing barista talents). As we began to talk, I realized something very important: this girl was not simply having doubts about her faith. You see, there are two types of doubters. Allow me to talk about them for a moment.

Two types of doubters:

1) Those whose doubts turn them to depression because they don’t want to lose their faith. They are walking away from the faith facing backward crying out for help. Because of this, I have more hope for these kind of doubters, but are in need of emergency counseling. I have hope for them because I know that they want to keep their faith. Therefore, finding the source of the doubt and rebuilding a strong foundation is normally attainable (from a human perspective).

2) Those whose doubts turn them to anger because they think that they have been misled all their lives. They are walking away from the faith facing forward calling on others to follow them. It is not that I don’t have hope for these type of doubters, but I have less inclination to believe that their faith was ever truly established. Sure, these type experience anxiety and depression because they are leaving everything they knew, but they are more likely to turn into evangelists of unbelief if something does not change quickly.

I fear for those who have never doubted their faith more than for those who have gone through (or go through) the darkness of uncertainty. At least with both types of doubters above, you know that they are taking their faith seriously. Sooner or later you will know where they stand.

I quickly came to realize that this girl that I was talking to over coffee was the second type of doubter. It broke my heart as I looked at the anxiousness of her father as she expressed her doubts to me. It was not a simple distrust in the reliability of a particular portion of Scripture, this was full-blown antagonism toward everything in the Bible. This person was coming to the bottom of the hill of doubt and just about to cross the line to full-blown unbelief.

However, with both type of doubters, you have to gain legitimacy. And the way to gain this is the same for both. They need to know that you have been there. They need to see your battle scars with the Lord. They need to see that you have truly wrestled with these issues. They need to see that you walk with a limp too. Otherwise, you are immediately going to be written off as a naive Christian. In our postmodern society, naivety is the greatest disqualifier for your counsel and witness. So it is important that you raise your shirt and show your scar across your heart. And you know what? Your wound does not necessarily need to be sown up and closed. It could be wide open. You may be in the middle of the battle yourself. As long as they see you are/have been there and that you have still kept your faith, they will be much more likely to listen. It is just like depression. Once someone sees that you have been there, their first thought is hope. “I am not the only one!” they think to themselves. “How does this person hold it together? There must be a way!” is often their thought.

I know that this gal was very surprised as I trumped her struggles and doubts with greater struggles of my own. When she brought up the “atrocities” of the “Old Testament God” I told her that this was indeed a problem, but that that there was a much greater problem that I have than God leading the call for the death of nations (men, women, children, and animals), it was hell. Why would God allow people he loves to go to eternal punishment when he has the power to save them? I don’t know the answer to that (and please don’t let this blog turn into a debate about this issue). When she brought up a “contradiction” in the New Testament, rather than quickly solving it, I acknowledged it and then brought up what I believed to be a much more significant problem. Now, I have my ways of dealing with all of these problems, but this is not really want the doubter wants (or, at least, needs). They want (need) is identity. They need to see that you have truly been there.

There was a long baffled silence as I continued to acknowledge her problems and then up the ante. After a bit of time, I felt the question I was waiting for was arising within her mind. “Why then are you still a Christian?” A more fuller unexpressed version of the question was this, “If you have the same wounds as me (and more so), how can you still keep the faith?” It was then that I began. It was then that I had an audience. It was then that there was hope for this young lady. I then began to explain to her why I believed that true faith and doubt were compatible. Christianity is not understanding seeking faith, but faith seeking understanding.

If you do not show your true colors—worse, if you don’t have true colors, they will go to someone who does. Unfortunately, the crowd that they will find are made up of atheists, agnostics, and relativists. Why? Because they are almost always honest about their struggles. If they cannot find identity in a Christian crowd, they will find it in another.


Os Guinness on Doubt

“The problem is not that reason attacks faith but that emotions overwhelm reason as well as faith, and it is impossible for reason to dissuade them . . . [this kind of] doubt come just at the point where the believer’s emotions (vivid imagination, changing moods, erratic feelings, intense reactions) rise up and overpower the understanding of faith. Out-voted, out gunned, faith is pressed back and hemmed in by the unruly mob of raging emotions that one a while earlier were quiet, orderly citizens of the personality. Reason is cut down, obedience is thrown out, and for a while the rule of emotions is as sovereign as it is violent. The coup d’état is complete.”

God in the Dark, 25-26


Eight Points of Encouragement for Those Who Are Doubting Their Faith

1. Focus only on the issues that make or break Christianity.

Realize this: People can and do easily get off course, discussing, debating, and getting depressed over issues that are not linchpin issues to Christianity. From the details of creation/evolution to the inerrancy of Scripture, some people’s faith can be quite disturbed—quite unnecessarily disturbed. For example, while I believe in the inerrancy of Scripture, if one of the authors happened to get a detail wrong, this does not mean that the entire Christ story is false. In what area of life do we find the same standards? This can be called a “house of cards” theology. In other words, if one card falls, they all fall. Our faith should never be a house of cards. There are so many things that we are all going to be wrong about when we get to heaven. I have often said that theologians need to be well rehearsed in recantations in order to get prepared for heaven!

However, while the Christian faith is not a “house of cards”, there is a definite foundation. This foundation, first and foremost, is the resurrection of Christ. If Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true. If he did not, it is false (1 Cor. 15:3-4; 1 Cor 15:17). Since this is an historic event that took place in a public arena, with dates and people involved described, from a historians standpoint, it longs to be examined. As Daniel Wallace has put it, “The fact of the incarnation demands an incarnational method of inquiry and examination” (i.e. not a merely a “spiritual” examination).

Therefore, from a purely intellectual standpoint, I would set down all other studies, including conversations with those who are representing another religion, books about atheism, or the destiny of the unevangelized. Just to focus on this central issue of Christianity. There is so much good stuff out there on this subject, but I would start here and graduate to here and here. Listen or watch to the debates with William Lane Craig about the historicity of the resurrection. Again, if Christ rose from the grave, Christianity is true, God does love you, and we just have to work out the details. If he did not raise, the journey goes on and we look elsewhere. Rarely have I found someone who is in the crucible of intellectual doubt, yet has a strong conviction about Christ’s resurrection. A conviction about the resurrection goes a long way to stabilize your faith.

2. Doubt your doubts.

There are many doubts going through your mind. However, don’t mistake a doubt with a belief. Do not give to your doubts the credence that Christianity no longer holds in your life as if they have greater right to your beliefs than what you were formerly assured of. Remember, as unassured as you may be that Christianity is true right now, give equal unassurance to its alternatives, including agnosticism.

3. Make sure that you don’t lose fellowship with other believers.

Often Christians feel as if they need to validate their faith by only hanging around those who are not of the faith. I often see this with young men who are enthusiastically engaged in apologetics (defending the faith). The idea is that if the faith is true, it can withstand any onslaught. While this is true in theory, it is not very pragmatic in any area.

One normally becomes emotionally predisposed to those of their immediate fellowship. “Following the crowed” is a very effective means of being persuaded of the most unlikely beliefs. In fact, I have often said that if I hung around the flat-earth society members too long (and there is a flat earth society!), I may begin to doubt that the world is round. This is not because the arguments or evidence is persuasive, but simply because of implicit emotional control of belief that such constant fellowship affords.

Give equal (if not more) time to fellowship with those who are strong in the Christian faith. Our faith must be allowed access to the strength that common fellowship provides. Continue reading


Darrell Bock on Christian Doubt

I have asked a few respected Evangelical scholars and authors to contribute one paragraph each on the issue of Christians and doubt. I was going to post these all in one post, but the paragraphs are turning out to be too substantial to mix together with the others so I will post them one at a time over the next couple of weeks.

Darrell Bock is Research Professor of New Testament Studies, Professor of Spiritual Development and Culture (CCL) at Dallas Theological Seminary (More info on Darrell below).

Darrell, If you were talking to someone who is having significant problems with their faith, doubting whether or not Christianity is true for whatever reason, what would you say to them if you only had one minute?

It is called faith but it is not without reason. Faith means trust or belief. It does not mean you are certain of everything. It means there is a trajectory that in turn leads in faith to a full embrace of what God has done. When it comes to “proving” Scripture or events in it, I cannot do that for all claims. But what I can show is that the direction Scripture takes makes sense (and in places requires a knowledge or describes actions that suggest inspiration). Take one of Jesus’ major claims, that God would vindicate him by bringing him to God’s right hand (See Mark 14:62-63). Jesus was saying in the midst of the dispute with the Jewish leadership that if my tomb goes empty and you cannot find me after you do what you are going to do to me in crucifixion, then you can know God vindicated me and took me to share in divine authority by his side. I will be seated at God’s right hand. That is the point of Peter’s first speech at Pentecost in Acts 2:16-36. Something caused Peter to go from outright fear and denial of Jesus after Jesus was arrested to boldly proclaiming Jesus after the resurrection. The experience of the resurrection appearances and seeing that empty tomb did it for him. God must have acted, a message must be brought to the world of what God has done. Peter’s changed life is a testimony to those who struggle with doubt. Peter feared and doubted, but the assurance of the empty tomb and resurrection “righted” him as he realized Jesus was at God’s right hand, vindicated by God himself. That act showed God’s view of Jesus and endorsement of him and his ministry. That act of God was designed to assuage doubt.

Darrell Bock

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Darrell Bock: B.A., University of Texas, 1975; Th.M., Dallas Theological Seminary, 1979; Ph.D., University of Aberdeen, 1983; postdoctoral study, Tübingen University.
Dr. Bock has earned international recognition as a Humboldt Scholar (Tübingen University in Germany) and for his work in Luke-Acts and in Jesus’ examination before the Jews. He was president of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) for 2000–2001, and serves as corresponding editor at large for Christianity Today. His articles appear in leading journals and periodicals, including many secular publications such as the Los Angeles Times and the Dallas Morning News. He has been a New York Times best-selling author in nonfiction, and is elder emeritus at Trinity Fellowship Church in Dallas.

Find out more here.


Paul Copan on Christian Doubt

I have asked a few respected Evangelical scholars and authors to contribute one paragraph each on the issue of Christians and doubt. I am grateful to each one of these men for not only contributing here, but being the type of scholar who deals with such issues with openness. I am posting them one at a time over the next couple of weeks.

Most of you know Paul, but let me give you some information anyway. Paul is a Christian philosopher, apologist, and author. Copan holds the Pledger Family Chair of Philosophy and Ethics at Palm Beach Atlantic University. More about Paul below.

Paul, if you were talking to someone who is having significant problems with their faith, doubting whether or not Christianity is true for whatever reason, what would you say to them if you only had one minute?

 

Paul, if you were talking to someone who is having significant problems with their faith, doubting whether or not Christianity is true for whatever reason, what would you say to them if you only had one minute?

Sometimes doubts stem from a personal or relational insecurity that manifests itself in the wrong-headed insistence of having only 100% certainty in order to believe.

Knowledge can be defined as warranted true belief, but one can have knowledge without having 100% certainty. For those who question that “knowledge” does not always equal “100% certainty,” we ask: “How can one know with 100% certainty that knowledge requires 100% certainty?” Indeed, we can know various true things that rise to the level of “very plausible” or “highly probable” in our minds. (Isn’t it logically possible that my typing right now is just an illusion? It doesn’t follow from being logically possible, however, that this illusion is therefore likely true—far from it.)

One doubter with whom I’ve recently engaged acknowledged that his “100% certainty requirement” was really a defense mechanism that enabled him to feel comfortable in a state of neutrality—to justify his insecurity and lack of persisting in the hard work of committed belief. He confessed to his own insecurity about relationships and his own inability to commit to anything. He pointed to something from my book How Do You Know You’re Not Wrong? that helped him: “Skepticism—like relativism—tends to eliminate personal or moral responsibility since truth (which is crucial to knowledge) is systematically being ignored or evaded….We should consider the personal, motivational questions which, while not being an argument against skepticism, raise important issues that may be driving the skeptical enterprise. Blanket skepticism is an affliction of the mind that needs curing” (pp. 28-29). I rejoice that God has been very evidently at work in this young man’s life.

Paul Copan

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Paul has a Ph.D.from Marquette University (Philosophy), a M.Div. from Trinity International University (Divinity), a M.A. from Trinity International University (Philosophy of Religion), and a B.A. from Columbia International University (Biblical Studies).

You can find out much more about Paul by visiting his website: http://www.paulcopan.com/


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