Dealing with doubt

A couple of Sundays back we were thinking about the problem of doubt as it effects Christians. Very often a Christian will approach doubt quite differently from a sceptic.

A sceptic – particularly one who is new to the Christian faith – will often engage primarily at the level of the intellect. They will adopt a thinking posture in which they want to look at the arguments, read the Bible for themselves, weigh up the evidence. Of course, they will care about experience also, but experience is usually secondary. 

A Christian who is struggling in their faith very often struggles in a more intuitive, gut-level way. It’s not that they aren’t thinking, but that they may well assume they already know the main things about their faith – what’s lacking is experience. They might say, ‘God doesn’t feel real to me’ or ‘I’m struggling to relate to God’. This can grow into a full-blown crisis of faith.

I would encourage a Christian who is wrestling with doubt to try and engage more deliberately with their mind as well as call out to God in prayer – the two should go hand in hand. There are various reasons for this. For one thing, the Greek word for ‘faith’ can be defined as persuasion, and the fact is that if you have doubts then it means you’re not fully persuaded. Another factor here is that often Christians have not wrestled very deeply with their faith at this level for a long time, if at all. This is particularly true for those who grew up in Christian homes: you may have a broad understanding of the faith, but an inability to really explain why you believe, or what makes Christianity so compelling. You could start by asking yourself, ‘Would I be able to persuade someone else that Jesus rose from the dead?’ If the answer is ‘no’ then perhaps there are a few things you need to learn that will help you get stronger in faith.

For anyone who is in this situation, I believe that it is worth every ounce of effort to engage your mind and figure out how credible your faith is. There is an abundance of resources to help, but I want to suggest two to get you started. These books would be great summer reading:

1. Can We Trust the Gospels? by Peter J. Williams. This book is short and incredibly persuasive (much like my esteemed colleague). Williams is the principal of Tyndale House in Cambridge, and an amazing scholar. If you have ever wondered whether the gospels are reliable accounts of the life of Jesus, this is an outstanding place to start your investigations.

2. Confronting Christianity by Rebecca McLaughlin. This book has received glowing reviews, and it’s not hard to see why. It’s amazingly readable, but equally deep and well researched. McLaughlin deals with twelve difficulties – from religious violence to homophobia – all in a winsome and accessible way. This book made it onto the TED summer reading list.