Over the years, I’ve had a number of Christians tell me that they’ve struggled with doubt, often for long periods of time. This doubt could have come for any number of reasons; a prayer of theirs seemingly went unanswered; they felt God had abandoned them during a time of trial; or perhaps someone leveled an intellectual objection at them that they could not answer and it caused them to question their faith. But while the circumstances for the doubt may vary, the end result is usually the same: they feel as though they are a weaker Christian for having doubts. Thus, our initial cause for doubt usually creates a vicious cycle of doubt in which we pile doubt on top of doubt to the point where we wonder if we have any faith left at all. But while we often let our doubts paralyze us, what does God think of our doubts?
To get an answer to this question, the first place we should look is in the Gospel of Mark. In the ninth chapter, we meet a man whose son was possessed by a demon that had been tormenting him all his life. The boy’s condition was awful; “Whenever it seizes him, it throws him to the ground. He foams at the mouth, gnashes his teeth and becomes rigid.” Like any loving father, he almost certainly consulted numerous doctors and physicians; but to no avail. No one could help the boy. Then, probably as a last resort he hears of the miracle worker Jesus and His disciples and thinks maybe they can succeed where everyone else has failed; after all, what did he have to lose at that point?
So he brings the boy to the disciples; and this too is met with catastrophic failure. They were unable to help the boy’s condition. Imagine how the father must have felt when one after the other, the disciples tried to heal him and could not. He probably shook his head in disgust thinking these supposed miracle workers were no miracle workers at all. He probably thought they were just a bunch of frauds and that the claims he’d been hearing were bogus. So then he goes to Jesus and says “Teacher, I brought you my son; he has a spirit that makes him unable to speak; 18 and whenever it seizes him, it dashes him down; and he foams and grinds his teeth and becomes rigid; and I asked your disciples to cast it out, but they could not do so.”
The response of Jesus is shocking and direct. He says “You faithless generation, how much longer must I be among you? How much longer must I put up with you? Bring him to me.” Now notice how He doesn’t condemn the father for his faithlessness and doubt; instead He speaks of the whole generation, and indeed, what He said could also apply to our generation.
Perhaps the root of our unbelief begins with our own predispositions. All too often we claim to believe in God, we claim to have faith, and yet we default to the position of philosophical naturalism. We believe in a God who is there, but yet we would handcuff that God behind the natural order of things. This passage of scripture shows that things were no different in ancient times; the father doesn’t believe his son can be healed because he probably doesn’t believe in miracles at all. Even when we claim to believe in God and to have faith; it’s so hard not to think that we live in a closed system in which God cannot or does not act and miracles are simply impossible.
But as Christians, we have to reframe that mentality. As an avid gamer, I’d like to challenge you for a moment to think of our reality as a Massively Multiplayer Online (MMO) game. MMO’s are known for attracting thousands of players from around the world and putting them into a virtual world that seemingly runs on its own. MMO’s have their own cities and inhabitants, their own governments and economies, wildlife and monsters. They are meant to be a totally immersive experience, and they usually are. I’ve certainly been addicted to playing a couple of them!
And yet we know that these games run on servers, and that the developers are frequently changing things in the game world. They put in innumerable updates and patches to improve the experience.
Now we know that God created our world, we know that He created the natural order; so if He is the developer, can He not act within His own system? Can He not interject “updates” and “patches” into the system as He sees fit? This is how we should look at the very Incarnation of Jesus Christ; it was not merely a patch; it was an overhaul. It was an invasion. With the Incarnation, God changed the natural order. The Kingdom; this unseen (greater) reality was made known in the person of Jesus Christ, and the power of that Kingdom that He implemented continues on to this day. The same force that would later heal this boy possessed by demons is still with us. So while we cannot always know the will of God; we must never assume that God cannot or will not act in decisive and powerful ways in our own lives today.
With that said, perhaps the root of our unbelief goes much deeper than our predispositions. Perhaps our predispositions are actually the ‘symptoms’ of a greater ‘illness.’ I would argue that unbelief is part of our fallen human nature and that because of our fall in the garden we are “children in whom there is no faithfulness” (Deut 32:20). We have layered doubt upon doubt from the very beginning when we tried to hide our faces from the Lord while He searched for us in the cool of the afternoon. In short, we doubt because we cannot help ourselves. By nature, we would sooner lean on anyone or anything rather than the Lord. By nature we would forsake the Fountain and grasp for “cisterns which have no water.”
So rather than hate on yourself because you have doubts, you should instead realize that it is only natural to have doubts and that our doubts will never fully go away until the Kingdom is finally realized in full. Having doubt does not make you a weaker Christian; it just means that you are human. And you would do well to remember that you are in pretty good company!
For example, in Hebrews 11 it talks about the Heroes of Faith. Every one of those heroes experienced periods of great doubt. Abraham didn’t trust God that he would have children, so he lay with his servant. Moses thought he was too old and not a good enough speaker to liberate the people of Israel. David slew Goliath and yet he was terrified that Saul would kill him. Elijah brought low a whole horde of false prophets and yet he hid from Jezebel in a cave. Doubt is simply a part of who we are, and we must learn to accept that fact. While doubt can be a painful process, it is an important part of our spiritual maturation.
As one writer put it, “many Christians fall into the trap of assuming that faith and doubt are mutually exclusive. They imagine that a real believer would never question the grounds for his faith and if one experiences doubt, his faith isn’t true. When confronted with arguments against Christianity they are thrown into a sea of doubt, believing that every plausible objection must be answered before they can rest in their faith.” But the story of the desperate father in Mark chapter 9 shows us this is not the case.
The father says to Jesus: “if you are able to do anything, have pity on us and help us.” He says if; if you can do something. This shows us that even a weak prayer, a prayer full of doubt is better than no prayer at all. So rather than falling into the abject defeatism of our doubts, we should be bringing them to God in prayer. He can hear us whether we are full of faith or full of doubt.
Jesus tells this poor father that anything is possible if he would just have the faith, and that is when he cries out with those famous words: “I believe; help my unbelief!” In this powerful statement we see that he has the foundation of belief; he has a kind of faith. His faith is like the poster that hung on Special Agent Fox Mulder’s wall from the X-Files; his faith said “I Want to Believe.” He just needed a little help to get there, and so do we. Don’t stop praying because of your doubts; pray through them, pray about them. Say as this father said: “help me in my unbelief.”
It is in times of doubt that we need to draw near to the Holy Spirit. John 14:26 says “But the Comforter, even the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said unto you.” The Holy Spirit is our comforter; it is in Him that we can find rest from our troubles. And moreover; He is our teacher. He testifies to our hearts the Truth of the Gospel, a truth that the world cannot understand, a truth that the world designates as “foolishness” (1 Cor 1:27-28). It is the Holy Spirit who will help us to overcome the obstacles of belief.
You see, I think there are times when we misunderstand what the Holy Spirit is or does; we may think of Him as a force or as a presence, but He is a Person. We can pray to Him, speak to Him directly and be assured that He will help us in our doubts, for “the Spirit helps us in our weakness. For we do not know what to pray for as we ought, but the Spirit himself intercedes for us with groanings too deep for words. And he who searches hearts knows what is the mind of the Spirit, because the Spirit intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).
And in your time of doubt, you would do well to know that the Holy Spirit is probably already present within you. Have you ever thought “God exists”, “I am reconciled to God” or “Jesus Christ loves me”? If you have believed such things, now or in the past, it is the Holy Spirit that has revealed it to you; He is the Source of all Truth He has already planted the seed of wisdom within you, or else you would have never believed Christianity to be true in the first place. I have argued on these blogs that the Christian God exists and that there is evidence for that belief; but ultimately, as others have pointed out; our faith is not dependent on such argumentation and evidence. Our faith is dependent upon the inner witness of the Holy Spirit.
So when you go through times of doubt as you naturally will, it is to the Holy Spirit that you should pray, so that He can ease your mind, answer your doubts and convict you of His eternal love for you. Holy Spirit we believe, help us in our unbelief.
PRAYER TO THE HOLY SPIRIT
Come, Holy Spirit,
fill my heart with Your holy gifts.
Let my weakness be penetrated with Your strength this very day
that I may fulfill all the duties of my state conscientiously, that I may do what is right and just.
Let my charity be such as to offend no one, and hurt no one's
feelings; so generous as to pardon sincerely any wrong done to me.
Assist me, O Holy Spirit,
in all my trials of life, enlighten me in my ignorance, advise me in my doubts, strengthen me in my weakness, help me in all my needs, protect me in temptations and console me in afflictions.
Graciously hear me, O Holy Spirit, and pour Your light into my
heart, my soul, and my mind.
Assist me to live a holy life and to grow in goodness and grace.