The person who struggles with major doubts about her beliefs also struggles with her behavior because the two don’t mesh; there isn’t a fit. We think, This is how I’m supposed to believe. But secretly she admits, Sometimes I don’t think I believe any of it. These doubts affect not only our peace but our actions.
A while ago I received a letter from a woman who was afraid her many doubts would keep her out of heaven. She had received Jesus as her Savior in her early twenties, married a Christian man, attends church regularly, and is active in her church’s women’s group. But she said she frequently wonders if the whole “God story” is true. Sometimes it sounds as far-fetched as a Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale.
She especially struggles with the resurrection story; it is a major stretch for her to believe it. On the other hand, she is terrified of the possible consequences of having so many doubts. She wants to be a Christian, and her fear that maybe she really is not has caused her problems with depression. She didn’t feel she could share her secret doubts with any of her friends — and certainly not with anyone in her church. Instead she shared her question with me:
Can a person struggle with doubt and still be a Christian?
A young friend of mine confessed similar doubts when she admitted she was bored in church, she found the Bible difficult to understand, and her mind roamed all over the place when she prayed. She feared she might not be a Christian. How can a real Christian be bored out of her mind with everything that has to do with being a Christian? Did Jesus really come into her heart and life when she asked Him to? Did she maybe miss a step or two in the process? Will she make it to heaven?
The Bible clearly states the “right steps” we take to be sure we are heaven-bound when we die. Let’s refresh our minds on those steps:
1. God’s plan is that you know you are loved and that He created you so that you might know Him personally:
God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. – John 3:16
This is eternal life, that they may know You, the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom You have sent. – John 17:3
2. The way we can know God personally is to receive Jesus Christ as Savior.
As many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name. – John 1:12
Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him. – Revelation 3:20
3. The Bible promises eternal life (heaven) to all who receive Christ.
This is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God. – 1 John 5:11–13
These verses tell us the only way to heaven is to know Jesus, God’s Son, as our Savior. If we have received Him, we’re heaven-bound. If we have not, then there’s always the opportunity to do that right now. A very simple prayer of acceptance can be, “Lord Jesus, I believe in You. I want to receive You into my heart and life right now. I confess my sin; I ask forgiveness for that sin, and now I open the door of my heart and invite You to come in.”
Why is the confession of sin so crucial to our knowing Jesus as Savior? It is sin that separates us from Him; in fact, “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23). Sin lurks around every nook and cranny of our interior being; it especially likes to curl up and send out its infectious venom from the secret places of our hearts. And in order to be free of it, we must confess it and then experience forgiveness of it. First John 1:9 tells us,
If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us… all unrighteousness.
So then, we do not lose heavenly citizenship when we doubt. We lose heavenly citizenship when we reject God’s offer of salvation through Christ. Those steps that Scripture outlines are profoundly simple. They offer us heaven.
“Help My Unbelief!”
But now let’s talk about some faulty thinking concerning the role of doubt in a believer’s life. A common assumption is that doubt is sin. That is not true. Doubt is sin only if it translates into an action that rejects God. Otherwise, doubt is to question the truth of something.
Doubt is not rejecting truth; it is questioning truth. To doubt is to leave room for ultimate belief.
Is it possible for the Christian to doubt and still maintain heavenly citizenship? Of course. To be human is to at times doubt even the most basic elements of our faith. In fact, doubt can be an instrument for the building of faith.
Do you remember the exchange Jesus had with the father who sought healing for his son? In Mark 9:23–24,
Jesus said to the father, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes.”
The boy’s father responded to Jesus’ call for belief with these words:
Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!
That could be the life verse for all doubters. In other words, as the father did in answering Jesus, we can acknowledge that yes, we believe, but even so, there still are doubts.
We can say, “Lord, help me with my doubts. There is room within me to experience greater belief, but my doubts sometimes threaten to swallow me up.”
At one point during my health struggle with the consequences of silicone poisoning, I came to a place where my doubts threatened to swallow me up. That doubting experience was used as an instrument for the building of my faith. At the time, I did not feel the presence of God.
I not only doubted His presence, I doubted His existence.
This “dark night of the soul,” as it was described by Saint John of the Cross, lasted only a few hours but was excruciating to me. My doubts in the past had been only minimal by comparison. I was experiencing many physical impairments due to the silicone poisoning, which may have contributed to my spiritual vulnerability. Whatever the root cause, here’s what happened.
I was sitting in a chair reading one of the psalms when I was overwhelmed with these thoughts: This Christianity thing is total baloney. None of it is true. Why in the world am I sitting here reading from a book full of outlandish stories about a God who isn’t real? Pick up a novel, Marilyn, and try to forget you’re weak as a kitten, your muscles burn, and your brain keeps wandering off to la-la land, leaving you muddled.
With these thoughts, my interior world turned black. There was no light. I sat there in that despairing state for about an hour.
Then I began to mutter to myself, “Now, wait a minute, Marilyn. There has to be a God. Only a God could make something out of nothing. How else do you explain the physical universe? It could not have simply ‘big-banged’ itself into existence. That makes no sense.
“And then there’s Jesus. History, both secular and Christian, supports the truth of His existence; you can’t deny that, Marilyn. No well-informed person denies He lived and walked the earth. All one can do is deny He was God. But it does not make sense to deny He was God. Even non-Christian historians did not know how to account for His miracles. They did not deny them; they simply had no clue how to explain them.
The world has never been the same.
The resurrection of Jesus, started a movement that within four hundred years came to dominate the entire Roman Empire and, over the course of two thousand years, all of Western civilization.
Turning Toward the Light of the Son
As I sat there in my chair, I, too, began to sense the risen Christ. As I recounted these resurrection facts to myself, the darkness started to lift. Light slowly filtered into my soul. I knew that light was the light of the risen Christ. I was so grateful for the reemergence of my faith and the squashing of my doubt. I muttered to myself over and over again, “It’s true. It’s true. It’s really, really true!”
My crisis of faith was a quiet and short-lived interior battle. But without it, I would not have known the drama of seeing the darkness flee from the force of that enveloping light. It wrapped itself around my troubled soul, and I began to feel restored.
Interestingly enough, it was not long after this experience that God began to heal my body of the poisons that had kept me nearly immobile for several months. Today I am still aware of the presence of silicone scattered about here and there in various organs, but I’m more aware of God’s intentional resurrection power in my body. He’s real. He’s really, really real.
Excerpted with permission from Tell Me Everything: How You Can Heal From The Secrets You Thought You’d Never Share by Marilyn Meberg, copyright Thomas Nelson, 2010.
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If you struggle with doubts about God, you are not alone! Read through these scriptures again and ask God to meet you in your places of doubt. He will! Come join the conversation on our blog. We would love to hear from you!