We as Christians rarely talk about doubt. I think this is a problem, for doubt is one of the defeated one’s oldest schemes. Be Honest with yourself, have you ever doubted your salvation? Have you ever doubted your calling? Have you ever doubted the existence of God? Have you ever doubted an essential Christian doctrine? I think doubt is a normal part of the human condition. Often times I find myself growing deeper in the faith when I am working through the darkness of doubt.
When talking about ‘doubt’, as Christians we need to begin this conversation at the very beginning of creation. It was in the Garden of Eden that the serpent used doubt as a tool to deceive the first man and woman, “are you sure God told you that?” Ever since the beginning we find different giants of the Christian faith in seasons of doubt (Abraham, Job, David, and the most notorious doubter, Thomas). Doubt is a universal symptom of sinful humanity, we doubt the truth, we doubt God’s promises, and we doubt God.
At the very core of doubt is the where we find eternal truth and our temporal human emotions waging war against one another. C.S. Lewis seemed to locate the struggle of doubt to the emotions, I think he might be right. No matter who you are, or what beliefs you hold about ‘reality’, human feelings will always assault your convictions.
It was C.S. Lewis who drew the illustration of uncertainty with having an operation; “when they have me down on the table and clamp that horrible mask over my face, a mere childish panic begins inside me” (Mere Christianity). The question might arise, how then do we put these ‘feelings’ in their proper place? According to Habermas, C.S. Lewis would have proposed a stepped process in ‘taming our unruly emotions’;
- “We begin by recognizing the role of moods and feelings. They can change on a daily basis and color how we view our beliefs.”
- We must daily practice the classical disciplines of the faith to be reminded of Christian doctrine (prayer, fasting, worship, and reading). “We must constantly review and keep what we believe before us”.
See, the point is not to convince yourself of something that is wholly untrue and bring about some state of self delusion. In reality it is the very opposite, to remind ourselves of what we know to be true, and bring our emotions in line with truth. Here is an adapted form of the process Cognitive Therapists usually promote;
- Identify an irrational belief. This is usually the foundation of a particular ‘religious doubt’.
- Remove that irrational belief by arguing against it, and reminding oneself with Biblical doctrine.
- Replace that irrational belief with the truth.
Gary Habermas notes that the key in this process “is tracing a bad mood or painful moment precisely to an image, concept, troublesome comment, or irrational belief.” When truth or fact enters the picture, emotions are usually revealed for what they are: in other words “proper thinking trumps undisciplined emotions”.