Spiritual doubt is common, even among those who want to believe. But the Bible shows us how to deal with doubts and grow in faith.
Our modern world seems designed to foster doubts about God and the Bible. Evolution discounts the need for a Creator. Scholars question the accuracy of the Bible. Public opinion redefines the biblical standards of right and wrong. Religious leaders too often show appalling hypocrisy. Evil grows, and yet God seems to be in hiding.
And religious people struggle with doubt.
For example, a Barna study showed:
“Just over one-quarter (26%) [of American adults who self-identify as Christian] say they still experience spiritual doubt, while four in 10 (40%) say they have experienced it in the past but have worked through it. Only about one-third (35%) claim to have never experienced it at all. …
“Having come of age in a more secular and pluralist culture, Millennials (38%) currently experience about twice as much doubt as any of the other generational groups (23% Gen-Xers, 19% Boomers, 20% Elders). Men are also more likely than women to actively experience doubt (32% compared to 20% women). Those who have been through college and encountered an array of ideas, philosophies and worldviews are twice as likely to experience doubt as those who have a high school education or less (37% vs. 19%).”
But though it seems to have grown in the modern age, doubt is nothing new.
When we have doubts, we can consider ourselves in good company. Jesus said to Peter, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” (Matthew 14:31). Of course, Peter did have faith to step out of the boat to walk on water! But as the wind hit him, so too did doubt.
However, over the years Peter did learn not to doubt and taught others to “not be afraid,” as he wrote in 1 Peter 3:14.
Then there was the disciple, soon to be apostle, whose name has become associated with doubting. After the resurrection, doubting Thomas said, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe” (John 20:25).
However, when the resurrected Christ did appear and speak to him, Thomas responded in verse 28: “My Lord and my God!”
Then Jesus pronounced a blessing on us today who face even more of a challenge. Jesus said, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).
But how do we claim that blessing? How can we deal with doubts and strengthen our beliefs?
How to deal with doubts
God is the Creator, and the Bible is His message to us today. He cares about us and is working out a plan that provides opportunities for every human who is alive or who has ever lived. But how can we prove these things and build the faith to deal with the overwhelming challenges and storms of life that can cause us to doubt? How can questioning our faith help it to grow?
Here are some biblical principles for dealing with doubts.
- Examine God’s creation.
David, a shepherd who became a king, was an ardent observer of nature. His hours of contemplation led him to write, “The heavens declare the glory of God” (Psalm 19:1). As he thought about the vast universe, the moon and the stars, he wondered, “What is man that You are mindful of him?” (8:4).
Considering the wonders of the human body, he concluded, “For You formed my inward parts; You covered me in my mother’s womb. I will praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made; marvelous are Your works, and that my soul knows very well” (139:13-14).
The apostle Paul also pointed to the universe around us as powerful evidence of the Creator. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead, so that they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20).
To help in your examination of creation, download our study guide Does God Exist? And visit the “Is There a God?” section of Life, Hope & Truth, where you can find dozens of articles that can help you prove beyond a doubt that our universe, and our lives, were created for a purpose by a superintelligent being of awesome power—our Creator God. The subjects include everything from DNA to the fossil record, from intelligent design to evolution, from irreducible complexity to organic chemistry.
- Test all things.
God doesn’t expect us to just accept the things in the Bible, to turn off our thinking and just go with our feelings. He created the universe to follow rational laws and He intends us to use our minds to prove what is true.God doesn’t expect us to just accept the things in the Bible, to turn off our thinking and just go with our feelings. He created the universe to follow rational laws and He intends us to use our minds to prove what is true.
As the apostle Paul wrote, “Test all things; hold fast what is good” (1 Thessalonians 5:21). The Bible praises people who check things out. In Berea Paul found fair-minded people who “searched the Scriptures daily to find out whether these things were so” (Acts 17:11). Since they found Paul’s preaching to be true, “many of them believed” (verse 12).
Our study guide Is the Bible True? can help in your quest to prove it.
- Prove by doing.
One of the most important things God wants us to prove is that His way of living is right—that it works and produces good results in the long run. Jesus said, “Anyone who chooses to do the will of God will find out whether my teaching comes from God or whether I speak on my own” (John 7:17, New International Version).
God even gives us some specific promises we can test:
“‘Honor your father and mother,’ which is the first commandment with promise: ‘that it may be well with you and you may live long on the earth’” (Ephesians 6:2-3). God invites us to try it and see if learning to honor authority won’t help us in every area of life, including, according to the will of God, giving us long life.
Malachi records another specific command and blessing: “‘Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, that there may be food in My house, and try Me now in this,’ says the LORD of hosts, ‘if I will not open for you the windows of heaven and pour out for you such blessing that there will not be room enough to receive it’” (Malachi 3:10; see “Tithing: What Is It?”).
The basic principle is that God has defined what is right and wrong. In the end, doing what is right leads to good results, and doing what is wrong produces bad results (Galatians 6:7-9; Deuteronomy 28:1-2, 3-6, 7-8, 9-11, 12-14; 30:15-16; see our article “Why Is Our Modern World Under Ancient Curses?”).
- Ask God for faith.
“And the apostles said to the Lord, ‘Increase our faith’” (Luke 17:5). We can ask the same thing in our moments of doubt—or any time, for that matter.
The Bible records a poignant example of a man seeking healing for his son. The disciples had not been able to heal him, so when Jesus came, the father explained the situation to Jesus. “And often [an evil spirit] has thrown him both into the fire and into the water to destroy him. But if You can do anything, have compassion on us and help us” (Mark 9:22).
Jesus answered, “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” (verse 23).
After all the years of watching his son suffer, and after seeing the disciples fail, the father had his doubts. He cried out with tears, “Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!” (verse 24, emphasis added).
- Study what God has done in the past.
Paul wrote, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
Much of the Bible recounts stories of God’s faithfulness to His promises. Read those stories and meditate on them, as the psalmist did: “We have heard with our ears, O God, our fathers have told us, the deeds You did in their days, in days of old” (Psalm 44:1).
Consider the example of the father of the faithful, Abraham, who knew by experience that God was faithful. Paul wrote, “He did not waver at the promise of God, through unbelief, but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God, and being fully convinced that what He had promised, He was also able to perform” (Romans 4:20-21; see “The Faith of Abraham”).
Seeing what God has done can also include asking believers today why they believe. People have told me of miraculous events and healings they have experienced, and such stories from reputable sources can strengthen your faith as well.
- Exercise your faith.
Growing in faith is essential to becoming the kind of people God wants us to be. That means that we have to go through trials and tests to exercise the faith muscles He is developing in us. If we never faced challenges, if He answered every prayer immediately, if He was visibly present before us every moment, we would have no way to grow in faith. (Learn more about why God allows fiery trials in “Through Many Tribulations.”)
Applying these principles can help us deal with doubts. But don’t stop here. Take the next step by studying “How to Grow in Faith.”