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Category: Doubt Musings

The End of Doubt

When Christ appeared to the disciples following His death and resurrection, His first words were to identify and question their doubt. “Why are you so troubled and filled with doubt?” He questions their doubt, but he does not leave it there. He goes on to give them the assurance and even physical proof that they need to rest their questions. He does not reject them for those doubts, but rather addresses them and assures them.

The important thing to understand here is that the doubts were the beginning of the interchange Jesus has with his disciples. They are not the end. Doubt is always a beginning, but never an end. It begins a question, and as heavy or destructive as that question might end up being, the doubt never resolves that question. Something else inevitably ends that beginning, and I believe we actually have a say in what that ending will be. Doubt will happen to us, but where we go from there will be up to us. The danger comes in when we begin to translate these doubts and questions as if they were defining resolutions in us. But, how can they be? How could a question ever be used to explain who I am and what I believe? At best it could perhaps show what I don’t believe, but by definition a belief is an understanding of a concept in the positive, and a doubt/question is a query in the negative. Your doubt cannot and will not define you. Where you take it? That might define you though.

So, what about you? What is the end result of your doubt? Where will you come out? Sure, you have doubts as we all do and will, but what will be the end of your doubt? Will you choose unbelief, or will you address those doubts, grow and move on? What will be the end of doubt?

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Certainty and Age

How old we are, oftentimes directly affects our beliefs about things. Prior to the onset of abstract thinking, we tend to take concepts at face value and quite literally. You don’t really question things like Creation and the Garden of Eden, or the Great Flood and the Ark. These are all things you just accept, because…God. AS you age and critical thinking and abstract thought begin to surface we often find ourselves replacing that child-like faith with fervor. Passion and really felt faith, begins to be how we identify our belief. We are seventeen, invincible and we know everything. God is awesome, and we are on top of the world.

Then it happens, the great crises of faith. This fervency is abated. Usually, it goes hand in hand with an emotional crises, or introduction to new world views that we were not prepared for. But as you slide into your twenties that fervor recedes along with the gallons and gallons of hormones you were living off of. Then, for many, the twenties are a time of darkness and struggle. Either a slow terrifying sink into doubt and unbelief, or a titanic struggle to justify the loss of fervor that you identified as spiritual certainty.

Why do so many succumb to doubt and then unbelief at this period in their life? The excuses are legion, but the reasons are actually few. They have been seduced by an action movie faith. They reach high fervor and settle in thinking this all there is to faith, and certainty. When the tide of emotion and bodily chemical start to normalize they are left hollow and since they identified certainty and faith with that range of positive emotions, when they began to fade, so went their faith, to be replaced by doubt and unbelief.

Understanding these changes for what they are can help. Recognizing and accepting physiological changes and on-setting maturity will help in forming a foundational faith structure. Replacing these romantic notions of faith with more realistic ones may not be easy, but it will be good.

Secrecy, Our Prison

I am the only one here that struggles with doubt. All others seem to just have it all together. Others do not harbor the dark thoughts that I do. I am alone in this fear.

Secrecy feeds these ideas to us and each one forms another bar in our prison. Very few things can keep us bound in sin and darkness like isolation or secrecy. Its power is twofold, the first being its inward effect on us. Chance of self-deception sky-rocket, and we begin to convince ourselves of things that we never would have even entertained in we had had a sounding board nearby to discuss them with. One of the lies we contend with is that we are worse than those around us, but we must remember Romans 3 which asserts that “there is no one righteous, not even one.” We are not worse than others, because they are just as fallen as well. Another lie common to this refrain is that we are unique or alone in this weakness, but we must remember Ecclesiastes 1 which reminds us that “…there is nothing new under the sun.” and especially in our modern Western culture of doubt the vast majority of us begin in doubt and process from there.

The second part of secrecy’s power is found in its outward thrust. We already recognize the insidious lying voice inside trying to convince us of our extreme sin and unique evil, but we cannot forget the effect it has upon our outward selves. We hide from the very people who would bring us clarity or wisdom. In order to keep it hidden we do not seek counsel in which we could be straightened out or even comforted. We keep our mouths shut and choke behind our toothy smiles. Also, this perpetuates deception on our part to those around us. In our church family, or close friendships, where we should be open and honest, this creates a facade in order to protect us in our secrecy. Not only does it hurt and stunt us, but it brings us to lie to those we love the most around us.

Very few things perpetuate doubt like secrecy does. Keeping these terrifying thoughts inside only to be addressed in our own strength, a strength all too often found wanting. This isolates us, exaggerates our weakness, undercuts our support and lies to those we love the most. The worst part is that we have the key to this dark prison, if only we would open our mouth and chatter these bars. Do not be held alone in your weakness and doubt. Share it and perhaps discover something you didn’t not expect, strength.

External Stimuli’s Effect on Doubt

When one thinks about doubt, or any issue similarly tied to emotion and thought, one almost always turns inward. Introspection becomes the rule of the day. You close the shutters, lock the doors and turn the lights down low. No one is home, or answering the door anyway. The very core of doubt is thinking of oneself in relationship to something else. So why, would you not spend your energy focusing inward?

What one tends to forget is the obvious effect outward stimulus can have on doubt. What do you read? What types of shows do you watch? Media consumed is the single most ignored but pervasive sources of influences in the average Westerner’s life. Are your friends and those you surround yourself with encouraging? Or are they even doubt-filled themselves? Does the Music you listen to do anything to edify or lift you up? Are you sedentary or Active? Is the job you are in oppressive? Are you close enough to supportive family? Do you ever go out of your way to get out of your head and server others? Answering these questions privately and honestly may help you to discover some of the sources or at least influences of your doubt.

While not advocating reclusive monastic life choices, understanding these influences will go light years toward addressing and dealing with doubt. Perhaps you cannot leave the oppressive job, or should you even cut ties suddenly with a friend because they are not a wonderful Christian? Certainly not! But first understanding and taking inventory of these influences then making adjustments to habits and thought patters will go a long way in dealing with doubt. Locking oneself darkly away in one’s head will inevitably lead to the perpetuation of doubt. Alternatively, action, positive input and encouragement can all foster the growth of doubt’s ancient enemy, hope.

Doubting Thomas, the Saint

24 But one of the Twelve, Thomas (called “Twin”), was not with them when Jesus came. 25 So the other disciples kept telling him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “If I don’t see the mark of the nails in His hands, put my finger into the mark of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will never believe!” 26 After eight days His disciples were indoors again,and Thomas was with them. Even though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them. He said, “Peace to you!” 27 Then He said to Thomas, “Put your finger here and observe My hands. Reach out your hand and put it into My side. Don’t be an unbeliever, but a believer.” 28 Thomas responded to Him, “My Lord and my God!” 29 Jesus said, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed.[e] Those who believe without seeing are blessed.” – John 20:24-29

Poor maligned Thomas, forevermore to be remembered as Doubting Thomas. How we look down on him and how we dismiss him for his weakness. Yet, we do so at our own peril. A great message is ignored in his story, one that not only gives us instruction but also good comfort. Thomas was a doubter. He refused to believe until his hands touched the wounds on Christ’s body, and while others marveled and believed, he stood chewing his lip in doubt.

We often equate doubt with unbelief and this too can be fatal to our faith. We have doubts, we struggle to believe, and thoughts of eternal dismissal come unbidden to our minds. It is usually then that we begin to question our faith and wonder if we truly believe since all of these doubts come bubbling up. An interesting twist comes forth here though. What was Jesus’ response to Thomas in the above passage? Does He reject him as an unbeliever, and remind him of hell as He has warned so many others? Does He call Thomas a viper and dismiss him as He did with the Pharisees?  Does he take a gentler route, and weep for the soul lost? No! He gives the proof asked for! He shows Thomas His hands and side, showing him He is the Risen Christ indeed. His response is simply this. You have asked for proof? Okay, here it is.

This response is not even that unique on God’s part either. In the end of the book of Matthew and also in Mark, the disciples are depressed and wracked with doubt after Jesus’ death. He comes to them and presents them with a charge, the Great Commission. He did not cast them out or reject them. Instead, He assumed or understood their belief in spite of their doubt, and then He assigned them a job. Not an insignificant job to hide them away so their depression and doubt would not tarnish the bright face of the Gospel. Rather, He tasked them with the Gospel, itself. Even in the Old Testament we see this with God’s prophets and mighty men. Gideon, a man of doubt, asked for proof and God granted it. Moses, so self-conscious he couldn’t believe that Yahweh could use him, and even questions God’s judgment to His ever-burning face. He was told to go and obey regardless.

Thomas, this poor maligned fool of a man, though wracked with doubt and demanding proof, still found himself confessing in the end, “My Lord, my God.” Fortunately for Thomas, and really, for us, doubt did not equal unbelief. So, do not blink and miss it. Don’t dismiss Thomas and his doubt, lest you miss the lesson intended there for all. We are Thomas, and we still believe.

Doubt and Our Disposition

I recently heard a sermon on the choosing of the twelve disciples. In it the speaker emphasizes that each one seemed to be a bad choice by the world’s standard when picking a team. Squabbling siblings, political extremists mixing with government taxmen, young ones brimming with inexperience, passionate hotheads who don’t give a thought to consequences. He reminded us of the hope we have as Christians to know that even in our brokenness and bumbling, God will choose us for His work.

His sermon was good, biblical and enlightening, but it got my mind going. It reminded me of our disposition, our status. We are bumbling and broken. As the speaker put it, we are a bunch of dweebs, dorks, and knuckleheads. This was important to take note of as one great contributor to doubt is uncertainty in ourselves. We naturally doubt ourselves due to our inadequacies and oftentimes then project that uncertainty and doubt onto God. If us spirit-let, sanctified, new man Christians can’t get life right, then our source of redemption or power must be circumspect, no? Are we not promised new life, and rebirth?  Yet here we are bumbling, miserable failures and the world looks on and laughs. Is it not a wonder then that we question those promises or even the very source of them?

We then begin to see one of the sources to our doubt. We can often cause it in ourselves. Through our own failings and uncertainties we find a root for the questioning. One must then wrestle with the legitimacy of this questioning. Who is at fault here and who is to blame. Is it logical or even plausible for us to consider this avenue of doubt when we know that we, and our shortcomings are its progenitors? In our insecurities we somehow find the boldness to question our Maker. Our sad disposition gives birth then to this doubt and we choke on it.

Start with the Understanding

In order to do battle one must understand one’s enemy first. For us to banish or process doubt we must understand what it is. Defining this in a way we can understand will go a long way towards creating a mind that correctly and deftly handles doubt.

Webster’s dictionary defines doubt as uncertainty of belief or opinion that often interferes with decision-making. To really grasp this though, we need to look at it on a more fundamental level. Doubt, as we are discussing it, is not really a verb or an action. It is more something that happens to you than something you choose to do. While it usually leads to actions and proactive movement, it is something more primal and base. A mix of instinct and external influences, it is hardly a cognitive construct. One rarely sits down and proceeds to actively doubt something. Instead we begin to see the reason why it is often described as something that invades or sneaks in like a thief. Used in literature, it is often described as almost a spate entity from the character that is experiencing it.

Another important aspect of doubt is that it is a negative entity. Similar to darkness in this respect, it shows itself to be something that is a lack of another thing, rather than a substance in itself. Darkness isn’t so much a thing in and of itself, as it is a lack of light. Doubt isn’t a think so much as it is a lack of a thing, certainty. Certainty is sometimes a tough commodity to obtain and as such in its absence, doubt flourishes.

As we begin to tackle this subject and seek to understand that which we hope to do battle with, we start to organize our war effort. We begin here, to get our ducks in a row, which we must do if we are to have any hope of victory in this fight. Our great enemy doubt can be brought down. It can be vanquished, and that eventual victory is going to find its origination in the seeking of knowledge, of understanding.

A Culture of Doubt

In the West, we have a saying, “Seeing is believing.” How many times have you heard the declaration, “I’ll believe that when I see it”? Hard evidence is valued over trust or belief, almost every time. One can build a friends trust, and have them “believe” in you, but even that is a time-tested process built on temporal evidence. Since the Enlightenment, western man has been so tied up in this Aristotelian notion of the here and now and what that entails. If I can touch it, it exists. Anything I cannot fully understand must be doubted. As a good friend of mine, Ben, says, “We live in a culture of doubt. Doubt should be assumed as it is our starting point.” One is actually out-of-place or odd, if one doesn’t struggle with doubt. Given a proper understanding of Western thought, one can assume a starting place of doubt and it suddenly isn’t so terrifying any more.

So if doubt is expected, or even understood to be our starting point how does that help us? Well, what IS a starting point? Or better yet, what is a starting point not? It is not an end. Just because you have struggles with doubt does not mean you will end with doubt. It is, by nature, a process not a solution, a question,  not an answer. One’s doubt will eventually  lead to a certainty. Whether that certainty will be encouraging or not is another question, but the doubt itself must be transient. Even in our culture, the doubt or skeptical though is only there so one can push through to clarity of thought on the subject.

I spent so many years terrified and paralyzed by my doubt, when I should have realized that all that doubt really was doing was spurring me on to the deeper truths. Doubt is our cultural inheritance but our inheritance does not need to define us. We can go forth and make our own fortune. Go forth!

Doubt of Self

Tempted to despair, we threaten to tip headlong into the abyss of our own darkness. One can recognize this feeling if one looks into a darkened empty room, as if a mirror, and finds kinship there. We identify because of our failures, our lack. We see the dark and shamefully think we know it to be us. Introspection brings with it a certain level of danger in this. We are often encouraged to examine ourselves by popular psychology and after all, Socrates himself told us that an unexamined life is not worth living. While this is true, oftentimes we self-examine to the exclusion of all else. In doing so alone we raise the possibility of self-deception.

Am I an expert? Am I a doctor or psychologist? What, at all, do I know about my fragile darkness within? I may recognize it or even think I know it, but do I have insight? Can I show myself a better way, or a healing path? Any lack of credentials should show me that isolated introspection will only lead to self-deception and despair. And even those with some measure of credentials, what of them? Too many doctors I have seen refuse their own medicine. Too many psychologists, I have seen draw the line when it comes to their own weakness and failings. My own ex-wife was a gifted counselor and psychologist having intuitive insight into other’s lives and mental health. Unfortunately, the buck stopped with her. When challenged, she reverted to that scared, darkened twelve year old girl who had just lost her daddy and desperately needed to grow up.

So what do we do? When Satan tempts us to despair, and throws our own darkness in our face? We needs must turn to him and say, “What of it?” Yes, we are dark, and yes we fail, and even deserve the fallout that might come from that failing. But by God’s grace we don’t need to stop there. Despite our own darkness, despair and weakness we are given a hope and a future. We are given an inheritance and plan. Don’t spend your whole life looking inward, despairing at what you find. Rather, look outward at Him, and what He has promised us. Hope.

Stephen Mattson

Inspiration. Faith. Christian Culture. Writing.

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