Faith, Mental Health, Overcoming Trauma, Worry

Doubt . . . A Question of Trust

Mark 9:24 (NKJV) – “Immediately the father of the child cried out and said with tears, ‘Lord, I believe; help my unbelief!’”

Matthew 21:21 (NKJV) – “So Jesus answered and said to them, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith and do not doubt, you will not only do what was done to the fig tree, but also if you say to this mountain, “Be removed and be cast into the sea,” it will be done.’”

Written by Pamela K. Orgeron, M.A., Ed.S., BCCC, ACLC, Author

What is doubt? In the verb tense, Dictionary.com defines doubt as  “to be uncertain about; consider questionable or unlikely; hesitate to believe.”

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As a noun, doubt is defined as “a feeling of uncertainty about the truth, reality, or nature of something.” Synonyms of doubt, used as a verb, include “mistrust, suspect, question”; used as a noun, indecision and irresolution. In the Bible, a doubter is described in James 1:6-8: “he who doubts is like a wave of the sea driven and tossed by the wind. For let not that man suppose that he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all his ways.” (NKJV)

Doubt was birthed on earth in the Garden of Eden when Eve first ate the forbidden fruit after the serpent caused her to doubt “God’s character and goodness ( Gen 3:1-5 ). Tragically Eve and Adam bought into his deceptive plan and plunged humankind into the fall (vv. 6-19).” (Aiken, 2018, ¶ 3)

Doubt is one area that we all struggle with at times.  Doubt seems to be part of faith though. Paul Tillich once said, “Doubt isn’t the opposite of faith; it is an element of faith.” I think Tillich is right.  If we never have any doubts, then maybe we are not being stretched in our faith in any ways.  God never asks us to put all reason aside to follow him. (Evans, n.d., Bible Verses About a Lack of Faith section, ¶ 4)

Three types of doubt exist (Habermas, 1990; The John Ankerberg Show, 2003):

  1. Factual Doubt – According to Habermas, as cited by The John Ankerberg Show, factual doubt requires a factual answer. “Factual doubt comes from asking tough questions: Was Jesus really the Son of God? Was Jesus really raised from the dead?” (¶ 8)
  2. Emotional Doubt – 
    Emotional doubt is mood related; it’s personality related. And it often comes, we don’t stop and think about this, but it comes after a hard day in the office. It comes after flunking an exam. It comes after a child is having issues. It comes perhaps when you ask somebody out and they say, “No.” I mean, you get caught up with things emotionally and things don’t work out as you think they should, and it’s those moments. Often late at night in bed, and you say, “What if I’m going to hell?”
    Now, I’ve taken informal surveys among thousands of people. How many of you, after salvation, have contemplated at some point that you could just be… maybe… what if… you’re going to hell? I’ve seen up to a hundred percent of hands raised. (The John Ankerberg Show, ¶s 8-9)
  3. Volitional Doubt – Volitional Doubt “has to do with ‘will,’ and that can be a lot more serious.” (The John Ankerberg Show, ¶ 20)

Regular issues of importance for this species of doubt might include the dilemma of weak faith or the questioning of whether one actually made a decision to trust Jesus Christ in the first place perhaps because of the young age at which the choice was made. Other volitional examples concern an unwillingness either to repent of a sin(s) or to apply known truths to one’s life. (Habermas, n.d., ¶ 1)

As far back as I can remember I have always been what some people call a “Doubting Thomas”. According to Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia (2017),

A doubting Thomas is a skeptic who refuses to believe without direct personal experience—a reference to the Apostle Thomas, who refused to believe that the resurrected Jesus had appeared to the ten other apostles, until he could see and feel the wounds received by Jesus on the cross. (¶ 1)

Over the years I questioned everything and everybody in my life. I doubted that other people, and even God, could love me. I doubted my academic abilities. As I previously shared in last week’s blog, “Worry … Give it to God”, I even doubted my salvation. I remember discussing this concern with a pastor. Here’s what he told me:

“You know one of the most difficult things for people battling depression is for them to believe that God loves them and that they can be a Christian,” the pastor said. “With what you are going through, doubting your salvation is common. Another point that this wise pastor made is that Satan can make a Christian doubt. “If Satan can’t keep you from becoming a Christian, he can sure make you doubt because he wants to keep you from being a witness for Christ.”

Before the aforementioned pastor counseled with me, for most of my life I had heard a number of preachers from a number of denominations preach on the assurance of salvation. Their messages seemed to imply that if a person is not sure of his or her salvation, then he or she couldn’t be a Christian. I disagree with this precept. According to Dr. O’s Blog (2018, February 1), four of the most renowned evangelical ministers would agree with me: Charles Spurgeon, Billy Graham, R. C. Sproul, and Martin Luther—

Charles Spurgeon differentiated between having faith and having the “assurance” of faith (i.e., being certain that we have it). “Assurance,” he explains, “is not essential to salvation…You may get to heaven with a thousand doubts and fears.” The “Prince of Preachers” concludes, “There are some of God’s saints who do not get assured until even the last moment, and some who are put to bed in the dark.”

Billy Graham, in the Christian Workers Handbook, writes “It is not unusual for one to experience doubts, for it is to Satan’s advantage if he can lead one to believe that he was never saved.” Graham wisely notes that doubt may come as a result of disease (OCDers take note). Even R.C.Sproul, who emphasizes very strongly the importance of assurance, writes that a person can be “saved and know it not…It is quite possible to be in a state of grace while being unaware of that fact.”

Lastly, consider what Luther had to say about tormenting salvation doubts. After all, he knew more than anyone else about them. In Works on Psalms, The Great Reformer emphasizes that fearful doubt actually plays a critical role in God’s plan for our salvation. Its function is to destroy our incredibly obstinate sense of self-reliance, preparing us for the grace of true faith. The people with the most fear and doubt, Luther even suggests, are those who are most ready for God’s grace, and closest to Him. (¶s 5-7)

Root Causes of Doubt

Where does doubt come from? Causes of doubt range from spiritual (e.g., a person is unsaved) to emotional and even to biological, where a person has an illness or syndrome that can explain a person doubting his or her salvation. Based on my educational background, current research, and my life experience, I want to share what I consider to be the major roots to doubt:

  1. Satanic attack – I strongly agree with Billy Graham and the pastor who counseled  me that Satan can put doubt in a person’s mind. As I am called into ministry, no doubt, a few roots to past doubts in my own life have been demonic attacks. Scripture supports this etiology of doubt in John 10:10 (NKJV) – “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly.” For more information about how Satan can attack a Christian, I recommend visiting Tim Challies’ Blog entitled 8 Ways Satan Convinces You To Question Your Salvation, available at https://www.challies.com/reading-classics-together/8-way s-satan-convinces-you-to-question-your-salvation/
  2. Self-fulfilled Prophecy – What is a self-fulfilling prophecy? “A self-fulfilling prophecy is when a person unknowingly causes a prediction to come true, due to the simple fact that he or she expects it to come true.” (Long-Crowell, n.d., Self-Fulfilling Prophecies section, ¶ 1) For example, a verbally abused child is told by his parents, “You’re no good!”, “You’ll never be anybody!”, and “You’ll never have anything in life”. After years of hearing these negative comments, the child begins to believe what the parent is saying causing the child to doubt any academic abilities. Thus, the child becomes an underachiever in school and later as an adult, living out what he or she has come to believe based on the parents’ inaccurate and mean statements. Biblical Support: Proverbs 4:23 (NKJV) – “Keep your heart with all diligence, For out of it spring the issues of life.”
  3. It’s a matter of trust! – In psychology “trust vs. mistrust” is the first stage of Developmental Psychologist Erik Erikson’s (1902-1994) theory of psychosocial development. This stage starts at birth. During this stage, babies learn to trust through the experiences of their parents and others caring for them to meet their basic needs. I believe that in dysfunctional neglectful homes where babies do not learn to trust, or if their trust is severed as a child later, such persons can develop doubts about their self-worth, often resulting in low self-esteem.  For those parents who have dysfunctional homes where trust is absent, I hope you will take heed of the advice offered in the following Scripture: Ephesians 6:4 (NKJV) – And you, fathers, do not provoke your children to wrath, but bring them up in the training and admonition of the Lord.”
  4. Projection – For those unfamiliar with the defense mechanism of projection, in psychology projection is defined as “the misattribution of a person’s undesired thoughts, feelings or impulses onto another person who does not have those thoughts, feelings or impulses.” (Grohol, 2018, Primitive Defense Mechanisms section, ¶ 6) Take the example above of the abused child given previously, what can happen is that the child grows up to project the attitudes and behaviors of their parents on to God. Since the child did not feel love from the parents, through projection they think that God could never love them either; thus, causing salvation doubts.
  5. Religious Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (Morris, 2011; Dr. O’s Blog, September 1, 2015, February 1, 2018) – “Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (O.C.D.) is called the doubting disease, and it goes to absolutely ridiculous lengths. When O.C.D. takes a religious form, the unfortunate victims continually doubt their salvation or are excessively anxious about some aspect of their walk with God.” (¶ 7) Because religious O.C.D. is caused from a medical problem, these thoughts and feeling do not reflect an accurate picture of a person’s spiritual condition.
  6. Disillusionment from unanswered prayer and disappointment (Billy Graham Evangelistic Association [BGEA], 2000, Doubt section, pp. 79-81)

When the sincere Christian hears critics attack the Bible, there may be increased
temptation to doubt God’s Word. In confusion over unanswered prayers, he or she may wonder, “Is God real? Does He really answer prayer?” When confronted with the reality of sinful, selfish desires, he or she may question, “Has God really saved me?” (p. 79)

Disappointments come in all forms and fashions, including deaths, divorce, unruly children, and even betrayals from once thought trustworthy friends. Any of these situations and others can cause one to question his or her salvation.

7. Complex PTSD (Lucario, L. H., 2017; U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, 2016) – For those unfamiliar with complex PTSD (Cptsd), this proposed psychological disorder is defined as “a more severe form of Post-traumatic stress disorder. It is delineated from this better known trauma syndrome by five of its most common and troublesome features: emotional flashbacks, toxic shame, self-abandonment, a vicious inner critic, and social anxiety.” (Walker, 2013, p. 3)

The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2016) report Cptsd “may include a loss of sustaining faith or a sense of hopelessness and despair.” (What additional symptoms are seen in Complex PTSD?, ¶ 1) This loss of faith may be in oneself, in others, in the world, and even in God. Based on my personal experience of dealing with Cptsd, I would link this loss of faith to undeveloped or broken trust discussed previously. 

Preventing & Overcoming Doubt

With the possible etiologies of doubt multifaceted. Obviously, preventing and overcoming doubt can be complicated, depending upon the source of the doubt. Here are suggestions that have helped me:

  1. Remember HALT – HALT is an acronym for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, and Tired. “Never let yourself get too Hungry, too Angry, too Lonely, or too Tired,” a former therapist told me years ago. I found this advice helpful, as when I don’t heed the advice, I find myself more susceptible to having doubts about myself, others, and even God.
  2.  Seek Professional Help – if a person has faced past complex abuse or trauma, as I have in my past, I recommend the person seek out a Christian psychiatrist and therapist to aid in recovery. What has been most helpful to me when my illness was at its worst was a combination of medication and psychotherapy simultaneously.
  3. Seek Christian Counsel – Knowing how much doubts have negatively affected my life and with doubt “certainly one of the most frequent and painful problems which plague Christians” (Habermas, 1990, Chapter 1, Introduction: Some Crucial Groundwork section, ¶ 1), I recommend those with Salvation doubts seek the guidance of a spiritual mentor, such as a pastor, deacon, or other elder in the church.
  4. Get in the Word

The only sure way to overcome doubt is to place your faith in the Word of God and depend on that more sure word of prophecy. Don’t allow your five senses to dominate your thinking. You must come to a place to where God’s Word is more real to you than anything you can see, taste, hear, smell, or feel. When you’re in doubt, refer back to the Word of God just the way Jesus told John the Baptist [See John 11:1-4] to do. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word. (Andrew Wommack Ministries, 2018, ¶ 21)

In my observations, most of the etiologies of doubt, even some of the mental disorders, have an element of distrust involved. For those who have salvation doubts, I encourage you not to run from those doubts, own them, and see them as 

the working out of salvation in “fear and trembling” (Phil 2:12). What God wants in these unusual cases is not efforts to make ourselves believe more strongly, but patience in enduring the painful cross of fear and uncertainty. When God is ready, he will then make faith stronger than ever. (Dr. O’s Blog, September 1, 2015, ¶ 4)

To conclude this blog, I want to share two Scriptures that I hope will minister to others in their struggle with doubt:

Proverbs 3:5 – 

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;

Isaiah 41:10 – 

Fear not, for I am with you;
Be not dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you,
Yes, I will help you,
I will uphold you with My righteous right hand.’

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References

Aiken, D. L. (2018). Doubt. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from https://www.biblestudytools.com/dictionary/doubt/

Andrew Wommack Ministries (2018). How to overcome doubt. Retrieved February 7, 2018 from http://www.awmi.net/reading/teaching-articles/overcome_doubt/

Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) (2000). The Billy Graham Christian worker’s handbook [PDF]. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from http://www.toi.edu/ARC/Ministry%20materials/BGEA/Billy%20Graham%20Christian%20Workers%20Handbook.pdf

doubt. (n.d.). Dictionary.com Unabridged. Retrieved February 5, 2018 from Dictionary.com website http://www.dictionary.com/browse/doubt

doubting Thomas (2017). Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. Retrieved February 5, 2018 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Doubting_Thomas

Evans, D. (n.d.). Bible verses about doubt: 20 Scripture quotes. Retrieved February 5, 2018 from https://www.whatchristianswanttoknow.com/bible-verses-about-doubt-20-scripture-quotes/

Grohol, J. M. (2018).  15 common defense mechanisms. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from https://psychcentral.com/lib/15-common-defense-mechanisms/

Habermas, G. R. (1990). Dealing with doubt [Electronic Copy]. Retrieved February 5, 2018 from http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/dealing_with_doubt/dealing_with_doubt.htm. Book available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Dealing-Doubt-Gary-R-Habermas/dp/0802422500

Habermas, G. R. (n.d.), Volitional doubt. Retrieved February 5, 2018 from https://www.jashow.org/articles/christian-living/doubt-christian-living/dealing-with-doubt/volitional-doubt/

The John Ankerberg Show (2003). What are the different types of doubts that someone can have? [Clip Transcript]. Retrieved February 5, 2018 from https://www.jashow.org/articles/christian-living/christian-living-media-clips/what-are-the-different-kinds-of-doubts-that-someone-can-have/

Long-Crowell, E. (n.d.). Self-fulfilling prophecies in psychology: Definition & examples [Lesson Transcript].  Retrieved February 6, 2018 from https://study.com/academy/lesson/self-fulfilling-prophecies-in-psychology-definition-examples.html 

Lucario, L. H. (2017). 12 life-impacting symptoms complex PTSD survivors endure. Retrieved February 7, 2018 from https://themighty.com/2017/08/life-impacting-symptoms-of-complex-post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd/

Morris, G. (2011). Religious obsessive compulsive disorder: The little-understood reason for doubting one’s salvation. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from http://www.net-burst.net/guilty/religious-obsessive-compulsive-disorder.htm

Dr. O’s Blog (2015, September 1). Salvation doubts. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from http://ocdandchristianity.com/?p=612

Dr. O’s Blog (2018, February 1). Salvation doubts revisited. Retrieved February 6, 2018 from http://ocdandchristianity.com/?p=720

U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (2016). Complex PTSD. Retrieved February 7, 2018 from https://www.ptsd.va.gov/professional/PTSD-overview/complex-ptsd.asp

Walker, P. (2013). Complex PTSD: From surviving to thriving—A guide and map for recovering from childhood trauma. USA: CreateSpace Independent Publishing. Available for purchase at https://www.amazon.com/Complex-PTSD-Surviving-RECOVERING-CHILDHOOD/dp/1492871842 

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