Experiencing doubt is something that we all have dealt with.
On the one hand, doubt can be such a terrible thing.
But on the other hand—in this world doubt can potentially serve us well.
If it means not fully trusting in someone or something that cannot or should not be trusted, then it can be protective.
However, what tends to happen with someone who has experienced rejection, betrayal, abandonment, or trauma is that his or her brain can be primed to think that someone will wrong them by default, and force others to earn his or her trust.
Left unchecked, there may come a point where trust can no longer be earned and doubt is the default.
As little children, if our environment was safe, secure, and we had loving parents, we likely had the kind of faith that Jesus referred to in Matthew 18. Here the default is for one to be trusting.
As a child is dependent on his or her parents, we can be dependent on God. In this context, it is being dependent on God for everlasting life, knowing that we cannot contribute anything to what Jesus simply guarantees to those who believe.
He is sufficient.
Matthew 18:2-5 (NKJV) Then Jesus called a little child to Him, set him in the midst of them, and said, “Assuredly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore whoever humbles himself as this little child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. Whoever receives one little child like this in My name receives Me.
In order to have eternal life, God made it so simple that even a child could understand and believe it. I was around four years old when I believed in Jesus Christ for everlasting life. I knew that He was God, died on the cross for my sins, and offered me everlasting life if I just believed in Him for it. At that young of an age, I was convinced that He is who He says He is, and I could live with Him forever because of what He promised me.
It didn’t take much persuading for me. I grew up in the church and my entire family were believers.
However, years later, the doubt would creep in…
The Beginning of Doubt
In a safe environment and shielded from most of the evils of the world, although children are definitely not without sin, there is an innocence about them. You can witness their wonder of this world through their eyes. They have yet to experience the darkness in this world.
This is how my life was until I experienced sexual molestation by a distant relative at 6 years old. Prior to that, I was confident, secure, and had a sense of wonder about this world. After the trauma, I felt insecure, unsafe, anxious, and fearful. This started my journey of doubt. Doubt in myself, later doubt in my family, and doubt in God.
Many people begin to doubt God when things go wrong in their lives, when their prayers seemingly don’t get answered, or they come across injustice that they cannot seem to understand God would allow.
Some people doubt when they are told by people they trust or look up to that their beliefs are wrong.
Sometimes the doubt just touches their daily trust in God. They fear that He is not really there for them. Other times, it may continue toward doubting that God exists, or really will be true to His promise.
Environments That Breed Doubt
Trauma can be a fertile ground for doubt.
Environments where there tends to be a lot of disorder, chaos, betrayal, and trauma, tend to create a sense of skepticism, distrust, and pessimism. People who have been in combat, in the front lines as first responders, or in households with domestic violence tend to be slow to trust others and even God. Especially if someone has gone through trauma, there is a mentality that no one has his or her back, that they are alone, and have to figure everything out by themselves. It seems like the default is to doubt others. To go one step further, if that person was unable to protect themselves from the trauma, he or she may even doubt him or herself.
John the Baptist doubted when he was imprisoned and Jesus had not yet set up His Kingdom. He was isolated in a dark and horrible prison about to be executed. This was a fertile breeding ground for doubt.
He was left with nothing but his own thoughts, and doubt began to creep in.
It is unclear exactly why John the Baptist started doubting, but it is clear that he did despite his experiences that we might think would make doubt impossible. After all, he heard the voice of God the Father from Heaven tell Him that Jesus was the Christ, the Son of God, and saw the Holy Spirit descend on Jesus like a dove (Luke 3:21-22).
Maybe John the Baptist didn’t fully understand Jesus’ plan on earth, and was confused why Jesus had not set up His Kingdom yet. Regardless, John the Baptist—no greater man born of woman (Matt 11:11)—had his own moment of doubt.
Matthew 11:13 (NKJV) ...and said to Him, “Are You the Coming One, or do we look for another?”
How Can We Have Assurance?
The beautiful thing about everlasting life is that our assurance comes from the One who promises it to us. A promise is as good as the one who is making the promise. Fortunately for us, in this case, that Person is Jesus Christ—God Himself.
Our assurance does not come from our works (Eph 2:8-9), and it does not come from our experiences. If we put our confidence in anything or anyone other than God, that is where doubt can run rampant.
When I was 12 years old, I went through a year of turmoil because I began to doubt. I doubted that I "truly" believed or had “enough” faith.
Looking back as a Psychiatrist, I can see that I was struggling with obsessive compulsive issues—even at that young age—but I also know there was a lot of spiritual warfare going on at that time.
What got me through that year was constant prayer, my parents reading Scripture to me, meeting with my pastor, and continuing to pursue God in spite of the doubt.
The verse that really helped me overcome the doubt was Matt 17:20-21.
Matthew 17:20 (NKJV) So Jesus said to them, “Because of your unbelief; for assuredly, I say to you, if you have faith as a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”
I realized that throughout Jesus’ time on earth, the disciples continually exhibited doubt and little faith. If they had faith as a mustard seed, they could move mountains. I definitely didn’t have the faith that could move mountains, but I did believe that Jesus gave me everlasting life because I simply believed in Him for it. There wasn’t a measurement involved, I was just convinced that it was true—simple child-like faith.
How Our Communication Can Unintentionally Spark Doubt
This next point is VERY important.
We must be careful in how we communicate Scripture to others, and what words we use to explain the vast depth and complexity of truth found within it.
It is best to use the words written in the Bible instead of changing words around or adding words and definitions where they aren’t present in the Bible. While well-intentioned, the “Christian-ese” we all too often hear can lead to issues with others understanding what we mean. After all, what one expression means to me can mean something else to another person.
The wise way of communicating is using the words that God gave to us to use through His Word.
I have heard people say that they "feel different," they "love better," or they "had an experience" that gives them confidence that they have everlasting life. The problem is that those are all experiential and subjective, and not at all what the Bible tells us to base our assurance of salvation upon.
They may say that they give to the poor and look to their works—at what they do or don’t do— to prove to themselves and others that they have everlasting life.
However, the proof is not in our behavior, feelings, or actions.
Once we start looking to ourselves for assurance, we are going down the wrong path.
"Belief"—in the way the Bible uses it—cannot be quantified nor should it be.
The way the Bible uses the word that we translate to “believe” simply means to be persuaded that a proposition is true. But if we take it a step further and use our own expressions to explain what “persuaded” means and—for example—tell people that “persuaded” means to be “100% sure,” then we have introduced a quantification that is never mentioned in the Bible.
This causes people to start to look at themselves to measure and quantify their faith, which is impossible.
Best case, this kind of explanation is confusing. But the worst case is that If someone is told they can’t have any doubt at all, if they are like me, they might start doubting themselves.
If you are a doubting person like I am, whether through a history of traumas like mine or a skeptic at heart, you can be sure of your eternal destiny because of Jesus’ promise of everlasting life (John 3:16)—it really is that simple.
Doubt can be miserable, but it doesn’t have to be something that you’re stuck with.