“Negative emotions surface during inevitable moments when our lives become filled with pain. These feelings are so strong that unless we understand and process them correctly, they can create doubt, which will eventually undermine our faith in God.”
-Russ Ewell, When God Isn’t Attractive
Doubt is a tricky thing. On the one hand, doubts can benefit us, causing us to question and not just blindly follow the norm. Doubt is the root of many discoveries and movements in our history. Where would we be if scientists didn’t doubt that Earth was the only planet in the universe? If activists didn’t doubt that only the privileged deserved to have a voice? But on the other hand, doubt can be intrusive and debilitating. We could believe in ourselves, our projects, and our relationships so strongly, but one creeping doubt can cause it to all fall apart. Though doubts can lead us down a path of discovery, there comes a time when we must decide what we believe in. Otherwise, we will live in a perpetual state of confusion and turmoil.
“But when you ask, you must believe and not doubt, because the one who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That person should not expect to receive anything from the Lord. Such a person is double-minded and unstable in all they do.”
-James 1:6-8 NIV
When we live each day controlled by doubt and mistrust, we are never able to be fully confident, constantly questioning if we are making the right decisions. The scripture above describes us as unstable and unsettled, comparing us to a wave that gets pushed back and forth by the wind. Has your life felt unstable? Have you felt like no matter how great your life is, you never quite feel settled? Doubt can take many forms. We can doubt God’s love for us, his ability to take care of us, or even his very existence. We can doubt others’ trustworthiness or motives. We can doubt our own ability to change or capacity to be loved. These doubts do not just come out of thin air. When I find myself in this constant state of unbelief, it is important to be aware where my doubt comes from, and what I can do to start living a life of faith and growth.
The Root of Doubt
No wonder you can’t believe! For you gladly honor each other, but you don’t care about the honor that comes from the one who alone is God.
-John 5:44 NLT
When I become consumed with what people think of me, my mind has no room left for God. Like this scripture says, there is no way I can have any semblance of faith when all I think about is people’s approval. I can’t get rid of doubt without first dealing with my incessant need for praise an acceptance from those around me.
“God is truly good to Israel, to those who have pure hearts. But I had almost stopped believing; I had almost lost my faith because I was jealous of proud people. I saw wicked people doing well.”
-Psalms 73:1-3 NCV
Jealousy taints our perception of those around us. When we feel unsatisfied or empty in our lives, it is easy to look around us and become jealous of others’ families, success, and relationships. Our view of God and others becomes mistrustful, resenting people for what they have. We question why someone else has it so easy when we feel like we are left to fend for ourselves. We stop believing that God is doing something good with our lives, as well.
“So Moses told the people of Israel what the Lord had said, but they refused to listen anymore. They had become too discouraged by the brutality of their slavery.”
-Exodus 6:9 NLT
At some point in our lives, we all go through disappointment and heartbreak. We go through a break-up, have financial struggles, lose a loved one, or just undergo daily letdowns. Though some are worse than others, each experience affects us in some way. When we don’t acknowledge and work through these discouragements with God and friends, they build on each other, and eventually block our ability to hear, much less believe, God trying to help us. In the scripture above, the Israelites had experienced so much pain and disappointment that they didn’t even listen when God told them he was coming to save them.
“See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness.”
-Hebrews 3:12-13 NIV
When I don’t talk about what makes me feel ashamed and weighed down, I become hardened. I become cold and desensitized to the needs of those around me, and have difficulty identifying what I feel or think. Faith requires vision, and so this clouded, hardened heart quickly becomes unbelieving, because I am incapable of seeing past my own walls that I’ve erected. A refusal to talk about what is really going on in my life – both sin and emotions – leads to an inability to see God and what he is doing. If I want to have faith and vision again, I need to do the work to dig in my heart and talk about what I’m really going through.
Get Back Faith
“So faith comes from hearing, that is, hearing the Good News about Christ.”
-Romans 10:17 NLT
The key to believing again is so simple yet so overlooked. No matter what leads us to doubt, whether people-pleasing, jealousy, undealt with emotions, hidden sins, the way back to faith is always through the Bible. The more we listen to God’s voice rather than our own fears and insecurities, the more tools we have to combat the doubt.
“We are human, but we don’t wage war as humans do. We use God’s mighty weapons, not worldly weapons, to knock down the strongholds of human reasoning and to destroy false arguments. We destroy every proud obstacle that keeps people from knowing God. We capture their rebellious thoughts and teach them to obey Christ.”
-2 Corinthians 10:3-5 NLT
When the doubtful thoughts creep in, we need to actively fight them with the weapons God gives us through the Bible. Since doubt and unbelief are such core issues that I regularly deal with, I constantly go back to these scriptures to combat these thoughts and fears. It’s impossible to fight them on my own, so I need the Bible and God to fight with me so that I can live a life of faith.
“Why am I so overwrought? Why am I so disturbed? Why can’t I just hope in God? Despite all my emotions, I will believe and praise the One who saves me and is my life.”
-Psalm 42:5 VOICE
Faith is a decision. I will not always feel like believing, but I can decide that despite my emotions, despite my circumstances, and despite my mistakes, I will believe in God and what he is doing in my life.
What doubts have come up in your life? What is causing that unbelief? What do you need to do to combat these doubts with faith?
To learn more about how to take our emotions to God rather than letting them lead us into doubt, read chapter 4 of Russ Ewell’s book, When God Isn’t Attractive, “When Emotions Become God: Increasing Our Emotional Awareness.”