Doubting. It is something familiar to all of us. Doubting covers the gamut of our human experience, whether it be doubts about your favorite sports team doing well this season, or whether or not the sun really is going to come out. Those types of doubts, however, are more often than not easily dealt with and alleviated.
As you move further and deeper into the human heart, doubts can become a bit more serious, stubborn, and chronic. They can be doubts about moving towards someone who has broken trust with you, or doubts regarding if God really and truly cares for you and is good. These types of doubts, spiritual in nature, have the ability to unmoor a person. Doubts like these often serve as the doorway towards deeper issues like depression, paralyzing fear, and chronic anxiety.
James, the brother of Jesus writes that one who doubts is like a wave of the sea that is driven and tossed by the wind (cf. James 1:6). It is a fairly descriptive metaphor, and one, which most people you counsel with doubts can resonate with. The sense and experience of not having a fixed reference point, of being constantly in flux, of one’s emotions never truly matching up with what one knows to be true is at the end of the day enough to make one spiritually seasick.
If you counsel at all, you will inevitably encounter the doubter. It can be difficult and frustrating to counsel someone who doubts because encouraging them to turn to God and his word when they doubt his person and word only compounds the problem.
How are we to come alongside the doubter? How are we to help and care? Jude, another brother of Jesus, writes in Jude 22, “Have mercy on those who doubt.”
It is always the simplest of truths, which are the most profound and helpful. Jude’s command to be merciful to those who doubt opens up the full-counsel of God in Christ to those who struggle in this way. You as a fellow believer are called to incarnate and serve as an ambassador of the Savior’s mercy and grace. You have opportunity to be a living, tangible, flesh and blood testimony to something greater, Jesus Christ himself.
Before his command to be merciful in 22, Jude writes:
- “Building yourselves up in your most holy faith…”
- “Praying in the Holy Spirit…”
- “Keep yourselves in the love of God…”
- “Waiting for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ that leads to eternal life…”
Moving Forward in the Midst of Doubt
It is interesting to note that Jude’s words here are so relationally and action oriented. Build, pray, keep, wait…these are all practical steps of obedience to Christ, which can be done in and by his Spirit’s empowering with the body of Christ. So often, it is easy in counseling to seek to ‘convince’ someone out of their doubts. I have not found this to be as productive as simply listening to the counselee’s doubts, and then slowly asking some probing questions:
- Are your doubts about your eternal standing (union with Christ) before God or doubts about His current care for you (communion with Christ)?
- What do your doubts circle around? Are they doubts about God or about you?
- Where currently in your life do you see God at work? Where do you currently see Him bearing fruit?
- If you sense God is far and distant from you, have you considered that it is you who have moved and not God (cf. Isaiah 59:1-2; Jeremiah 5:25; James 4:8)?
- In what ways do your doubts paralyze you or keep you from fulfilling your calling in Christ?
- What would it look like for you to move outside the cycle of your doubtful thoughts and fears and move in small, faithful ways towards others?
- Have you considered that God communicates His presence, power, and purposes through the body of Christ (local church) and through creation, which sings His praises and tells of His handiwork? If not, how can you engage in both of these in a more deep and meaningful way?
All of these are intended to help the counselor know the heart to whom he talks. Doubt is a powerful tool of the evil one. He used it on Eve in the garden, opening up the possibilities to doubt God’s goodness, provision, word and care. He has not stopped using it since then.
A seasoned pastor told me once that doubts about our faith are neither futile nor fatal. Neither futile, meaning that we should not ignore them and do nothing with them, but seek to grow in our understanding and love for God and others. Neither fatal, meaning that just because one doubts in no way means that you are not saved. The help of a merciful counselor and the Counselor will help the doubter rightly go to Christ in faith rather than engage in the endless cycle of speculative and paralyzing thoughts which so often accompany doubting.
Join the Conversation
Have you ever struggled with doubt before? If so, what helped you in the midst of those doubts? What do our doubts say about us? How can they move us closer to God and towards others?
I’m not saying that you should not point the person who doubts to God and His Word, but how does the counselor do so in a way which is gracious and merciful and not merely the dispensing of theological tidbits.