Tag Archives: doubt

Are doubts a sign of a weak faith?

I’m a believer—a Christian. I’m a “lifer” and an insider. I was born into a Christian home. I have Christian parents. I’ve gone to church all my life.

I’m also a doubter.

Over the years I’ve had many troubling questions: How do I know God exists? Can I be sure Christianity is right? How can there be an all-loving and all-powerful God when there is so much evil in the world? Can I really trust that the Bible is true?

For most of my life I’ve walked in a place of doubt-plagued faith. And while I’ve never stopped believing, I have stopped pretending that I have all the answers. I’ve come to believe that not all doubt is an enemy of faith. Sincere doubts can be an indispensable part of each person’s faith journey.

If we never doubt, we never question. If we never question, we never change. And if we never change, we never grow.

Just before I graduated from seminary, I had a conversation with my 80-year-old grandfather that changed how I think about doubt.

Poppaw had called to congratulate me on my upcoming graduation. He asked about the kids. I asked if he had been fishing. He talked about getting the old boat in the river. And then the conversation took an unexpected turn.

“Son [my grandfather called me son], I need to ask you a question.” He paused. “Can I trust the Bible? I mean, does the Bible I read in English say the same thing as the original Bible says?”

Up until this point I thought my doubts were a sign that my faith was weak. Frankly, that was part of my reason for going to seminary in the first place. I thought if I could just accumulate enough information, then all my doubts would be crushed under the weight of overwhelming information. But at the end of his faith journey here was Poppaw—one of the most faithful Christ-followers I have ever known—struggling to believe despite his doubt.

That day I began to wonder if I had misdiagnosed the problem. Maybe my doubts weren’t the problem. Maybe they were part of the solution.

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What Can I Do to Stop Cutting Myself?

I’m sad about your struggle with cutting. This is a painful topic and one that you may have avoided up to this point. It takes a lot of courage to talk about it and you’ve taken an important step in getting help.

Any form of self-injury is dangerous and should be taken seriously. The reasons that motivate cutting are complicated, so it’s important to seek the kind of help that will invite you to take an honest look at yourself and ask the question “What is going on in your heart?” An experienced counselor can help teach you better ways of coping, which is important, but he or she will also help expand your insight into the reasons behind the cutting and give you a safe place to process your deep feelings of shame and self-loathing.

There also can be great comfort in reading the expressions of emotion in the Bible. It’s soothing to know that we’re not alone in our pain; others before us have felt the terror of despair. As one example, Psalm 31:9-13 reads:

“Be merciful to me, O LORD, for I am in distress; my eyes grow weak with sorrow, my soul and my body with grief. My life is consumed by anguish and my years by groaning; my strength fails because of my affliction, and my bones grow weak. Because of all my enemies, I am the utter contempt of my neighbors; I am a dread to my friends—those who see me on the street flee from me. I am forgotten by them as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery. For I hear the slander of many; there is terror on every side; they conspire against me and plot to take my life.”

It’s impossible to overlook the unbelievable anguish in this passage. As someone who cuts, you may have cried out with similar expressions. Memories of past abuse, unwanted thoughts, or feeling out of control with your life may cause you to consider cutting as a release of the pain, misery, and anger you feel inside.

As we continue reading (vs. 1-4), however, the psalmist declares that it’s his trust in God that helps him through this time of horrific misery and he rejects any other way to ultimately save him.

“In you, O LORD, I have taken refuge; let me never be put to shame; deliver me in your righteousness. Turn your ear to me, come quickly to my rescue; be my rock of refuge, a strong fortress to save me. Since you are my rock and my fortress, for the sake of your name lead and guide me. Free me from the trap that is set for me, for you are my refuge.”

It’s hard to trust God whom we can not see. But in addition to counseling and learning how to express your feelings in a healthy way, I hope you can see that we are better off trusting God than in trusting in anything else. We’ve come up with different ways to deal with our anger and ease the pain of life, but apart from God, our methods are only temporary and don’t give us what our hearts truly need. And what we truly need is to invite God into our pain; we need Him to comfort us and give us strength.

God, in His love for you, sent His son Jesus to set you free. He knows your pain and He wants to heal and strengthen you. As a matter of fact, He came specifically for this purpose; not only to offer you life after death, but life now! He came to help you live through pain instead of trying to escape by self-injury (Isaiah 61:1-3).

I know you’re hurting deeply inside. Pain and disappointment have taken root in your soul. Cutting may seem like the only answer to your overwhelming pain, but the dark side of it is that it keeps you from what your heart longs for. So when you’re compelled to cut yourself, please don’t try and face it alone. The Bible offers you an answer. The battle is hard, and most likely won’t be won over night. But getting wise counsel from a competent therapist, and believing that there is Someone who cares for you who is fully capable of comforting you and setting you free from this prison, can give you the confidence to fight the urge to harm yourself.

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Is It Possible for a Believer To Be Overwhelmed with Fear and Despair? 

In spite of his triumph over the prophets of Baal, Elijah fell into deep despair (1 Kings 19:4).

After confidently proclaiming his faithfulness to Jesus (Matthew 26:33-35), Peter denied Him with curses and wept bitterly (Mark 14:66-72)

Paul “despaired even of life” (2 Corinthians 1:8), and agonized over his helplessness when struggling against the “flesh” (Romans 7:18-24).

Though God accomplished great things through each of these people, as persons of faith they experienced their worlds spinning out of control.

These examples from the Bible make it clear that believers often face trials that are unexpected and have no discernable purpose. Trials like these overwhelm our efforts to understand and rationalize them. But these biblical examples of great people of faith illustrate that experiences of stress and despair can be times of greatest spiritual growth.

A story about the Victorian poet/hymn writer William Cowper illustrates how dramatically God’s grace can interact with our despair. Anyone knowing his history would understand why Cowper was given to long periods of depression. On one occasion, convinced he had committed the unpardonable sin, he left his home on a foggy London night and walked toward the Thames River, determined to commit suicide by drowning. As he walked, the fog grew thicker and he lost his way. After several hours of blind wandering, he found himself back at his doorstep. Astonished at God’s intervention, he wrote a poem that later became a beloved hymn:

God moves in a mysterious way His wonders to perform;

He plants His footsteps in the sea, and rides upon the storm.

Judge not the Lord by feeble sense, but trust Him for His grace;

behind a frowning providence He hides a smiling face.

Blind unbelief is sure to err and scan His work in vain;

God is His own Interpreter, and He will make it plain.

Job’s story provides a framework for understanding the common elements of experiences that make believers feel they are abandoned in a hostile and meaningless world. God allowed Satan to test Job (Job 1), just as our accuser tests the faith of everyone driven to despair. Every believer has a personal enemy, Satan, who consciously seeks to make him or her feel their faith is empty (1 Peter 5:8-9; Ephesians 6:10-12). But just as God set limits to what Satan could do to Job (Job 1:12), He sets limits to what Satan can do to us (1 Corinthians 10:13; Luke 22:31-32). Even more importantly, if we are faithful the Creator is able to change our despairing experiences into good. God uses satanically induced despair to strengthen and refine us in our love for Him and each other.

“In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed” (1 Peter 1:6-7 NIV).

 

 

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Is It Possible for Me to Lose My Salvation?

It’s been nearly 2,000 years since Jesus Christ personally offered forgiveness of sins and eternal life. Of the millions who have accepted His offer, many have found the peace and joy of knowing they have a secure relationship with their Lord and Savior. Others, however, haven’t felt as secure. Some routinely struggle with confusion and uncertainty, wondering if they’ve lost their salvation in Jesus Christ because of something they have or have not done.

It’s a frightening and tense place to be in when you are uncertain about where you stand in your relationship with Jesus Christ. Understanding the basis and the nature of salvation can eliminate much of the uncertainty that some Christians feel regarding their relationship with Jesus Christ.

The Bible stresses that salvation completely rests on trusting in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross as full payment for our sins ( John 3:15-16,36 ; Romans 3:22-24 ). Faith alone is the basis for our salvation. It is not based on our own merit or performance ( Ephesians 2:8-9 ; Titus 3:4-5 ), nor is it based on the amount of our faith. It is the object of our faith that matters. Trusting in Christ (not anyone else, including ourselves) brings salvation. A strong sense of security settles in our hearts as we realize that while we are the fortunate recipient of God’s grace and mercy, we are not responsible for earning it. It’s free!

Additionally, the Bible teaches that we are eternally secure when we solely trust the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior. This is the eternal and binding nature of the salvation that Jesus grants. Jesus said that He gives us eternal life and we shall never be lost. He declared that no one can take us out of His or the Father’s hands ( John 10:27-30 ).

In the same way, the apostle Paul wrote that those who have trusted in Christ for salvation are eternally saved. He stated, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” ( Romans 8:1 ). He went on to say that absolutely nothing can separate us from God’s love ( Romans 8:35-39 ). So then, according to the Scriptures, we can confidently believe that we are eternally secure if we have placed our trust solely in what Christ accomplished on the cross as full payment for our sins ( John 5:24 ; 1 John 5:13 ).

If we could somehow lose our salvation in Christ, then Jesus and Paul would be liars since they both described the gift of salvation as eternal ( John 3:16 ; Titus 3:7 ). Eternal means that it never ends. Our salvation is permanent. In other words, once we are saved, we are always saved.

God doesn’t give us the gift of eternal life and then take it back if we are bad. Our eternal security is not based on our ability to be good or perform, but on the promises of God ( John 3:16 ). Moreover, any attempt on our part to say that we can somehow earn and maintain a secure relationship in Christ is an affront to God. It strips Him of glory and lessens His remarkable offering of grace and mercy to an undeserving world.

Although we never lose our salvation in Christ, we can lose the enjoyment of close communion and fellowship with our heavenly Father. For example, when my daughter sins against me, it temporarily hinders our ability to be close and enjoy each other’s company. But even though all is not well between us, she never ceases to be my daughter. The same is true for those of us who have trusted Christ as our Savior. Whenever we sin against God and put distance between ourselves and Him, we are still His children who are secure in His love. That is why in Luke 7 Jesus told the sinful woman whose faith had saved her to “go in peace” ( Luke 7:50 ). She could rest and not worry about where she stood with God. That relationship was eternally secure.

We will sin as Christians, and our sin should grieve us. But it shouldn’t take us by surprise. The apostle John said, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” ( 1 John 1:8 ). Most importantly, there is no sin we could commit that would cause us to lose our salvation. The apostle John added that God is willing to forgive all of our sins if we confess them ( 1 John 1:9 ). He didn’t just mean the total amount of our sins, but the various kinds of sins as well. In other words, God forgives and cleanses us from every kind of sin possible. His mercy has no limits.

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Isn’t a Lack of Deliverance from Sickness or Harm a Sign of Deficient Faith?

It would be a serious mistake to imply that deficient faith accounts for all instances in which a person does not receive healing or deliverance.

It’s true that Scripture tells of people who were healed or delivered from danger because of their faith. Some examples are Gideon ( Judges 7:15-23 ); Naaman the Syrian ( 2 Kings 5:14-15 ); Shadrach, Meschach, and Abednego ( Daniel 3:19-29 ); the centurion’s servant ( Matthew 8:13 ); the woman with an issue of blood ( Matthew 9:20-22 ); the man with a withered hand ( Matthew 12:9-13 ); and Peter’s deliverance from prison ( Acts 12:5-12 ). Even this partial list is impressive.

Clearly, faith in God may result in healing and deliverance. However, the Scriptures also show us just as clearly that there are times when a believer’s suffering or sickness has nothing to do with a lack of faith.

When Job lost his family, wealth, and physical health, his friends “comforted” him with the message that his loss and suffering were due to his own moral failure (his lack of faith). But Job was confident in his integrity before God. God Himself had declared him perfect and upright ( Job 1:8 ). Later, God Himself denied the explanation that Job’s “counselors” gave for his suffering ( Job 13:1-15 ). Even more importantly, God Himself denounced their words ( Job 42:7-8 ).

Job’s faith wasn’t the problem. In fact, Job’s faith in God was so strong that he, without cursing or disrespect, defended his integrity to God and questioned Him about the injustice of his suffering. Yet, in the midst of his agony, he continued to trust:

Though He slay me, yet will I trust Him. Even so, I will defend my own ways before Him. He also shall be my salvation, for a hypocrite could not come before Him (Job 13:15-16).

For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth; and after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another. How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).

Job’s faith was eventually rewarded and vindicated. But he wasn’t spared the terrible suffering that allowed his faith to be tested and proven.

Even at a time when miracles often occurred, God allowed Stephen to be stoned ( Acts 7:59-60 ) and James to be beheaded. Although Acts 12 tells of Peter’s supernatural deliverance from captivity in prison, Jesus had already prophesied that he would eventually die a martyr’s death ( John 21:17-19 ), as (according to tradition) did all of the other disciples except John.

In 2 Corinthians 11:23-30 Paul eloquently described the suffering and trials from which he hadn’t been delivered. He also suffered from a particular “thorn in the flesh” ( 2 Corinthians 12:7, 10 ) for which God had not provided a remedy. When Timothy suffered from a stomach ailment, Paul didn’t exhort him to have greater faith. Instead he told him to take some wine as medicine ( 1 Timothy 5:23 ). There isn’t the slightest hint in these passages that Paul’s trials and Timothy’s sickness were the product of unconfessed sin or deficient faith. In fact, rather than proclaiming that our faith in Christ should deliver us from the suffering and trials of this world, Paul extols the spiritual benefits of suffering.

We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance [produces] character, and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us (Romans 5:3-5).

James also made it clear that strong faith is no insurance against suffering:

Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything (James 1:2-4).

On the basis of Scripture, we can say that faith is always relevant to suffering. Our reaction to suffering — whether in faith or in despair — determines whether it will produce spiritual growth or despair. But because spiritual healing is more important to us than our physical circumstances, faith is not a barrier against suffering.

Whenever we are inclined to presume that the illness or suffering of another person is the result of that person’s sin, we should recall the foolishness of Job’s “counselors” in attempting to explain the mystery of God’s will. Although faith won’t always deliver us from tribulation, it will keep us conscious of God’s promises and of the assurance that He will work everything out to good of His children ( Romans 8:28 ).

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