Doubt(v.)-Early 13th century from Old French, “to dread, fear,” from Old French doter, “doubt, be doubtful; be afraid” from Latin dubitare “to doubt, question, hesitate, waver in opinion” etymologically, “to have to choose between two things.”
At 20, I left my obscure hometown in Pennsylvania for Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. The next 3 years would be extremely formative for me, and for the most part I look back on my time at Liberty with thankfulness. If you’ve read my bio, you’ll know I received a biblical studies degree in school, so naturally, I was spending a lot of time reading the Bible whether I was in class, at a church or convocation service, or alone in my dorm room. Near the end of my tenure as an undergraduate student, inklings of doubt began seeping into my mind. Most of these centered around Scripture; what is inspiration? What is inerrancy? How should I actually read the Bible? Of course, I had been told what inspiration and inerrancy were countless times, but now I was wrestling with what those things actually meant. You see, I had been told that every word of the Bible is true, without error or blemish, the Word of God preserved over generations for us. So what about John 8:1-11 and Mark 16:9-20? These passages are not in the earliest manuscripts, which means they were later additions. We also know that there have been minute scribal errors, and even translations are interpretations, of which we have many nowadays. I contemplated going on in greater detail about the thousands of questions that were going through my head back then, but that’s not what I wanted to talk about today. But I wanted to give the starting point for where this “journey” began.
Today, I wanted to talk about doubt. For me it took many forms; at first it seemed like an impure notion, a drop of ink in the water of my mind. Give it no quarter; starve it and it will die. Later, it would return with renewed vigor, crouching at my door. Overcome it, like God told Cain. Eventually, it was like a blanket tossed over me, a thick merciless fog. It is a season, only a season. Soon it will pass.
But doubt remained at my door. While at Liberty, I was constantly surrounded by “God” in one sense or another; class, convocations, church services, Bible studies, solving age-old theological dilemmas on the dorm and so on. One gets used to that, gets used to feeling a certain way about God and our relationship with Him. One assumes the healthy Christian life should look and feel this certain way. Well, upon graduating I was immediately stripped of these surroundings and it wasn’t long before I did not feel God. This added an emotional element to my struggle, which previously had been purely an intellectual battle.
Mind you, I was still a functioning individual during this time. Those who did not know me well were likely unaware of what was happening internally. I was on student leadership at school and was leading Bible studies for my church for several years thereafter. Here and there I would try and bring up some of my questions to trusted peers and friends, but was perpetually met with discontented replies and looks of pity or sheer disgust that I would even wonder about such things aloud. My favorite condolence I received was, “Are you familiar with II Timothy 3:16?”
Not all of these conversations turned ill. Some were encouraging and motivating, and these were like salve on the wounds of my shame, for I did feel shame. How could I not? We are good at shaming one another, even in subtle ways. Why is this, I wonder? Why the knee-jerk reaction to uncertainty, opposition, and doubt?
I wonder how abandoned Joseph and Job must have felt? The former locked in that Egyptian prison and the latter childless and diseased, both clamoring for their God to move. But wasn’t He always moving, always present? Subtle and unexpected, but not absent or indifferent. Likewise, God has been active and involved in my turmoil, though not always in ways I would always expect or prefer. I haven’t opened my Bible to a random spot and been hit in the face with some out-of-context verse that brought me out of the fog, but God has used people in my life to come along side me, some who share my struggles, even if those people have different religious beliefs than I do. In doing so, I believe He has shown Himself.
I have now come to a place of peace with some of the specific topics I was struggling with. Honestly, so many thoughts, conversations, and days researching have gone into it that I’m not sure I could lay out the details in any sort of pleasant way. But here are a few things I have learned during my fight:
If you are still fighting, you are winning. As Christians we are called to endure suffering, which doubt can certainly be. And I believe we have the means to do this.
Do not welcome shame. I believe doubt is an affliction, an unavoidable aspect of human existence regardless of religious affiliation. Allow it to steer you towards a deeper understanding of your Creator, not into the fetters of evil.
God is present and moving. Despite the circumstances, I believe God has purpose in all things and has an uncanny way of using evil for good. But learn not to expect a quick fix, the affliction may be long-lasting. Notice the doubt in Jesus’ cries on the cross, and take comfort in our Savior who is able to empathize with our weaknesses and afflictions.
A mustard seed will do. Faith is not the absence of doubt, but is trusting God in its midst. Make every effort to establish ‘pillars of remembrance’, times where you witnessed God’s movement in your life, or things that confirm the faith to you.
As always, I do hope this may be helpful to you. If you have comments, questions or concerns, let’s talk.
Tyler B. Wilson