Written By Dan Paterson, Australia
Dan Paterson is the founder of Questioning Christianity and is based in Brisbane, Australia. An ordained pastor, Dan speaks regularly to audiences on how the gospel connects to life’s biggest questions and on the popular objections to the Christian faith, particularly on the question of suffering. Dan is married to Erin, and they have three young sons, Josiah, Zachariah, and Seth.
Dear Doubting Christian,
I am filled with grief when I see how Christians treat doubt and doubters. For whatever my words are worth, I want to offer a profound apology for any time you’ve been written off easily by Christians in your circle—maybe even made to feel as though you’re “not really one of us” because you struggle to believe what others claim comes so naturally to them.
I know that behind every believer is a doubter. Whether we’re confronted with intellectual challenges to the Christian story, or experience dark nights of the soul when our lives are falling apart (or both), we all have questions for God. And annoyingly, so often, God isn’t as real to us in those moments as we want Him to be. He doesn’t act in line with our expectations.
What I find fascinating about the Bible is how Jesus seems far more comfortable with doubt than the Church has become. Think about how many of the Psalms ask some pretty raw questions that stem from disappointments with God. Consider King David’s plea, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?” (Psalm 22:1). What a scandalous time in history it must have been as Jesus echoed this heart cry on the cross: Even God questioning God is in the Bible (Matthew 27:46).
And after His resurrection, Jesus seems okay with doubters being amongst His followers. Matthew’s Gospel records how even after seeing Jesus resurrected from the dead, some of His first followers doubted whilst others worshipped (Matthew 28:17). Or, take Thomas. The night of Jesus’ resurrection, while Thomas was out for some unknown reason (perhaps getting the unleavened pizza), Jesus appears and convinces the others He is alive (John 20:19-23). Does Thomas believe their story? No. And John records that for a whole week, Jesus left one of His apostles in the fog of doubt (John 20:24-29).
Through these stories of doubt that are filled with raw questions, the Bible gives us the emotional register and permission to voice our own. God is not afraid of your questions, even if you have experienced some Christians to be. Perhaps your voice will challenge any cultural winds within the Church that treat doubt as an enemy to faith—something we can all benefit from.
My own story is one where doubt was a doorway to Christian faith. Why? Because I was challenged to explore whether the Christian story could make sense of my objections. To my surprise, upon investigation, I found far more than I was looking for. I was then nurtured in a Christian community where doubt and critical questions were expected as part of a maturing faith. And as someone for whom tough questions once kept me away from God, I’ve now devoted my life to helping others ask away at the Christian story.
There are some substantial (not always complete) answers to many of the questions swirling in your mind, even if you feel no one is talking about it. And there is an entire sub-discipline known as “apologetics” devoted to helping Christians wrestle with whether the gospel is good and true news. It spans various lines of evidence from the fields of philosophy, history, science, and psychology. After critical scrutiny for centuries, it isn’t a rhetorical hyperbole to say that, academically speaking, the case for God and the Christian story is stronger now than ever.
But embarking on your own journey to answer your questions may require a complete deconstruction of your faith in order to build again on a new foundation—one that can survive the storms of doubt and suffering that Jesus promised would come (Matthew 7:24-27). You may discover, like me, that the Christian story is far more nuanced and exciting in making sense of reality than you now believe it to be, and that it really is good news for every area of human life.
I hope you are able to think about what lies behind your questions. Our stated reasons are rarely the reason we distance ourselves from God, as often they are merely an avenue to articulate a deeper distrust we have with the whole “God” thing. I don’t know your story or the events that have brought you to this place of doubt, but I’m curious as to whether there isn’t a mountain of disappointment with God upon which you’re asking these questions. Because if there is, the Bible’s prescription for doubts of the heart is different to how it deals with doubts of the mind. The mind needs answers, but the heart needs mercy, presence, friendship, and healing. So rightly diagnosing the doubt matters.
But let me close with a word of hope. The Apostle Peter once thought his faith impervious to doubt. He promised Jesus he would stand where others fell, only to hours later lose his faith. He doubted everything. He denied Jesus. Thrice. But this is what Jesus said to him:
Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned again, strengthen your brothers. (Luke 22:31-33, ESV)
Right now, know that Jesus is bound by His love to pray that your faith may not fail. Standing before the Father, Jesus is perpetually animated with a passion to intercede for you (Hebrews 7:25). And this is a hopeful posture and picture of God that has often warmed my doubting heart.
I am no prophet, nor the son of a prophet. I only hope that one day you return to worship Jesus—but with the whole of your rational mind and heart convinced of the goodness, truth, and beauty of the gospel. In so doing, no doubt, you will strengthen other doubters like me.