I recently bumped into my old nemesis again.
My family has never really experienced death that much. Over the past two months, however, I have had two family members pass away. This year has been as hard of a time as I can remember. I know that I am experiencing a mix of grief and emotional doubt, but it’s sometimes hard to draw a line between the two.
According to Gary Habermas, emotional doubt is where “the factual data is judged by how one feels about it, rather than on its own merits. Thus, instead of coming to grips with the strength of the evidence, the one experiencing the quandary often responds by emoting about it.” This differs from intellectual doubt, which is where a person has reservations about the truthfulness of Christianity. Many of the resources here at A Clear Lens are for those struggling with intellectual doubt. But what are some ways that we can deal with emotional doubt?
I want to share 5 practices that have helped me deal with this in the past and that are helping me get through this season now. I pray that they would also be useful to you in your journey.
1. Focus On Your Devotional Life (Scripture and Prayer).
When experiencing emotional doubt, we should first run to Scripture and prayer. One of the most encouraging things to me about the Bible is that it doesn’t shy away from grief, doubt, pain, and open questioning. When you look at the Psalms, for example, you see people honestly struggling with their doubts:
“Why, O Lord, do you stand far away? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?” (Psalm 10:1).
“How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?” (Psalm 13:1).
“My tears have been my food day and night, while they say to me all the day long, ‘Where is your God?’” (Psalm 42:3).
I imagine if you asked these writers if they still believed in God during these times, they would answer “Yes.” But their circumstances and their feelings may have gotten the best of them. We can be encouraged that even the biblical writers struggled with emotional doubts at times.
Reading Scripture is only step one. The second step is to communicate your doubts to God. When God feels distant, talk to Him about it. Don’t run away from God when things aren’t going well. He can handle your questions and your pain.
2. Share Your Doubts With Others.
No Christian is an island. Maybe you need to share your emotional doubt with some family members. Maybe you need to have a talk with a trusted friend or your pastor. Keeping these things inside is the worst thing you could do. It is amazing how the simple act of sharing your emotions can lift you up.
If you are like me, I tend to quarantine my emotional doubts for as long as possible. Like a ticking time bomb, it is only a matter of time before I explode. Now, I am learning to deal with my emotional doubts as soon as they come by letting them out into the light. Sharing your doubts with others may be hard at first, but it will pay off in the end.
3. Do Activities That You Enjoy.
When experiencing emotional doubt, you cannot stay in your room with the lights off all day. You have to get up and do things that you enjoy. Read a good book, watch a good film, or go out to eat with a friend. Nothing lifts me up more than reading a good book on theology.
God often feels near when I am doing something that He created me to enjoy. Don’t overlook the fact that “Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above” (James 1:17). Get up and do things that God has created you to enjoy!
4. Find the Lie and Attack It With Truth.
The most painful things we hear are often things we tell ourselves. Before we can speak truth to ourselves, we must first pinpoint the particular lie that we are believing. Lies often come in the form of “What if?” questions. Examples like “What if Christianity turns out to be a sham?” or “What if God doesn’t love me?” are questions that do more harm than good.
Sometimes the lies are subtle and take much time in prayer to discover. Once you have determined the lie, it must be overtaken by Truth. We do this by using Scripture like a weapon to destroy the lie in our minds. Paul describes this spiritual battle in 2 Corinthians 10:4-5:
“For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ.”
5. Remember Your Redemption.
We are a forgetful people. When you look at the Israelites during Moses’ time, they witnessed God redeem them from Egypt in a miraculous way. But it didn’t take long before they forgot what God had done for them and began complaining about their circumstances.
Paul speaks about this and tells us that “these things happened to them as an example, but they were written down for our instruction” (1 Cor. 10:11). In other words, we need to learn from their mistakes! The Israelites should have remembered that God redeemed them from slavery in Egypt. Similarly, we must reflect on our conversion when God redeemed us from sin and death.
I grew up in church and was always a “good kid” so I am tempted to think that my conversion experience wasn’t that radical. But the fact is, I was spiritually dead in my sins and wanted nothing to do with God. He changed my heart, and gave me an unquenchable thirst to know Him and His Word.
As Peter says, “Once you were not a people, but now you are God’s people; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy” (1 Peter 2:10). The God we once ran away from, we now desire. The God we once hated, we now love.
May we heed the words of Charles Spurgeon when we experience emotional doubt:
“Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy’s foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints.”
Habermas, Dr. Gary. “Emotional Doubt.” John Ankerberg Show. N.p., 10 May 2016. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.
Spurgeon, Charles. “Do Not Be Dismayed When Your Soul Is Troubled.” For The Church. N.p., 20 Dec. 2015. Web. 12 Apr. 2017.