Dealing with Doubt
Doubt is a silent sin. It’s so unobtrusive that often we are not aware of it. Doubt often begins with just a little question. Satan first planted doubt in Eve’s mind when he asked, Has God indeed said?…” (Genesis 3:1). Satan knew very well not only what God had said but also what He meant. It was so simple: don’t eat the fruit from the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Yet he raised questions about the Almighty’s motives (Genesis 3:4, 5), insinuating that the fruit was forbidden because it would produce godlike wisdom, and the Almighty didn’t want competition.
The sin of doubt has been with us ever since, and it never stands alone. Doubt is either fostered by other sins or brings other sins along with it. Those who are captive to certain kinds of sin often take Scripture passages that obviously forbid certain things and raise questions as to what God really meant. Then they supply questionable alternate renderings based on their own inclinations in order to continue in their sin. They undermine the meaning of God’s Word so that they can allow what He forbids. Yet there are no alternatives to what God says.
The sin of doubt originated from the devil. Nevertheless, it is cultivated by the world around us, which has its own godless alternatives to faith. The flesh (our human self) also leads us away.
Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the human heart “is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked.” History certainly bears out the fact that each of us possesses a monumental potential for destructive self-deception. Doubt hides in the heart of the self-deceived and follows after those who do not exorcise it.
Doubt dogs our way on the path of faith! Doubt is not like the family pet who follows along happily wagging its tail, waiting for a pat on the head. Doubt is the devil’s dog. As we, God’s children, stroll along life’s path, rejoicing in His creation, Satan’s hound bounds out and chases us, snarling and threatening and robbing us of God’s joy and peace. Worse yet, that canine Doubt will follow after us and try to get us up a tree and out on a limb where the hunter of our souls can pick us off with his devilish darts. Yet we have a remedy. When Satan’s dog, Doubt, growls and bays at us, we must remember that He who is within us (the Holy Spirit) is greater than he who is in the world. If we turn and challenge the doubt that dogs us, it usually slinks away, fearing our very gaze.
We must confront doubt and deal with it. Sometimes we cannot answer all doubts, but we can measure them to see how big they really are in comparison with how big our God is.
Unconfronted doubt destroys the ability to act. Consider the ancient Israelites. God showed mighty miracles and wonders by which He delivered the Hebrews from Pharaoh’s oppression. Yet when Moses sought to reassure the people about possessing the Promised Land, they doubted and did not act in faith. Moses said, “Look, the LORD your God has set the land before you; go up and possess it, as the LORD God of your fathers has spoken to you; do not fear or be discouraged” (Deuteronomy 1:21; cf. Numbers 13 and Deuteronomy 1:22-32).
The people didn’t quite believe Moses, and their doubt led to fear and discouragement. Instead of saying, “Let’s send spies to see what’s there before we can allow ourselves to go,” the Israelites should have said, “Let’s send spies so that we can see the best way by which to enter.” Ten of the spies they sent were infected with doubt. When they returned from spying out the land, they reported that it was a good land. They showed the abundant fruits that grew there, but their fear magnified the size of their enemies, and they reported giants in the land. Even if there had been giants, they should have asked themselves, “How much bigger than that is our God? What did God say? What will God do?” Doubt caused them to disobey, and it does the same to us today.
Doubt can damage us permanently. Until we repent of our doubt and face the truth, we suffer from disorientation and self-deception. The giants the Israelites perceived in the land were not what kept them from going. What really kept them from going was their lack of faith in God’s promise. They enhanced their memories of the good old days in Egypt and forgot how God had delivered them from enemies far more powerful than those they might face in Canaan.
One way to conquer doubt is to be thankful to God for what He has done in the past. As we continually recount the times God has intervened in our lives and praise and thank Him for past providence and deliverance, we keep our minds on His power.
King David knew that providence and deliverance firsthand and wrote many psalms of praise about it. In probably the best known of all the psalms, he wrote, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for You are with me” (Psalm 23:4). David was far from perfect, but he never doubted the presence or the keeping power of God in his life.
Many who know and love the twenty-third Psalm interpret the valley of death portion as comfort at their hour of decease. Certainly it does mean that, but it also means more. It means confidence in our Creator—that as we put our trust in Him, He will guide us through this life and even beyond.
We do not enter the valley of death only on our way out of this life. We enter it just by being born because, barring the rapture, death is the inevitable consequence of life. The angel of death can come at any time. Yet if we just remember that Jesus, the Shepherd of our souls, is guiding us through the dark valleys, we need not doubt or despair.
We still need to exercise reasonable caution along life’s journey, but we need not live in dread. When we have confidence in God, we need not fear the vicissitudes of life. Doubt tells us there is no God or that He doesn’t care for us. Faith, on the other hand, tells us that neither human violence, nor earthquakes, nor famines, nor conflagrations can ultimately destroy us because God is with us. His rod and staff do comfort us. Yet sometimes we still doubt and go astray, and He must give us a prod just to remind us that He is there, leading the way.
The Apostle Peter in the New Testament had a strange mixture of faith and doubt. Seeing Jesus walk on the water, he had no doubt that he could do it too. As he watched Jesus, he got out of the boat and walked on the water—until he averted his gaze from the Lord. For a moment, Peter forgot who Jesus was. Then seeing only himself in what would have been an impossible position except for the Lord’s presence, he began to sink.
Without faith, we, too, will sink in the stormy sea of life. Faith means more than mere affirmation of what God said. It means doing what He said in the way that He said to do it. The way to deal with doubt is to remember that God is with us. When we live in His Word, keep our eyes on Him and perceive His Word as our standard for truth, we gain the victory over doubt.
Seven building blocks: confront doubt—trust Him—don’t despair—focus on Him—be thankful—stay in God’s Word—be obedient