Many of us wrestle with doubt or uncertainty in our walk with God, but is that so unusual and what should we do about it?
Marty Sampson, former Hillsong worship leader and songwriter, posted on his Instagram, "I am genuinely losing my faith, and it doesn't bother me."
He went on to point at the ‘unfairness’ of hell and how pastors fall away from the faith before adding, “I am not in any more. I want genuine truth. Not the ‘I just believe it’ kind of truth. Science keeps piercing the truth of every religion. Lots of things help people change their lives, not just one version of God.”
Compared to divorce and major retractions of doctrine from someone like Joshua Harris or the public spiral into scandal from leaders like James MacDonald, a social media post about unbelief from someone like Sampson may seem inconsequential by comparison.
One more person has weaved off the road of Christian fundamentalism.
How much should we pay attention to moments like this? If we’re deeply upset by Sampson’s declaration, what exactly about it is rattling us?
The Case of Our Spiritual Schizophrenia
Perhaps the most disturbing element of Marty Sampson’s post is that none of us are all that far from the same place.
Stop going to church for a few weeks, and we’ll quickly see this disturbing metamorphosis in our own souls. Forget to read the Bible for a few days, and those days can swiftly grow into weeks or months, and—before we know it—a year has drifted by. How quickly we grow comfortable away from regular spiritual disciplines.
Is it really any surprise then that if we wander long enough in the gloom of cultural standards and moral relativism, we may find ourselves severely doubting the Bible and God’s promises and not being bothered by that anymore?
Even if we are faithful with our studies of scripture, church attendance and prayer, we may find ourselves quietly wrestling with unbelief.
We may have never vocalized our doubts. We may smile and nod or give the appropriate, Christian responses. We may listen to sermons and take notes, but deeper down, we wonder if what we’re doing is right, if any of it matters at the end of the day, if the pastor is trustworthy, if we’re not just wasting our time.
Guilt immediately follows on the heels of these mental twinges. Our very title “believer” practically states that this uncertainty shouldn’t be an issue.
What’s wrong with us?
“Can we, in faith, obey God one moment and then, in unbelief, disobey him the next?” Matt Moore wrote. “Yes — yes we can. And we do! The normal Christian experience is a kind of ‘spiritual schizophrenia.’ If you are a believer, you know exactly what I mean by that.”
The up and down, bipolar nature of our relationship with God and the world may not always be visible to those around us, but it is almost always an ever-present part of our lives as believers.
In Search of the Perfect Faith
If unbelief is going to be a regular feature of our struggle to stay on the straight and narrow, does it mean that there’s something inherently illogical about our beliefs, as so many pop-culture authorities would have us believe?
“The intellectual case for unbelief…only emerges after many generations of emotional and practical unbelief,” Pastor Andrew Wilson explained in his analysis of the book Unbelievers: An Emotional History of Doubt, “and when it does, it emerges as an attempt to articulate and substantiate a posture of doubt that has already been felt, at a visceral level, for some time.”
In this case, unbelief is an emotional state rather than a logical one, which drives life choices from a place of guilt, fear or past wounds rather than rational thought.
“It wasn’t that people believed God didn’t exist—that meaning of the word ‘atheist’ came later—but they lived as if he didn’t, in worldliness, libertinism, and mockery of the church.”
Very few of us are entirely free of a slice of secularism. Do we laugh at off-color jokes? Do we swear on occasion? Did we enjoy that violent television show or movie where characters were proponents of twisted cultural ideals?
Say we erect the barricades, hide behind the church doors, put on our Puritan bonnets and silver-buckled shoes. Even if we do keep ourselves completely isolated from the world, do we gossip during prayer requests? Do we treat God cavalierly, say his name carelessly or distance ourselves from him? Despite a shimmering bubble of church activities and Christian entertainment, we bring the dirt from the world in with us, in our hearts that are “the most deceitful of all things, and desperately wicked…” (Jeremiah 17:9 NLT).
No one is exempt from this struggle. If they were, they would either be Jesus himself or an angel. As John Calvin wrote, “A perfect faith is nowhere to be found, so it follows that all of us are partly unbelievers.”
We may profess belief in God and still regularly make choices that say otherwise.
Two Simple Steps to Successful Battle
If we’re always in danger of being overtaken by the creeping habits of unbelief, how do we combat this mentality? How do we catch it before it numbs us to its presence and we’re happily floating along toward dissipation?
In a sermon, David Wilkerson explored the story of Peter walking on water, “Peter looks at the conditions. He begins to sink…unbelief is very selfish, and it thinks only of itself. Peter didn't think of the others that are left in the boat. He thought only of himself. …Jesus takes him by the hand, then he says, ‘Why didn't you believe? Why did you doubt me?’”
This is our first step to overcoming the choices of unbelief, as David points out, “The Lord says, ‘Come.’ That's the whole gospel. The Lord says, in your pain, to every child, ‘Come. Just come to me.’”
God is very familiar with our unbelief. He’s not surprised. More than anything, he wants us to lay out our unbelief before him and be honest about our struggle.
The second step is never to believe that we are safe alone.
“I survive and thrive in the ministry because God has surrounded me with people who pray for me and exhort me to press on in the fight of faith,” John Piper wrote in his devotional on battling unbelief. “The Bible teaches that surviving and thriving in a life of faith and love depends on Christians intentionally building each other in faith and stirring each other up to love.”
Part of the reason many believers struggle with this sprouts out of an oft-unconscious misconception about our own faith, as Piper points out.
“We must be rid of the notion that before we were Christians, we were fighting for faith and battling unbelief, but now that we are Christians, we can relax because the battle is over.”
In the words of the Bible, “Let us hold tightly without wavering to the hope we affirm, for God can be trusted to keep his promise. Let us think of ways to motivate one another to acts of love and good works. And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near” (Hebrews 10:23-25 NLT).
Our work is not finished this side of heaven. We will find ourselves walking in unbelief. We will waver and doubt, but our God is faithful and true. He is never far away.