What if I doubt my faith?

For StudentSoul.org's GQ-060913.

Have you ever wondered if you really believe in God? Sometimes we experience a slow sense of decay in our relationship with God — he just seems more and more distant. And sometimes there’s a sudden doubt that hits like a hammer. You start to wonder if you’re losing your faith. What can we do?

We asked Dr. Steve Hayner, Peachtree Associate Professor of Evangelism and Church Growth at Columbia Theological Seminary, to respond to this question. He has often counseled students about doubt, having been a campus pastor in Seattle and a former national president for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship.

Steve sees at least three underlying causes of doubt or the sense of losing faith. “I’ve had a lot of times throughout my life when I felt like I was losing my faith,” says Steve. “Sometimes it was because I was too distracted by other things and just wasn’t giving enough attention to my relationship with Christ. Other times I was facing a new set of perplexing life or faith questions, and familiar ways of thinking about faith were not making sense anymore. Still other times my relationship with Christ was becoming ‘inconvenient’ alongside the lifestyle choices I was making, and ‘losing my faith’ was a nice way to justify some bad decisions.”

Steve goes on to explain that, at the root, doubt is not just about questioning beliefs, but about a dynamic relationship with God, who is personal and intimate. “Faith is about a relationship with the Triune God, and like all relationships this one must continue to grow and develop if it is to stay strong through the twists and turns of life. When someone tells me that they think they are losing their faith, I don’t get too worried. First, the very fact that they want to talk about it indicates that they believe that this relationship is important. Second, this is an indication that there are life changes going on and that the dynamics of faith need to catch up. That’s not a bad thing. As life regularly presents new challenges, many of these will be accompanied by struggles of faith.”

So, what’s a doubting person to do? First of all, don’t panic. Steve again: “My best advice? Don’t worry too much on the short term about these feelings of dryness, but don’t just let it go either. It is important to pay as much attention to what is going on in your soul as you do to the health of your body. Faith needs to be nourished.”

Practically, Steve suggests fours things to do when struggles in your relationship with God arise:

  1. Continue with your reading of the Scriptures and with prayer, even if these don’t feel too authentic at the moment. God may speak into your life through these disciplines.
  2. Write about what you are thinking and feeling honestly. And make notes along the way of any insights that might occur to you. Sometimes this helps to clarify the real issues involved.
  3. Talk to a more mature believer in whom you trust, or to a close friend. They may not have answers for you, but they can certainly pray with you and provide a steadying presence.
  4. Relax, and wait patiently as God continues to help you grow.

“The important thing is to face the struggles, and remember that God cares about you far more than you do,” adds Steve. “Paul reminds his readers that they are to ‘continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose’ (see Philippians 2:12b-13). Paul does not mean that we have to earn our salvation, but only that our faith will require some work on our part along the way. It is valuable work. And God is right there, whether you feel it or not, guiding, protecting, assuring, energizing, teaching and growing you. God is faithful!”