How Not to Respond to Doubt

A friend recently shared with me that her 9-year-old son came to her the night before with tears streaming down his face, saying, “Mom, I need to tell you something, but I’m scared.”

After she insisted that he could tell her anything, he admitted that he had unintentionally stumbled upon some compelling YouTube videos claiming to have disproved creationism, the existence of God, and by extension, Christianity, through science, history, and reason. He now no longer knew if he believed it was all true.

My heart both sank and soared in response — sank with compassion for her son’s early encounter with the agony of doubt, which all believers eventually face to some degree, yet soared with hope for the stability and steadfastness that God can bring to faith built on a firm foundation of investigated, tested, thoughtfully trusted truth (Colossians 1:23).

I cringed, however, when she told me her response. “And so,” she confidently assured me, “I told him there are some things we can never understand, but just have to believe — and that’s faith.”

What Our Responses Say

While my friend undoubtedly had the best intentions at heart, it made me wonder whether she had ever struggled with questions and doubts similar to those her son was facing. Perhaps she is so deeply convinced of truth by the testimony of Scripture and her relationship with the Truth himself (John 14:6) that her confidence in the light overpowers any skepticism in the shadows. Maybe she has even been entrusted with the spiritual gift of faith (1 Corinthians 12:9). If so, what a gracious and praiseworthy gift from God alone (Romans 12:3).

But for those daunted by the giants in the land of faith — giants that may come in the forms of anti-creationism scientists, atheist philosophers, or persuasive documentaries — suppressing or avoiding unaddressed questions allows the infection of doubt to fester in a dark and untreated place.

Even worse, it may lead those who doubt to assume Christianity has never been able to produce compelling responses to these questions, overlooking the lifelines of shockingly scholarly, rational, credible resources of apologetics that argue for the reasonableness of faith in God, the irrationality of atheism, and the matchless wisdom of the cross.

How Not to Respond to Doubt

Whether it’s the doubts of a child, coworker, neighbor, fellow church member, or friend, there are both helpful and unhelpful ways to respond. First, here are three ways not to respond.

1. Shame them.

Rather than make others feel ashamed or isolated as the only ones with questions, concerns, or uncertainties, we should remember that we are all tempted to unbelief in various ways. Just as Jesus responded with compassion toward those who were harassed and helpless (Matthew 9:36), we also should see those with doubts as the very ones Jesus came to seek and to save (Luke 19:10), remembering that he came not for the healthy, but for the sick (Mark 2:17).

2. Ignore them.

Often, when we tell others to “just believe,” it seems as though we’re urging them to suppress their doubts, when in reality, Scripture is filled with invitations to “come and see,” encouraging skeptics to seek for truth.

These invitations were given to the shepherds at Bethlehem (Luke 2:11–12), to Nathanael questioning whether anything good could come from Nazareth (John 1:46), to John the Baptist’s disciples wondering whether Jesus was really the promised Messiah (Luke 7:20–22), to the Samaritans after Jesus’s encounter with the woman at the well (John 4:29), to the first visitors of the tomb (Matthew 28:6), and to Jesus’s own disciple Thomas who refused to believe Jesus rose from the dead (John 20:27).

Just as we would want followers of other religions to carefully examine any doubts they had about their own false beliefs, so we also must be willing to encourage the investigation even of Christian doubts in order to construct a stronger, more reliable infrastructure of faith.

3. Fear them.

As believers, we have nothing to fear in the wholehearted quest for truth. Just as David went forth to fight Goliath in God’s strength (1 Samuel 17:26), we also — equipped with God’s wisdom and power — can rush toward the giant of doubt in confidence rather than cowering in fear upon hills of unbelief.

How to Respond to Doubts

So what posture should we take when responding to our 9-year-old (or someone else whom we love) who struggles with doubt?

With Humility

Be quick to admit you do not have all the answers, relieving yourself from a daunting and unrealistic expectation you were never intended to bear. Instead, be ready to share reasons for the hope you do have (1 Peter 3:15). Be slow to speak with defensiveness, but quick to listen with empathy to their reasons for doubt (James 1:19).

For concerns you cannot immediately answer, resolve to search out the questions together. For both you and for them, digging out the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in God’s mystery of Christ will strengthen faith, train us in how to wrestle with future doubts, and equip us for conversations with others facing the same questions in the future.

With Reason

The enemy does some of his best work in areas of murky, complicated, disorienting darkness. In discussions of faith, rather than jumping from one scattered issue to the next or repeatedly gravitating to the same dead ends, seek out order and progression in every conversation — even willing to start with the most basic mutually agreed-upon truth before following sequential steps of reason to the next.

For example, you can begin by agreeing that no one evades faith in this life. Even atheism is faith, and in fact, we believe atheism is a more far-fetched, unfounded, blindly trusted faith than our own. From there, we can evaluate different faiths, especially the claims of the Bible.

With Resolve

Determine not to be taken captive by the tossing winds and waves of doctrine, philosophy, human cunning, and deceitful schemes (Ephesians 4:14; Colossians 2:8), endlessly cycling through currents of “analysis paralysis” with no intention of ever reaching a conclusion. As Elijah challenged the people of Israel, we must eventually stop limping between opinions and choose whom we will follow (1 Kings 18:21) — either the shifting lies and man-made gods of this world, or the uncreated, unchanging God of truth.

With the ultimate goal of being built up in faith (Colossians 2:7), we can face doubts with confidence in God’s promise that we will find him when we seek with all our hearts (Jeremiah 29:13).

Pursuing the God of Truth

As my friend and I talked more that day, I was able to share the children’s version of a resource that proved tremendously helpful for me: Case for Christ for Kids. Her son devoured it. At any age, books like these can help strengthen our shields of faith against the arrows of public-school classroom debates, conversations with unbelieving friends, universalistic college professors, and anti-gospel arguments.

Ultimately, scholarly knowledge, logical arguments, and persuasive communicators themselves can never be depended on to produce belief. God alone graciously gives us saving faith (Ephesians 2:8), his word (Romans 10:17), and his Spirit of revelation to impart saving knowledge of himself (Ephesians 1:17–18).

But just like the eunuch with Philip (Acts 8:26–35), Ananias with Saul (Acts 9:10–18), and Jesus himself with the Emmaus-road disciples (Luke 24:13–27), God may use our knowledge, logic, and conversations to make straight the way of the Lord right into darkened minds and hardened hearts (Ephesians 4:18). Rather than judging, avoiding, or cowering from others’ doubts, we can lock arms in the fellow pursuit of truth and run with perseverance the race set before us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the very founder and perfecter of our faith (Hebrews 12:2), who prays it will not fail at any point along the way (Luke 22:32).

serves at the Chick-fil-A, Inc. Support Center and enjoys writing on the side. She’s a graduate of the University of Georgia and Dallas Theological Seminary and lives in Atlanta.