3. Make It Clear: Doubting Is Not a Sin
Doubt can be caused by a multitude of circumstances, life choices, or even physical ailments—my doubt started with an undiagnosed heart condition that shot adrenaline through my body. Asking questions, doubting our faith, and wondering if God really exists aren't sinful. That said, doubt can cause turmoil in our lives if we refuse to address it.
4. Understand the Root Cause of Their Doubt
Sometimes doubt is simply a sign of a mind in use. On some level, everyone questions their faith. Some do it more dramatically than others, but unless we check our brains at the door, we all need answers that speak to why we believe in Jesus or in God's Word.
Doubt can also fester as the result of physical or emotional fatigue. When we're tired, questions can enter our mind that we may never have struggled with before. Fatigue puts us in a vulnerable place, and doubt often thrives there.
Doubt can also emerge from the lingering effects of sin. A classic example comes from David, who committed adultery and then attempted to cover his tracks by having his impregnated mistress's husband killed. Before dealing with his sin through confession, David endured the oppression of guilt and doubt.
Though his situation was serious, it was far from hopeless. He had committed some serious sins—adultery and murder—and had rationalized his behavior so efficiently that by the time the prophet Nathan confronted him, he was in complete denial. It took someone else completely, the prophet Nathan, to make David recognize his sin, confess it to God, and receive forgiveness. As small-group leaders, we sometimes need to take the role of a gentle Nathan to help group members see the unresolved sin in their lives that's causing their doubt.
5. Explain How Doubt Can Strengthen Their Faith
Doubt does not necessarily signal the end of faith; instead it can be just the beginning—the perfect opportunity for faith to be strengthened. Stephen Board of InterVarsity made a statement many years ago that has stuck with me: Those who've never really doubted have never really believed. Many Christians, myself included, have found that doubt has led to a strengthening of deep convictions, not the loss of faith that we fear.
It's easy to grow comfortably complacent in the things we believe. Thinking requires effort, and sometimes we're simply not up to the task. But in the same way that an athlete trains for an event, followers of Christ grow in their faith by being stretched. We like the idea of being mature and complete and lacking in nothing, as James puts it, but we're not sure we like the idea of what it takes to get there.
Reared in a great Christian home, I began taking Christ for granted. But in my third year of college, God stopped me in my tracks and got my attention with a mysterious panic disorder. I now refer to that experience as my time in the desert. Like the Israelites' desert journey, my wilderness lasted too long for my liking—I struggled for over a decade. But when I emerged from the wilderness, I was no longer the same person. My convictions are stronger, and God is using me in incredible ways, including public speaking—which doesn't make sense for someone who's struggled with panic attacks.