(Part 1 is here; Part 2 is here; Part 3 is here)
We need to communicate with our children that instead of being a sign of weakness, doubt can actually be something that propels us into a deeper relationship with Christ, and strengthen out faith. Here are some prominent Christians who wrestled with doubt (from the article in Relevant Magazine here)
One of modern Christianity’s most beloved authors and thinkers, Lewis is remembered for classics including Mere Christianity, The Chronicles of Narnia and The Screwtape Letters. But the renowned defender of the faith is also known for a more complicated side, famously writing, “I have found that nothing is more dangerous to one’s own faith than the work of an apologist.”
Even with all of his contributions to contemporary Christianity, Lewis led a somewhat controversial personal life, and at times wrestled with the intellectual side of faith.
Lewis warned readers of the hazards of relying on intellect—particularly apologetics—over spirituality, writing, “That is why we apologists take our lives in our hands and can be saved only by falling back continually from the web of our own arguments, as from our intellectual counters, into the Reality — from Christian apologetics into Christ Himself. That also is why we need another’s continual help—a [‘Let us pray for each other’]. There’s also a famous story of a critic getting the best of Lewis during a debate centering on one of the chapters in his book Miracles, and the distress it caused.
But despite intellectual challenges, issues in his personal life and emotional swings, Lewis is ultimately remembered for his writings on faith: Even when it meant putting aside momentary feelings of uncertainty: “Faith, in the sense in which I am here using the word, is the art of holding on to things your reason has once accepted, in spite of your changing moods ... That is why Faith is such a necessary virtue: unless you teach your moods ‘where they get off,’ you can never be either a sound Christian or even a sound atheist.”
Along with his legacy of being a reformer and a father of Protestantism, Martin Luther is also remembered for a less grand—and a much more relatable—trait: Doubt. Luther’s primary doubts about faith didn’t necessarily rest on the question of God’s existence, but His character.
Though his fear that his own sinfulness would separate him from God helped lead to then-radical ideas about salvation outside of man’s own ability to be righteous, doubts about his faith, thinking and relationship with God would haunt him later in life. At one point, the crushing doubt in his calling led to such an intense depression that he wrote, “For more than a week I was close to the gates of death and hell. I trembled in all my members. Christ was wholly lost. I was shaken by desperation and blasphemy of God.’”
Ultimately, Luther’s legacy is one of reform, and a reliance on grace. He is remembered for his impact on the Church, but even a church father of his stature still suffered from moments of doubt about his salvation, calling and what God thought about him.
One of history’s great preachers, Charles Spurgeon was not only a master of communicating deep truths of Scriptures, but also of engaging with his audience and relating their struggles. In his sermon "Desire of the Soul in Spiritual Darkness", he bluntly claimed, “I think, when a man says, ‘I never doubt,’ it is quite time for us to doubt him, it is quite time for us to begin to say, ‘Ah, poor soul, I am afraid you are not on the road at all, for if you were, you would see so many things in yourself, and so much glory in Christ more than you deserve, that you would be so much ashamed of yourself, as even to say, 'It is too good to be true.'"
In another sermon, called “The Minister’s Fainting Fits,” Spurgeon explained that even strongest the believers may face seasons of depression, being stripped of the joy brought by faith, even referencing Luther’s struggles: “The strong are not always vigorous, the wise not always ready, the brave not always courageous, and the joyous not always happy … The life of Luther might suffice to give a thousand instances, and he was by no means of the weaker sort … His very deathbed was not free from tempests, and he sobbed himself into his last sleep like a great wearied child.”
Though the overall message sounds scary—we are all, at times, at risk of falling into seasons of despair and doubt—the sermon is actually one of hope. Toward the end, he writes: “The lesson of wisdom is, be not dismayed by soul-trouble ... Cast not away your confidence, for it hath great recompense of reward. Even if the enemy's foot be on your neck, expect to rise amid overthrow him. Cast the burden of the present, along with the sin of the past and the fear of the future, upon the Lord, who forsaketh not his saints.”
Another father of Protestantism, Calvin’s writings and thoughts about salvation still have a major influence on the Church today, particularly among Reformed theologians.
But for Calvin, doubt wasn’t something Christians should fear—instead, it was something we should even expect, and not be surprised by when it creeps into our lives: “Surely, while we teach that faith ought to be certain and assured, we cannot imagine any certainty that is not tinged with doubt, or any assurance that is not assailed by some anxiety.”
Calvin understood that doubt was a part of the faith experience, because human nature itself finds ideas about God and His goodness so outside of what we can understand: “For unbelief is so deeply rooted in our hearts, and we are so inclined to it, that not without hard struggle is each one able to persuade himself of what all confess with the mouth: namely, that God is faithful.”