“God has said,“Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.” Hebrews 13 v 5
An unhealthy chain of thoughts can be caused when other Christians fail us. This problem is particularly acute when Christian’s we admire fail by making foolish or immoral decision. We experience this as a betrayal our trust; this is quite natural, especially for younger Christians. The following points might prove helpful for those experiencing such doubts.
1) Doubt can be particularly severe if you came to faith under a failed leader’s ministry. But your faith is in Christ and you were called by God. When Paul learned of preachers who proclaimed Christ out of envy, rivalry and selfish ambition, he rejoiced. It was the message that mattered most – not the messenger.
Remember, God uses the weak things of the world to defeat the mighty; the Cross and an empty tomb teach us that much! Now, is it so terribly surprising that God could use fallen human beings to bring you to him?
2) Don’t reflect so much on how you came to faith – reflect on how you know the Christian faith is true!
3) Don’t be demoralised. When Christian leaders fail in courage or judgment, you should not be surprised. What did you expect? Christian leaders have been making colossal, embarrassing mistakes from the very beginning of the Church. Indeed, one argument for the reliability of the Gospels is that they contain so much information which would embarrass the early leaders of the church!
4) To take specific examples: Peter betrayed our Lord and then refused to believe eye-witness testimony that Jesus rose from the dead. Thomas refused to accept excellent eyewitness testimony and an empty tomb as evidence for the Resurrection! If you thought your Pastor, or an evangelical super-star, was more “spiritual” than the Apostles you were bound to meet with disappointment!
5) You are also bound to experience disappointments if you believe that there was a “golden age” of the church that we can recapture; or if you think that a church can be rid of all its failings by following a business model or adopting a set of doctrines. Yes, some Churches have been more healthy than others; yes, doctrine and practice matter a great deal. But there never was a “golden age”. Paul struggled continually to instil compassion, love, patience and wisdom in the congregations that he founded. Nor is there a simple “how to” list that allows Christians to circumvent the difficult path of discipleship or that will turn a Church into the perfect Christian community.
6) What if it is not a leader but a particular congregation who has neglected you, or failed to realise your needs, (or even failed to notice that you exist)? Remember that Christians are, by confession, broken people who need a saviour. We will fail each other and let each other down. We need to bear with each other, and work to forgive whatever grievances we have against one another. Being hurt by a church can be very difficult, but it is not a reason for doubt. The church was not meant to be “heaven on Earth”.
“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves. By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thorn-bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them. Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?” Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Matthew 7 v 15 -23
7) Keep in mind: it would be foolish to reject the Christian faith because humans can be cruel and conniving, or foolish and short-sighted: this is precisely how Christianity describes human nature.
8) Spending time with Christians who have been genuinely transformed by Christ eases doubting. Seek their prayers, even if you cannot pray for yourself (and realise that such spiritual exhaustion is not a lack of faith!)
9) Above all, remember that doubt is not lack of faith. A student gives answers to an exam paper, because she believes her answers are true; yet at the same time, she can worry that her beliefs are misplaced: what if she is giving the wrong answers? What if she will fail this exam?
Doubt is simply evidence that the Christian would like some assurance that her beliefs are true. In fact, the Christian with passionate faith is more likely to experience doubt than the tepid believer, who does not really grasp the monumental importance of Christianity. Doubt is like pain; unpleasant when you feel it, but at least you know you’re still alive.
How can you know if you have faith? Trust is an action; faith in Christ implies a changed life. Or, if one came to faith at a young age, faith implies that one’s life would be very different without Christ in it. So, if you have faith in the son of God you will have distinctive beliefs about him; you will believe that, in the beginning, he was with God and was God. If you trust Christ you will try to live your life in a way that would please him. If someone asked you “why would God let you into his kingdom?” you could only answer “Jesus loves me and died for me”. That is how you know you depend on him.