Author’s Note: This is the second part in a three part series on my personal struggle with doubt and faith in God. Please stay tuned for the next post in this series so that you get the whole story of the long journey that I went on and that God brought me out of! If you haven’t read Part 1, you can do so here. Please feel free to comment or send me an email with any questions you have regarding these posts!
Sixteen ended up not being so sweet for me.
First of all, there was that boy… The one who I gave my whole heart to and whose hands held all my hopes and dreams, and then shattered them into a million pieces.
And then there was that terrifying, debilitating illness that never seemed to end. The continued physical breakdown of my body was followed by months and months of sleepless nights. The countless doctor’s appointments and tests I took for all my crazy symptoms produced no answers and left my soul filled with despair.
On top of that there was the mental breakdown that manifested itself in the daily anxiety, panic attacks, and chronic depression that made every day seem very, very dark for me.
For the first time in my life, nothing was making sense. No one was able to give me answers, and nothing was getting better. My body was broken, my heart was broken, and my reality was broken. I was positive that I could never be put back together again. How could a heart so tainted be restored?
What followed was a year of deep depression and isolation. Instead of finding refuge in the God I had placed my trust in, I began to wrestle with questions that seemed to take me further away from Him.
Does God really make a difference? I’d ask myself. If so, where is the peace and joy and newness He’s supposed to bring? I thought He was supposed to work out everything for good! How could any good come from me ruining myself? How can I go on living abundantly with a body that no one even knows what’s wrong with it? Where is the healing He promised?!?
For a long time these questions were only answered with silence. This just fueled my confusion and disillusionment.
And then it began.
What if everything I have ever believed in is a lie? If God doesn’t make a difference, maybe it’s because He isn’t even real. And if He isn’t real, what is life really about anyway?
Suddenly everything was looking different, and I was terrified.
I was terrified because I knew what was at stake, and since I knew the stakes were so high this wasn’t a crisis of faith I took lightly.
I knew that if God wasn’t real, that would mean that everything I had ever derived comfort and meaning from throughout my life was a lie. I knew that there would be no ultimate Truth, no definition for good and evil, and no life after death. Life would basically just be something we go through here on earth for a little while and try to make the best of. However, I also knew that if He was real and I denied Him, that I would be subjecting myself to eternal separation from Him.
This was definitely NOT something I could get wrong.
So I made the safest choice I could think of. I would never deny Him – I couldn’t bring myself to. But I would wrestle with Him until I got the assurance I was looking for.
I spent countless hours researching and studying everything I could get my hands on that related to the existence of God, proof of the resurrection, the credibility of the Bible and so forth. I was convinced I couldn’t move on with my life and experience healing until I had proof that God was real, and everything I was going through was actually for a good purpose.
However, in the months that followed my grief and anxiety turned into numbness. I truly felt as though the “me” I had always been had died. What had happened in my life had changed me and there was no going back to how things were. Life had simply become a matter of existing.
Sure, I had discovered overwhelming evidence that the Bible was indeed infallible. I did all kinds of research on how Jesus was not just a real man that lived, but that His resurrection had more scientific and historical proof than most events we learn in history class. I even went to a conference that showed how modern scientific evidence supports the Scriptures. And yet still I was searching…
So I came at it from an angle of logic and ethics and morality. If God was real, then He would be evident in the abstract things as well as the concrete. And while this study was fruitful and I found that even reason was on God’s side, I still clung to my doubt.
I refused to surrender this battle to God and trust Him to reign over my life again. The thought of doing that terrified me because while I had found ample evidence to support the God of the Bible, there was no “sign in the sky” proof that I could touch and feel with my bare hands. My doubt became a safety net for me. By holding onto doubt, I felt as though I was holding onto control, and until God gave me that sign, I wasn’t letting go.
Thankfully, in spite of my stubborn refusal to surrender my doubt to God during this time, He never left my side. He gently and patiently let me continue on this journey of searching, because He knew what I didn’t yet know:
Faith must be tested and refined in order to be proven real.
It took some time for me to realize this, but after turning to His Word and opening my eyes to seeing His fingerprints in my life, I began to realize that in my search for a sign from God, I was missing a very important element.
The work of the Spirit in my heart.
You see, I didn’t just want proof that the Bible was true, or that Jesus rose from the dead, or that science could prove the claims of the Bible. Yes, all of that was important, but at the end of the day, none of that really meant a whole lot if Jesus didn’t make a difference in my life here and now. I needed to know that the same God of the Bible, who drove out demons and set the captives free, was the same God who was present and active and could change my life today.
So God, in His gracious love for me, gradually opened my eyes to see the ways He was working in my life.
I began to notice, even while in the midst of my questioning, that there was evidence of a Spirit outside myself working within me. If I was left on my own, I would have no instinctive desire to know God or to seek Him out. He wouldn’t matter to me! But here I was, fighting my heart out for this major battle of my faith. That in itself was evidence that the Holy Spirit was living inside me and wasn’t going to let me go.
I had opportunities to embrace views and opinions that contradicted Christianity, and I refused them. Whether it was my college professors announcing to me that the Bible was a myth, family members discussing with me why they didn’t need Jesus, or witnessing a cult presenting a false gospel, it seemed that everywhere I turned I was faced with opposition to the name of Christ. Yet instead of letting it influence me, I found myself fighting against it! Someone who wasn’t experiencing the pull of the real, true, living Spirit of God would not have resisted such powerful influences.
“We know that we live in Him and He in us, because He has given us of His Spirit. And we have seen and testify that the Father has sent His Son to be the Savior of the world. If anyone acknowledges that Jesus is the Son of God, God lives in Him and he in God. And so we know and rely on the love God has for us.” 1st John 4:13-
“This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” 1st John 3:19-20
I realized that the best, tangible evidence I had that Jesus Christ was real, alive and active today, was the proof of what He had done in my own heart. He had produced faith.
It was that simple. I knew the state of my sinful heart. I knew my inadequacies and failures. I knew that no amount of my “church girl goodness” would ever achieve perfection. But when I thought of Him, I knew – beyond the pain, beyond the doubt, beyond all the research and evidence – He was the only thing I really needed. And believing that made all the difference.
So here I had been looking everywhere for evidence that God is real and it turned out I was the living proof of what I had been so unsure of: Jesus is just as real today as He was 2000 years ago, and He still saves and changes messy hearts and broken lives and makes them whole again.
Now it may seem like I have oversimplified a very complicated matter, or that I took the easy way out by just “believing”. But let me explain.
There are two different kinds of faith:
The saving faith that we receive as a gift of grace at the time of our salvation, (Ephesians 2:8), and the sanctifying faith that requires daily, active obedience and surrender to God in the face of the unknown.
Hebrews 11:1 KJV exclaims,
“Now faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.”
My faith was the evidence of Christ working in me. It was not something I manufactured on my own, but something He birthed into me and something he was daily perfecting and making stronger. (Hebrews 12:2)
While I was saved at an early age and truly was in love with Jesus, there was an element of blind faith going on up until I was 16. Yes I had a basis for my faith, but it had never really been challenged or tested up until that point. I truly believe that this is why God decided I needed to go through all the trials of that season. My faith needed to be tested to see how strong it was and to prove that it was real. By going through that valley and coming out transformed, I knew that I could face trials to come.
Once I realized that the Spirit’s work in my heart was evidence of what had been true for as long as I could remember – that I was indeed a child of God, I knew that I now had the responsibility to step out in faith. I had to acknowledge that even though I struggled with these doubts, I knew that God was bigger.
No more wrestling.
No more demanding signs.
He had spoken, and it was time I answered. So even though everything was not 100% clear to me, I had to choose to let go of my safety net and follow Him fully.
You see, when it comes to anything in life, we must take the information given us and then decide what we are going to do with it. We can either accept it and allow this new found knowledge to become integrated into our worldview, or we can deny it and not allow it to affect our lives. This is true from anything to accepting the weather man’s report, to following a recipe, or receiving directions on how to get somewhere. We receive information and we judge how we will act accordingly.
The same goes for our spiritual lives. We can receive all the proof and all the knowledge the universe has to offer on the subject of God, but at the end of the day we still have to decide if we are going to accept what God says is true or if we are going to walk away from it. There really is never any “neutral” ground.
So when I evaluated all I had studied in regards to Christianity, and I held it up against Scripture, and I saw the work that was taking place in my heart, I realized I had the proof. All I needed now was the sanctifying faith to walk in it.
Does believing in something make it real? No. Something is either real or it’s not. So by surrendering my doubts and accepting God’s control over my life I wasn’t choosing a whole, “it’s real if you’re sincere,” kind of faith. No, God already was real, and my believing or not believing wasn’t going to change that. But my faith in Him was what was going to change me.
What my whole searching journey taught me is that trying to prove God’s existence is going to get me nowhere. Yes, there is a place for all that and it definitely has value, but knowledge is not what saves. Faith is. God requires that we step out in faith because it is in faith that we truly experience Him.
So what about you? Have you been wrestling with God over something? Have you ever had a hard time letting go of your safety net and trusting God?