As I was driving one day in 2017, I found myself wondering “Do I even believe in God anymore?” This question came at the worst possible time–on the way to preach a message about trusting God. Yes, I was a pastor who lost faith in God. Years of doubt led me to wonder if God was even real. Can you relate? It can feel overwhelming, but you’re not alone in questioning your beliefs.
I don’t know why you’re experiencing doubt, but I know some of how you feel. While my experience will differ from yours, I hope this story of how I found God again can bring you comfort.
A hurtful version of Christianity.
I grew up in a rigid, no-love-required version of Christianity. Correct beliefs about the Bible, politics, and culture were the signs of true faith. Our mission was simple: Do whatever it takes to convert as many people as possible to share our beliefs and defend our faith from cultural threats. Service, generosity, and compassion were nice but unnecessary.
I learned early that doubt was like a monster under the bed, waiting to snatch our faith. It usually meant we were spending too much time with the wrong friends, reading the wrong books, or listening to the wrong pastors. The “cure” was Bible reading, prayer, and attending church regularly.
When I did express doubts, I usually got unhelpful answers. “You need to trust God,” “Have faith,” and “Maybe you should pray about it!” were classics. Usually followed by an awkward change of subject. The message was clear–we don’t talk about doubt. When some of my friends kept pressing their questions, they were encouraged to find a new church. So I kept my questions and doubts to myself.
So how did I end up becoming a pastor? Well, to be honest, I got comfortable in my Christian bubble with my Christian friends. So going to a Christian college felt natural.
Every week, I got to see influential leaders from large churches repeat and reinforce what I’d always been told about God. How God is angry with everyone, and only the correct beliefs can save us from His wrath. I admired their influence, and I loved teaching, so I decided to study ministry.
I thought studying theology would cause my lingering questions to go away, but I was wrong. It seemed like the more I learned about God, the more my doubt grew.
Why I started doubting God.
My doubts started with a few thoughts and unanswered questions. Here are some examples:
- Why does the Bible seem to disagree with the beliefs I’ve been taught?
- If God is love, why are most Christians I know so mean?
- Why are so many leaders I trust getting caught in scandal?
- Why do my friends with the “wrong beliefs” seem to have a closer relationship with Jesus?
- And why does my life look nothing like the life of Jesus?
The last question shook me. As I re-read the stories of Jesus, I noticed how much I had in common with Jesus’ critics. After all, I’d been trained to be judgmental, avoid “unbelievers,” criticize sinners, and convince others to share my beliefs at all costs. But here’s the thing: If my old views were true, then Jesus was a terrible Christian.
Why? Because Jesus showed grace to hurting people, and cared for people’s physical well-being. He didn’t hustle from place to place, trying to get as many followers as possible. And Jesus didn’t criticize, exclude, or bully people of differing beliefs.
Over the next several years, I started pulling apart my faith. I wanted a healthy faith, but didn’t know what to believe or who to trust. I’d been lied to by so many leaders in the past, so it was hard to learn from others. It was an exhausting, painful process, and there were times I wanted to give up. Like that car ride in 2017 I mentioned earlier.
How I found God again.
I’d tried to remodel my faith for years, but it didn’t work. So I went for a full demolition, choosing to ignore all my old beliefs and do my best to start fresh.
As I read through the stories of Jesus, a question formed in my mind. Would the world be a better place if everyone did their best to live and love like Jesus? For me, the answer was obvious–yes. And this question formed the foundation of my new faith.
Why? Because I had let ugly beliefs distort my view of Jesus. But now, I could see Him more clearly. Even though I still had doubts, I knew His way of life was worth copying. And as I started imperfectly following Jesus, I began feeling God’s presence in my life.
From there, I was able to examine my old faith. I kept some beliefs but threw others away. Instead of keeping a list of rules in my head, I face every situation with the question, “How would Jesus respond to this?”
But how do we learn to respond like Jesus?
Here are three simple ways:
Let go of your assumptions.
Sometimes our opinions and past experiences can get in the way of Jesus. We can’t fully escape our biases, but we can do our best to approach Jesus with a blank slate. Letting go of past assumptions can help you find Jesus for yourself.
Read (and re-read) the stories of Jesus.
The books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John tell the surprising story of Jesus. As you read, ask yourself a few questions: What kind of people did He encourage? Who did He challenge? What issues did He speak about the most? And how did He respond to sin?
Listen to diverse perspectives.
I used to exclusively learn from pastors of the same faith tradition, race, and nationality as me. But my exclusivity limited my view of Jesus. Listening and learning from diverse perspectives can help us see through our cultural blinders. If you have questions about the perspective of others, let the words of Jesus be your filter.
How does this faith look different?
To be honest, my faith is still complicated. I’m still healing from broken trust, so I can be skeptical toward church leaders. But I’m learning how to set healthy boundaries, and I’m slowly becoming less judgmental.
I also have a different relationship with doubt. Doubt used to be a boogeyman under the bed trying to steal my faith. But doubt saved me from my old, ugly beliefs. So now doubt is like an old friend, and I enjoy sharing my doubts with others. Sometimes it’s a bit uncomfortable, but it’s much healthier than keeping them secret.
My hope for you.
My conclusions might be different from yours, and that’s okay. There’s room for diverse perspectives on God and the Bible. So I hope you’ll embrace your process of doubt.
Doubt isn’t your enemy. In fact, it can be an invitation to a healthier faith. So keep questioning your beliefs and looking for answers. One helpful place to start is in the stories of Jesus. Below, you can find an article that I wish I’d read when I experienced significant doubt. It can help you get to know Jesus for yourself.