Several years ago I received an email from a pastor who was going through some difficult times. He had battled a life-threatening illness, experienced troubling problems at his church, and yet worst of all, his daughter had begun having serious doubts about the truth of the Christian faith. This perfect storm of suffering all struck at once.
What follows is a summary of my response to the pastor. (Names and identifying details have been changed to protect the privacy of individuals.) The central focus of my letter addresses the problem of doubt—a common issue that many Christians struggle with at some point in their lives. This response can also help you or assist you in helping other people who are wrestling with doubts about their faith.
A Letter to a Pastor
Thank you for contacting me, Pastor. The content of your email really touched me. I have a daughter who is the same age as your daughter Susan.
Let me begin by addressing the topic of doubt.
Apologist Gary Habermas in his excellent book Dealing with Doubt1 identifies three types of doubt:
1. Factual Doubt: Doubt about the factual underpinnings of Christianity
2. Emotional Doubt: Doubt stemming from subjective, psychological issues (anxiety, depression, hurt, anger)
3. Volitional Doubt: Doubt that arises from a weak or immature faith
From reading your email, I am inferring that your daughter’s struggle with unbelief may reflect all three types of doubt.
Reviewing solid apologetics material that addresses the truth of the faith can help with factual doubt. Christian thinkers Tim Keller and Lee Strobel have several apologetics books that can be helpful concerning the facts of Christianity. But since science has played a role in your daughter coming to doubt God, you may want to review some of the science-apologetics materials that we have here at Reasons to Believe. Biochemist Fuz Rana’s The Cell’s Design and Hugh Ross’s Why the Universe Is the Way It Is are great resources in demonstrating how the latest scientific discoveries affirm the Christian faith.
Regarding emotional doubt, it is good that your daughter is willing to read with you. That bonding may allow her to open up and discuss her hurts over the trials and disappointments your family experienced in the last few years. You might consider sharing with her that Jesus Christ in his Incarnation suffered both for us (on the cross) and with us (in life’s disappointments). Jesus’s family thought he was psychologically imbalanced (Mark 3:21). His disciples let him down when he needed their help the most when he was preparing to confront crucifixion (Luke 22:39-46). You might also share with her that Christians are forgiven sinners and that the brokenness of human beings runs deep—even in the church, unfortunately.
Now with volitional doubt it is also important to remember that Susan is at that critical stage of life where she is becoming a woman. Transitioning from adolescence to adulthood is often difficult. It’s possible that your daughter’s faith may be at a low ebb. But the love you and your wife are giving her is in itself a type of apologetic for Christianity. No other religion or worldview has agape (a love that doesn’t ask what’s in it for me).
I’m sorry you and your family have been hit with such sustained suffering. I pray our Lord will meet all of your needs. And I’m thankful you are well on the road to recovery from your health crisis.
Some ten years ago I also experienced a life-threatening illness. I write about it in my book A World of Difference. I hope you might consider reading that book with your daughter because I talk about how I dealt with pain and doubt.
Please extend my best regards to your daughter.
Reflections: Your Turn Is all doubt bad? Does doubt arise from our finitude or fallenness? Or both?
- Gary Habermas has made his book Dealing with Doubt available for free here: http://www.garyhabermas.com/books/dealing_with_doubt/dealing_with_doubt.htm.