Dealing with Doubt in an Age of Deconstruction

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We are living in an age of deconstruction, and it’s affecting faith. Every ideal is picked apart. George Washington has his mural painted over because he owned slaves. The aspiration for e pluribus unum (“out of many, one”)—from the Great Seal of the United States—is being shredded by the chronic subdividing of increased tribalism. Even gender is up for grabs, as though chromosomes in place from conception are only a suggestion. Nothing escapes ruminating scrutiny, skepticism, and the determination to control outcomes.

In Christian circles, deconstruction takes a slightly different form. Doubt and disillusionment have become the new form of enlightenment. It somehow sounds more authentic to share our doubt than it is to share our faith with confidence. We watch thoughtful Christian leaders “break free” from the faith itself, as though shaking off invisible shackles. And it unnerves us.

While Scripture nowhere valorizes doubt, it is an inescapable feature of our fallen experience, particularly in a secular age. “I believe; help my unbelief” is a classic acknowledgement of doubt—and because the man humbly confesses it to Jesus, he is commended rather than rebuked (Mark 9:24).
Perhaps it’s time to take another look at the way doubt and disillusionment can deepen our faith rather than destroy it.

Christians Have a Different Take

Doubt or disillusionment can come in various forms—toward God, toward his people, or just toward life in general. But none of it has to destroy faith. Christianity declares that the gospel of Jesus Christ is the transcendent revelation of the living God through all culture and time.  It’s objectively true. And if the reality of revelation exists pristinely, no matter what mist currently clouds my vision, then doubt and disillusionment need not pose mortal threats.

As a counselor I’ve struggled myself with the same doubt and disillusionment I hear from many other ministry leaders. I know this to be true: no one really escapes this experience, if they’re honest. Doubt and disillusionment are rites of passage, occurring most poignantly in a person’s 30s and 40s. By then it’s become wildly obvious that marriage and ministry and keeping a body healthy are much harder than it looked when friends were throwing rose petals in the air.

The actual experience of doubt, though, can truly feel like you’ve lost your way. But that sense of lostness is not to be confused with the essence of your faith. As Paul warned, that is the time to guard against being “led astray from the simplicity and purity of devotion to Christ” (2 Cor. 11:3).

What Will We Do with Doubt?

So what will we do with doubt and disillusionment when it comes our way? I know what my reflexive tendency is, and I see the same in so many others: just buckle down and pull away. I’d rather no one know there’s a struggle in my soul. Few things get better in isolation, though. “Sin demands to have a man by himself,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer said. Alone is where we are picked off. There, all by our little self, our mind gets scrambled. Our soul turns cold and hard.

We make our way through doubt and disillusionment, then, by weathering it with God and with his people. By this paradoxical path doubt can ultimately serve and deepen faith. You don’t have to go this alone. You get to experience this with the God who has brought you into an actual relationship and who doesn’t withhold himself until you get things figured out again.

One man in Scripture, Jeremiah, mirrors this reality in a profoundly personal way. We’re invited into his dialogue with God, at his lowest point. Lamentations 3 might contain the strongest words of doubt and disillusionment in the Bible. Jeremiah has been thrown into the pit, mistreated by other Jewish leaders, God’s people. He comes to doubt everything he knows, especially God. You’ve used me for target practice. You’re like a bear lying in wait to get me. You have filled me with bitterness. Jeremiah is working out his distortions of God—with God. Slowly the fog clears. The toxicity of doubt drains off a bit. You hear a giant exhale in this famous passage: “But this I recall to my mind and therefore I have hope. The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases and his mercies never come to an end” (Lam. 3:22).

When we read on we discover that Jeremiah’s friend, an Ethiopian named Ebed-Melek, is in the background pleading with the king for his release. Like Jeremiah, we are not as alone as we often perceive ourselves to be. Other people are integral to our release from the pit of disillusionment. Sometimes we recognize that. Often we don’t.

Jeremiah’s life shows us the mysterious rhythm of how doubt and disillusionment become the steady bass note of a far more resonant faith, one with real substance and depth.

Liberation of Doubt

There’s something profoundly liberating in the discovery that whether or not my dreams come true, whether I understand what God is doing in my life or not, he is there. Everything changes around me, but he does not. I am not alone.

In this way, doubt can be used by God to build faith. Many Christians have thought of doubt and disillusionment as oddly necessary, a means of soul-stretching growth. (To be sure, the Scriptures never treat doubt as a virtue. But they do assume it will be part of experience in a fallen world and will drive us either from God or to God.) To be disillusioned is no fun, but it does strip us of some illusions that we needed to let go. Old ideals get reshaped. A new humility creeps in as we realize we don’t know all we thought we knew. And if we let that process do its work, we’ll be anchored, simply and even more deeply, in this God who took on flesh and turned death on its heels.

Doubt and disillusionment are the last of all reasons to abandon your faith. If you weather them with God—and with others—you discover the unexpected gratitude Charles Spurgeon wrote about. “I thank God,” he reflected, “for every storm that wrecked me upon the Rock of Christ Jesus.”


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