I saw this on another blog a little while ago and thought it was helpful. How do you go about talking to a friend who feels like they are doubting what they believe? Here’s some questions you might ask in order to help sort through confusing thoughts.
1. What are you doubting? There are three primary things people doubt: 1) Their salvation, 2) God’s love for them, 3) fundamental issues of the faith. Included with the doubt of salvation is a sub-category: belief that they have committed the unforgivable sin. Which one do you find yourself doubting?
2. If it is a fundamental issue of the faith that you are doubting, which one is it? The reliability of Scripture? The reality of Hell? The exclusivity of Christ? The existence of God? Etc.
(This is important as, more often than not, people are having an emotional struggle, not an intellectual one, even if they don’t identify it as such. For example, ninety-nine percent of the time, people doubt hell and Christ’s exclusivity not because they have found some compelling logical argument against it, but because it does not square with them emotionally. This does not speak to the legitimacy of the doubt, but to the source of its genesis.)
3. Tell me about this aspect of your personality: Would you describe yourself as an intense person who tends toward compulsiveness or a laid back person with a lot of patience? Why does this matter? Sometimes, more intense people experience times of extreme doubt, often coming on acutely without any warning. This is especially the case when people have [or at least believe themselves to have] more intellectually based doubts. Ironically, I find this most among young men who aspire to be apologists, believing that they must immediately and completely immerse themselves in every debate, book, and argument that exists, both those for and those against Christianity. Eventually, this type of personality is prone to be a “spiritual emotional breakdown.”
4. Are there any medications that you have recently started taking?
5. Are there any medications that you have recently stopped taking? As much as some Christians would like to think differently, your brain drastically affects your mind. In other words, brain chemistry—affected by many medications—can deeply affect your beliefs, perceptions of reality, and confidence in your faith. When one starts or suddenly stops some medication, doubts may soon follow.
6. Are there any books or teachings that you have recently been reading that might have contributed to your wavering faith? If so, which ones?
7. Do you believe that faith and doubt can exist at the same time? Some people have been brought up believing that everything is black and white. If one has faith, they have no doubt. If they have doubt, they have no faith. I have often found that the alleviation of this falsehood coupled with the introduction and application of the idea of the tension between faith and doubt is all that is needed to reintroduce bloodflow to the soul.
8. Is there any persistent and unrepentant sin in which you are involved? This is sometime the first and only question that people ask. Conversely, for some, it is anathema to suppose that sin might be the issue. While it is not the first question I ask, it is, nevertheless, very important and sometimes the cause of people’s doubt.
–by C. Michael Patton