Chapter 4 – The Insurgence of Doubt and Fear
The devil’s workshop is furnished with doubt and fear. These are the twin terrors he uses to torture our souls and slow our progress. Normally, we keep these threats at bay, but when life goes terribly wrong our defense weakens.
As I have shared, I estimate the presence of fear and doubt in my faith experience at approximately 20%. Admittedly, this figure is highly subjective and open to daily fluctuations of doubt, fear and certainty. But this is my best read of reality on a good day.
I must also qualify that doubt and fear are not components of my faith, but rather captives to it. They are the quarantined thugs I tolerate since my attempts to completely eradicate them have been unsuccessful. I think it in my best interests to admit they are there, though I may not know at any given time where they are hiding. Like cockroaches they lurk in the recesses of my soul and emerge when the darkness of trouble overtakes me. I have not grown comfortable living with them, but I acknowledge their presence and choose not to let the things I don’t understand keep me from anchoring my life in the things I do.
During my teen years I lived in a town on the Gulf of Mexico. In those days, we didn’t buy sunscreen. We bought suntan oil and baked our skin with a passion. Every time I see myself in an old photo with dark skin and sun bleached hair I ask myself, “What was I thinking?” Today, when I spend a little too much time in the sun and red bumps pop up on my arm, I am reminded those long summer days at the beach are still with me.
So it is with doubt and fear. Like damaged cells they sleep dormant in our hearts and minds until an unplanned trial triggers them. They rise to shake our faith and challenge the things we thought we understood.
The insurgence of fear and doubt in a time of crisis signals the beginning of Satan’s campaign of delusion. Though we find confidence in the things we understand about God, our momentary troubles produce questions we are incapable of answering. Worry rushes over us and the Deceiver’s lies, while baseless, start to sound shockingly relevant in our search for anything that promises a way of escape.
Thus, we see the two-edged dynamic of a crisis up close. Our certainties become uncertain, rattling the foundations of our faith. Then in true form, Satan exploits our circumstances by awakening our worst fears and our deepest doubts.
When the certainties of my faith are tested, I encounter new questions, or old questions asked in new ways. If I apply the “Law of Possibilities” I am reminded God can be trusted as I learn to view His providential hand more creatively. However, when the doubts and fears I have tolerated push against the certainties of my faith, even as I ponder the possible ways God might move in my life, the combined force of the test can overwhelm me. This is exactly the effect Satan desires. He wants to rob me of my peace and frighten me with speculations regarding things yet unresolved.
In this fragile state my #2 Pencil Faith begins to display signs of distress. My framework of trust grows perilously close to snapping as the spiritual war inside me reaches a boiling point. The gauge separating doubt and fear from my certainties starts to “wobble” and I find it increasingly difficult to assess the health of the faith I stand in (Figure 2). While clever in design, my metaphor of faith prepares to disintegrate in a violent ball of fire and smoke. I cry with Job “I have no peace, no quietness; I have no rest, but only turmoil” (Job 3:26).
Then, as if in a sudden breach of protocol, doubt and fear reboot their mission from torment to destruction. They surge at my being with screams and clinched fists of fury, taunting my trust in the Holy One: “How can God allow these horrific events in your life if He cares for you? You have served Him faithfully, yet He refuses to deliver you. If He cares, why does He let you suffer? If He knows all why doesn’t He do a better job preparing the way? Can’t He at least orchestrate a more manageable economy of pain, spacing out your trials and giving you time to regroup before you are driven to your knees once more? Maybe you’re not worth it. Maybe He’s not worth it!”
As the persecution rages I question my decision to practice faith alongside fear and doubt. It seemed reasonable at first to tolerate uncertainties so I could flourish in the greater portion of certainty. But when those things I left unconquered rise to conquer me, I wonder what kind of faith exists in the presence of so many reservations. Doesn’t the writer of the book of Hebrews proclaim, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1)? Am I right to even call myself a believer?
Then again, it must be plausible to live with uncertainty, especially in an imperfect world where we are surrounded by the temporary. In fact, the Hebrews writer continues with a list of faithful servants of God who longed for a promise but never received it in this life. “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Hebrews 11:13). Who is in this list? Moses: the man who argued with God and refused to believe He could lead the Israelites out of Egypt. Moses: the patriarch who lost his right to enter Canaan because a moment of insecurity led him to take God’s matters into his own hands.
Surely a faith that is certain of things hoped for assumes the existence of fears and doubts. Even the greatest spiritual warriors have lived with them, and most have confessed them. Yet when our foundations are threatened we long for Egypt. We would rather die in captivity than face the conflicts inherent in human faith. Such are our thoughts when the things we permit out of necessity invade those things we cling to with all hope.