Help Me Doubt

I need your help.

Next weekend I’m leading a retreat for the high school students of Carlisle Brethren in Christ Church. We’re calling it “Curious” and the goal of the weekend is to get students to think about their faith.

Within a few short years, every single one of these students will be leaving high school to begin college or a new career. If they haven’t thought about their faith by then, they’ll certainly be forced to do so quickly. We want to give them the tools to question everything.

College almost wrecked my faith. I questioned God, Christianity, the problem of evil, faith vs. science, the eternal destiny of every person, etc. For a long time I wasn’t sure where I would land.

Did I mention I went to a Christian school?

If I hadn’t discovered the tools to think for myself I likely wouldn’t still be in the church today. We want to begin crafting that in these students.

So this is where I need your help: put yourself back in high school. What do you wish you would have known about doubt, questioning, your faith, the Bible, etc. that would have been helpful as you entered your college years? If you felt inadequately prepared to face the world with your version of Christianity, what would have aided you in thinking for yourself?

Please put your responses in the comments section. Feel free to post anonymously if you feel the need.


  1. I think we do our youth a favor when we recognize these issues and the journey that they will go through.  It is natural and at the end of the day faith remains because there are significant gaps in secular, naturalistic thinking.  

    I have a cousin that went to college with atheistic leanings (having grown up in an evangelical church). A professor introduced him to a philosopher that tore down his naturalistic ideas with anti-realist thinking.  This became, oddly enough, the bridge to open up the door to faith.  I explained to him that while science, for example, is one of many methods of determining truth.  It is among the most reliable but it is not the only one.  There remains logic, intuition and others that are necessary to fill the remaining gaps.

    I used a similar method with an atheist teenager that was graduating high school and had particular interest in cosmology.  I encouraged him to open his mind up to other means of determining truth.  There are things in this world that can not be explained through scientific, logic and reasoning (aesthetics would be an example).  I made it clear to him that so much of what we know and is taught in our classrooms is important and in many ways reveals truths about God – there is still many things we need to learn.  

    Basically, I would be honest about the valuable journey that is college and let them know it will be natural to experience crisis at times.  Assure them that faith remains for millions that have gone through the same experience.  They should continue to study and learn the answers to the questions that arise.  I think you will find that this approach embraces the NT’s descriptions of the testing of faith and the confidence we have that God keeps us.  I really believe that we have not benefited from the protectionist approach that shies away from difficult questions just because we don’t have all the answers. 

    • Thanks, Keith, for taking the time to answer. I couldn’t agree with you more about the disservice we’ve done with the “protectionist” approach.

  2. This is a pretty easy question for me to answer in one sentence:

                I wish I’d know God didn’t hate me.

    That would have changed everything for me and I think I’d be a different person in a very different place. If you’d like more detail I’d be happy to expand via email.

  3. Josh, I missed out on those college years.  Instead,  four days after I graduated I found myself on a plane heading to boot camp for the Navy.  As I reflect on what I wish I had been prepared for, well, I don’t even really know where to begin.  I wanted to leave home and start completely new and away from the “box” that everyone had kind of put me in.  I guess you could say I was looking to redefine myself.  That didn’t necessarily mean that I was seeking out God, but I really wasn’t walking away from it either.
           Here is what I didn’t expect.  I didn’t expect that loneliness would be such an awful feeling, and to escape that feeling I would be willing to take chances.  I wasn’t expecting to feel so lost.  I wasn’t expecting to feel like I was in the wrong place and I was stuck.  I just wasn’t ready, and I don’t think that anyone is ready to have most all of the social supports removed and then have to rebuild all of them myself and by my choices.  I was expecting, however, to continue feeling like a failure.  That pretty much stayed a constant.          I was really lost and really lonely, and continuously wondering where in God’s plan I fit in.  Because really, if there is a plan, then I would fit into it, wouldn’t I?  And if I didn’t find a place to fit in does it mean that God doesn’t exist?  Or worse, If God does exist and I don’t fit in, doesn’t that mean that I am not part of His plan?     This is what I did have, though.  I had an awesome small group of friends during my senior year.  They are the ones who taught me about Christ.  They are the ones who show me what it meant to be Christian.  They lived it out, they just didn’t talk about it.  As I walked down my new path of self-discovery, I checked in with them when I could.  I was provided a safe haven away from some of the caustic influences of the secular world.  When I was at my lowest, I had them to rely on.      So what I wish I had, God really did provide.  It didn’t spare me from anxiety, sadness, loneliness, or making some really stupid choices.  However, I have been blessed with awesome friends who accept me for who I am.     I think for our youth leaving to head out into the world, they may want to know that they will be remade, and it will not be a pleasant experience for some of them.  It will be hard.  God has given us what we need.  We need to choose the resources that He has given us when we need them.

    Wow, this turned out to be somewhat long.  Hope it helps.

  4. I wish I had known that the “Youth Group High” quickly disintegrates once you step foot into the real world. It’s so much easier for your faith to be shaken once you realize that we do indeed live in a world of sin and you don’t have your normal bubble of Christian friends to sing praise and worship with every Sunday and Wednesday night. 

    I also wish I knew that I’d have to argue for my faith on an almost constant basis. Once again, no one inside of the church bubble ever questions you or your beliefs. When the sphere of influence in your life is composed primarily of Christians and it suddenly shifts to being 95% non-believers, you have to explain to them that no, you aren’t crazy, and be prepared to have every textbook atheistic argument thrown at you.

  5. My college experience was the same. I have always been a questioner and logic driven person, but college brought me into a tailspin of questioning. I think for me, a couple of things would have been helpful.

    1. To know there are other people, with brilliant minds that greatly exceed mine, who were believers. There are so many brilliant people from all disciplines that hold to faith. I think it would have made me feel less isolated in my struggle.

    2. To be aware that just because I can’t explain something within my worldview does not mean the entire fabric of my worldview is to come unraveled. There have been a multitude of questions that have been answered for me over the years. Just because we do not have an answer presently does not mean one does not exist. Also, it isn’t just for Christians to have to answer the “big questions” (origins, purpose, question of evil, etc). All worldviews have to answer these questions. Sometimes this gets distorted. The burden of proof does not rest solely on the Christian’s shoulders. Everyone has to be able to articulate the reason they hold to their particular belief. I went into college thinking I was up against the ropes, not so.

    3. To know that doubt isn’t bad. It actually did more for my faith than most anything else. Without doubt, we couldn’t have faith. The two dance together nicely.

    For more of my thoughts check out my post here:

    Yes, that was also a shameless plug for my own blog.


  6. My college president once said that the opposite of faith is not doubt, it’s disobedience. I think this is important because a recent survey of young churched “leavers” found a trend of doubt having been treated in a harsh, condescending, judgmental and overall unsatisfying manner within the church. People would “confess” doubt and, rather than be met with gentle and honest answers or any kind of relational approach, were met with denial and disregard. So, doubt isn’t something that should be shunned. It should be dealt with.

    I think there’s types of doubt. There’s academic doubt, where someone has trouble integrating faith with their intellectual (not emotional) understanding of philosophy, science, history, etc. There’s empirical doubt, where someone has trouble accepting Scriptural truth due to the lack of vivaciousness and morality (or even downright hypocrisy) in their close experiences with those of the faith. There’s also implausibility doubt, where someone has trouble accepting Scriptural Truth because of the counter-cultural socio-political ramifications thereof (e.g. sexual ethics, bioethics, political stances, etc.). 

    I had most of my apologetics arguments in online forums while at a Christian college. I think I would have been better prepared for them if I had a deeper understanding of the purpose of the Bible’s Truth. I was too worried about 6-day Creation, the worldwide flood, and using Scripture to justify political and other menial stances when I should have been following the overarching themes of evangelism, loving servanthood and cultural flourishing. Perhaps the most historically-verified miracle is that of Jesus’s resurrection. It inspired the disciples and the largest “religious growth” in history. It should do the same for me.

    Also, Tim Keller’s “Reason for God” is a good book. It’s a relational apologetic that is well-informed of pretty much all the questions people ask about Christianity today. (And this is coming from a guy that doesn’t read too many Reformed authors).     

  7.  I wish I had known that my parent’s beliefs didn’t necessarily have to be mine. That I was free to form my own opinions about matters of theology and that was okay as long as I grounded them in scripture.

    If I had went to a state school, it probably would have been good to know the historical reliability of the New Testament at least. Fortunately, I got this because I went to a state school, but I have many friends who aren’t Christ followers who learned in their history classes things about the New Testament that just aren’t true, things like it wasn’t written until over 300 years after Christ and there was no accepted Cannon until Constantine made one.

    Heading these things off early is important I feel.

  8. I wish someone had told me it’s ok to question and that questioning doesn’t make you any less admirable or any less intelligent. I wish someone had told me to read differing opinions. I loved reading, but I always thought that reading something contrary to what I believed was wrong. That it opened me up to bad influences. Also that being open to new ideas is not in and of itself a bad thing, not only can new ideas strengthen what you know, but they can correct where you’ve been wrong. I also wish someone had said to read nonfiction. Other than textbooks, I did not read much nonfiction, now it’s all I read and I wish I had started earlier.

    • Thanks, Bekah, I think that’s helpful. I was completely clueless about that in high school as well and I think Christians have to stop being so afraid about their kids reading differing opinions. If we believe something is true then we should be comfortable dissecting it, criticizing it, and even being willing to walk away from it if it turns out we were wrong.

  9. Josh, we haven’t met yet, but I’ve heard many good things about your new role at CBIC.  Congrats.  We were members there for 5 years and have served at a BIC church plant called Engage for the last 3.  I, too, went to Christian school.  I, too, almost completely lost my faith as I journeyed through College.  I attribute most of this to a lack of understanding my identify in Christ.  In short, that I am his beloved.  That I don’t have to earn his favor.  That my work and efffort may be well serve to support the work he is already doing, but it does nothing to earn me position at his table.  I love this quote by Ann Voskamp (written as a prayer for her daughter):  “May she be dead to all ladders and never go higher, only lower, to the lonely, the least and the longing.  Her led of the spirit to lead many to the cross that leads to the tomb wildly empty.”  I spent to many years climbing ladders.  I recently had a conversation with another pastor friend of mine and we talked about how the current church culture can tend to convey to youth the same salvation by works message, but instead of religiosity and rules, it’s framed in service.  Service (always going lower to the least and the lonely) is good, but again, won’t earn God’s grace, his salvation, or will serve as an avenue to our contenement and peace.  I’m still learning that freedom is only found in a restful place of God’s freely-given grace.  I can’t earn it or control it.  But, I must surrender myself to find it.  So, yeah, I wish I would have explored this idea a bit more in High School instead of spending too many years after seeking contentment in things other than God and via ladder climbing.  Hope that’s helpful, 

  10. I wish I would have understood the phrase “live in the light you have”.  I wish I would’ve understood that more of the things I learned in East Texas as “black and white” really aren’t.  I wish someone would have helped me to get that God is more mystery and wonder and transcendence than formula, church culture, and rules.  I wish I would have been called to pour myself out for others in love instead of not associating with “those kind” of people for the sake of my own image/reputation/etc. I wish I would have realize that experiences in which one has truly encountered God are meaningful and personal and to be remembered/cherished forever so that WHEN (not if) you do doubt, you can recall those moments and be reminded that no matter what the passing tide brings, Christ is alive and he is risen and it’s all true.  I wish I would’ve been introduced to the works of CS Lewis sooner and been told it’s okay to ask those tough questions.

  11. Josh,
    I wish when i was in high school and afterwards known just how much God loves me (us). The depth of it i still after having children can not wrap my head around it. His love is never wavering. After my parents split i was out of school and in college and had to quit because of finances i thought that everything that i had been taught in church about God was fake. If God loved us then why did this happen. It was later that i learnt that God loved me so much and that he was with me even when i wasnt with him.
    Hope this helps.
    Becky Pennington

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