Dealing with Doubts Transcript/Program 2

By: Dr. Gary Habermas; ©2003
What are some common myths about doubt?



Today on The John Ankerberg Show, are you a Christian who doubts? Why is it that after placing belief in Christ, you are plagued with questions about your faith? Why do you live each day wondering if you are truly a Christian and doubting whether God has really forgiven your sins? You fear going to hell, but aren’t sure you will go to Heaven. Why do you have these doubts? Is there a biblical way to conquer your depressing thoughts of unbelief? Can you really get rid of all your doubts? Today John’s guest is Dr. Gary Habermas, chairman of the Department of Philosophy and Theology at Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia. He is the author of more than 21 books, including a book on doubt called The Thomas Factor. We invite you to join us.

Ankerberg: Redefine where we were coming from last week, and then tell me, what are the common myths about doubt.
Habermas: First of all, let me say this preface, I am not aware of a subject regarding which there are more twists and turns than this one. And what Christians commonly say to each other is not just wrong, it causes pain. Here are some of the things you hear about doubt, and all of these, in my opinion, are false: Doubt only happens to intellectual people; it always happens and follows the same course; it’s always answered by the same techniques; doubt is always sin; nothing good can come out of it; perhaps doubt is even the unpardonable sin; heroes of the faith never doubt; only weak-minded people doubt’ strong Christians never doubt. And on and on and on.
Or, if you’re questioning, you’re probably going to hell. I remember a case years ago where a young lady happened to say to her seminary friends, “I’m having questions about my faith.” She was doing okay until her friend said to her, “Well, true Christians don’t doubt. If you’re doubting, you must be unsaved.” And that just sent her into a tailspin, just the suggestion that she might not be saved. John, here’s how key it gets. Let me give a typical movie type of analogy.
Ankerberg: Please do.
Habermas: The woman who says to her husband, “Honey, do you love me?”
“Yes, dear.”
“No. Come on. Look at me and say this.”
“I love you.”
“No. No. Come on. Look at me. I want to get your attention. Say it meaningfully.”
“Dear, I love you.”
“Thank you.”
Could you do that every day? Well, not really. In this little discussion, what do we say about a person, whether it is male or female? What do we say? Do we say, “She must not be in love because she asks for it so much.” I’m sorry. Hello! She wants assurance because she’s so much in love. Now, the Christian who says, “Lord, do you love me? Please, tell me today.” And what do we say? “Hey, they’ve lost it! They’re not in love.” Now that’s how counter-intuitive some of this stuff is.
And here’s one of the most interesting, maybe the major twist and turn. The person who has emotional doubt – which we identified last show is the most frequent and the most painful – the person who has emotional doubt, it could be exactly the opposite of what they say. The person who loves the Lord enough to keep asking, I’d say, most of the time is deeply in love with the Lord. But, if people are hanging out there, especially people they respect saying to them, “Well, hey, if you’re asking these questions you must not be saved,” that’s like saying your spouse was unfaithful to you. It causes this kind of dissonance. We don’t apply the same kind of good sense that we apply to the wife or the husband who wants reassurance.
“I wandered from the Lord.”
“You’re lost!” That doesn’t make any sense at all. The average doubter, the average emotional doubter, in my opinion, is probably a person who’s deeply in love and wants the Lord’s affection. Here’s the good news: they already have it. It’s there. And so the key is telling yourself something differently.
Ankerberg: I think people are drinking this in and they want to know more. Tell me some other stories of people that you’ve met across the country. I mean, you’ve got to change the names, but tell me what else has happened.
Habermas: Well, if the person wasn’t hurting so much, you’d think it was humorous. I received a call from a man one time in the northwest and he said something like this to me: “Hey, I want to know, I want to know for sure that I’m saved.” And the person said to me, “I go to a prominent church out here and if I told you my pastor’s name, you would know the guy in a heartbeat. And if he knew I was calling you, he would say, ‘John’s the best worker in my church. He’s not suffering doubts.’ But let me tell you something, I’m not just suffering doubts: I’m not saved.”
So, I started to ask the obligatory question, and the guy jumped and he said, “Hey, wait a minute. Just warning, I read your book on doubt; don’t call me an emotional doubter!” We’d already said enough and I’m thinking to myself: “Emotional.”
And he said, “Don’t tell me that.” And he said, “Hey, one more thing. Don’t tell me to go pray and read the Bible. Everybody tells me that. I need something specific.”
So, here comes my obligation. “John, have you ever trusted Christ as your personal Savior? Do you know who He is, what He has done?”
And he said, “Hey, let me give you some math. I have trusted Christ as my Savior at least 5,000 times!” And he told me how he got there. He could get to the number. But here’s the question: “How much pain do you have to have to trust Christ as your personal Savior 5,000 times?”
So the guy said to me, “I’ll tell you what. Can I start calling you on Friday afternoons for as long as we need to talk? I’m going to pay you.”
I said, “You’re not going to pay me.”
He said, “If I can’t pay you, we’re not going to talk.”
I said, “I guess we’re not going to talk.”
He said, “Okay. We’ll talk.” And he started calling me on Fridays and we would talk for an hour or two each Friday. Now, after all his warnings: “Don’t tell me this, don’t tell me that. I’m not an easy guy to,” as time went on he started getting a little stronger and a little stronger. We worked through some of this stuff and toward the end of the third month he said, “Hey, I think I’m okay. I don’t think I have to call you next week.”
I said, “Hey, that’s good. That’s good progress.”
And then he went one week and he said, “How about three weeks from today.”
“Yeah. That’s good. Three weeks from today is good.”
And finally he said, “I don’t need it anymore. I got it.” He said, “I didn’t tell you this, but I’ve been leading a Bible study in my church for a long time. I’m going to go back to that study with more zeal than I’ve ever had before.” And he said, “By the way, here’s my business number, an 800 number. If you know any men who are going through this, please tell them my name, tell them my phone number, call and I’ll talk to them.”
I should tell you, too, this came just two months after my wife passed away, and so I was struggling with some of my own issues, not doubt issues, but similar emotional issues, and John wants to lay this big thing on me. Well, he’s done three months later and I felt so good. But I picked up the phone and I called him back sometime later, and he didn’t return my call and I said, “Oh, he’s struggling again.” Because emotional doubt is the story of lapses and relapses. When the emotions come back, you forget everything you learned. He didn’t return my call. I called again and left my name on his line.
He called me back and said, “Ah, Dr. Habermas, this is so wonderful. I’m sorry. I’ve just been so busy with my business, but I want to tell you something. I’ve not lost the joy of my salvation. I’m not saying I haven’t had any bad times, but I’ve not prayed for salvation again. I’m doing fine.” And it was so liberating. I’ll tell you, next to seeing somebody come to the Lord, there is nothing like seeing people throw this yoke of pain off. And they’re not doing anything differently except they’re telling themselves different things. I think that’s the key to emotional doubt; it’s changing your thought patterns.
Ankerberg: Gary, I go to conferences all over the country, and when I preach, I’ll give an invitation. I’ll see people accept Christ as their Savior. If you go back two, three, four, five, six years in a row, you notice some guys raise their hand every year, okay? So help these people, because they want to have what that man finally found. So how do we get there? What else do we need to tell them?
Habermas: Well, from the Old Testament to the New Testament, passages over and over again, they tell us the answer to faulty thinking, the answer to telling ourselves things that are not true is to tell ourselves what is true. And oftentimes I’m convinced that passages, particularly in the Psalms and Proverbs, throughout the New Testament – Philippians 4 is a great passage; there are a lot of good texts – the answer to faulty thinking is not only true thinking, but it’s what we call “the disciplines,” practicing things in our lives.
And Scripture says things like this: The antidote to being downcast – Psalm 42:43. The antidote to being anxious is, we find all the following: Pray (1 Peter 5:7: “Casting all your cares [the word for “anxiety”] upon Him, for He cares for you.”
Another is to praise. I will say to groups, “How many of you have ever praised God during a time of doubt?” Hands go up all over. “Give me some testimonies. Tell me what happens.” And from all different perspectives, this is the only answer I’ve ever heard: Praising God during emotional turmoil causes me to look at life from a new perspective. It causes me to look at life from God’s perspective. By thinking different thoughts, I quit feeling the pain. And person after person, here’s what they say, “When I pray, praise, and thank, the mood goes away; the mood changes.”
“So, why don’t you do it more often?”
“Well, it takes time to think like that.”
“Yes, it does. But what do you want to do? Do you want to have this pain, or do you want to change your thoughts? You can pray. You can praise.”
Philippians 4:8 says change your thoughts. It says, “Be anxious for nothing,” verse 6, and then he says, “by prayer, by thanksgiving.” And thirdly, in verse 8 he says, “Whatever is good, whatever is truthful, meditate on these things” – to think deeply. In verse 9 he says (the fourth point): “Whatever you have seen in me, do these things.”
Here’s the good news. A scriptural remedy is varied. You can mix and match. I think you can do what works for you. You can pray. You can praise. You can journal. You can call a friend. You can tell yourself “truthful” things instead of the other things – and here’s a lie, for example: “What if Jesus sends Christians to hell?” That’s a lie, but if you think that, especially at night, shades drawn, dark room, you can feel the flames licking at your toes. I mean, you could imagine that it’s going down right there! “Oh, no! I’m thinking like this! I must be going to hell.” It gets worse, the feeling gets worse. You change your thoughts.
And here’s the most incredible truth, in my estimation. Christians think that what happens to them – they’ve got a lousy boss; they’ve got a child that’s disobedient; a spouse who doesn’t love them, whatever – we think that what happens to us determines where we are emotionally. I don’t think that’s true. I think the biggest thing that costs us our peace is not what happens to us, it’s what we tell ourselves about what happens to us. It’s an incredible truth. In fact, reflections on pain and suffering, which you mentioned earlier, maybe pain and suffering is not so much the life in which I find myself, maybe it’s the pain I put on myself by the way I talk to myself about this: “Oh, God must not love me. I must not be saved.”
Now, there are secular examples, too.
Ankerberg: Before you go further, slow it down. Give me a piece of yourself. Make it personal. How did you work this out in your own doubts?
Habermas: Well, very slowly, because I was barking up the wrong tree. Loving apologetics, I thought, “The answer to emotional doubt is more facts. Read one more book, six more evidences….” The way the philosopher says it is this: “Facts are necessary but they’re not sufficient.” You need something besides facts. Here’s what you need. You need a truthful basis rightly applied.” How do you rightly apply it? We’re back to square one again. You pray and give your issues to the Lord. You thank Him for what He’s done. You praise Him for who He is. All these other things are taught in Scripture. You can journal, you can talk, you can think about God’s miracles. You can concentrate on His creation. All these things. Here’s what happens. When you change the channel and you’re not concentrating on the pain-creating thoughts, you change the channel, that’s that “Monday afternoon football’s on, Yes! I can handle anything with football.” Well, speaking as a Christian, I can handle anything if I’m saved, too.
Ankerberg: Yeah, but let me get to it, because I know you better than a lot of other people. You’re sitting there and with your first wife, you love her to pieces, and you’re going through a series of things. You think maybe she’s going to get better. Boom! You get bad news. Then you get another layer of bad news. You get another layer of bad news. And finally she dies. Now, tell me, how do you praise God – third layer, there’s no more hope; she’s going to die; she’s laying there dying; you’re going to go to the funeral. You’re telling me this thing’s working?
Habermas: Yes. Let me tell you a little story. While my wife was sick, she was sleeping 15 to 18 hours a day. I would go downstairs and I would sit there and I would think I was beat. I was feeding her through a tube in her stomach, giving her medicine, cleaning the tubes with vinegar and water. Hard day. Took the phone of the hook. Didn’t want to talk to anybody. Sat there feeling the exact kind of pain you’re talking about. Job and I got to be friends during those days. I did a book on grief and I have a chapter in there called “Job and Me.” I don’t say I suffered as much as Job did, but Job was my buddy. Job got to be my friend. And here’s the thing I learned during that time that I try to apply to my thoughts. Job only wants to know one thing: “Lord, you’re taking my kids from me, my health, my friends, everything. Why am I suffering?” God never tells him. For 37 chapters he struggles with this.
Ankerberg: Yes.
Habermas: And he demands his day in court. God talks to him in chapter 38. Now, at the end of the book, before he is blessed, Job no longer asked the question. Job says he is satisfied. Now, here is my question. Why is Job satisfied without getting his question answered? Here’s what I decided, one-liner, one sentence from the book of Job. Job realized that he knew enough about God to trust Him in those things he didn’t know. Now, here’s Gary Habermas, 1995. I pictured my Job 38. I think we’d all have a different Job 38. I pictured God coming to me and I’m saying, “Lord, why is Debbie up there dying at 43 years old. I’ve got these children; helpless husband who doesn’t do a very good job in the kitchen or anything else, and they’ve all got to be dressed and cleaned and in school the next day.”
And I picture God saying, “Gary, I’ve got one question for you. Did I raise My Son from the dead?”
And I’d say, “Lord, I’ve done all kinds of books on this. I mean, sure. You’ve raised Your Son from the dead. But that’s 30 AD. I want to know about 1995. She’s up there and she’s suffering. What can I do?”
“Gary, you obviously didn’t get the point. Did I raise My Son from the dead?”
“Yes, Lord. But can we talk about 1995?”
“Gary,…” And He gets more insistent; His voice gets a little bit louder, and finally, when I keeping saying, “Lord, why?” He grabs me by the shirt, He pulls me close and He says, “You only have a Ph.D. You’re not real swift. I want to say this real slowly and I want you to read my lips. Okay? We’ll go slowly: Did… I… raise… My… Son… from… the… dead?”
Now, I’m thinking, how does this fit in with Job? And here’s the bottom line. I think the Lord would try to impress upon me, if this is a world in which He raised His Son from the dead, 30 AD, 1995, whatever, 2003, if this is a world in which He raised His Son from the dead, this is a world in which there is an answer to suffering, even if I don’t know what the answer is. Now, notice, nothing’s happened. She’s still up there and she’s still suffering, but I changed what I was saying to myself. Because this is no cop out; it’s only a cop out if there’s no resurrection. If there’s a resurrection, then God has a reason. The only thing that’s missing is this: I don’t know why she’s sick, but what will that change if I know and she’s still dying?
So I started changing my thinking and I thought this: I don’t like this. She’s very, very close to me. But given the fact that she’s dying, I reiterated with myself daily that this is God’s world; His Son has been raised from the dead, and there’s an answering to suffering, even though I don’t know what it is. And, answer of answers – at the end of 1 Corinthians 15, Paul taunts death: “Death, where is your sting? Grave, where is your victory?” [1 Cor. 15:55] I realized if there’s a good side to this it is this: she’s going to Heaven. This is the sentence that helped my children the most, “Weep for yourself, kids, but don’t weep for Mom. She wouldn’t come back, even if she could. She’s doing fine.” But I realized she’s not suffering anymore. What’s lacking is my being with her. She’s in a safe place. I’ll be with her for eternity. She can’t be touched. “Moth and rust don’t corrupt… thieves can’t break in and steal.” [Matt. 16:20] It’s not the way I want it, but here’s the key: if it’s a world in which God has raised His Son from the dead, there’s an answer to suffering, even though I don’t know what it is. And I related that to Job: I know enough about God to trust Him with those things I don’t know. I have not changed anything in the world. I’ve not answered any questions. All I’ve done is change the way I think about it. And all of a sudden, I’m not mad at God anymore.
One of my grad students called me during this time and he said, “Where would you be if it weren’t for the resurrection of Jesus?” Insightful thought. And I thought, “Oh, my. That’s what Paul means when he says, “We suffer, but not as those without hope.” [1 Thess. 4:13] There’s a difference between suffering with hope and without hope. I’m still suffering, but with hope. It makes all the difference in the world. So, again, I change what I say to myself and my feeling change.
Ankerberg: Great stuff, great stuff. And I’m sure it’s helped a lot of people, what you’ve said. I want to move on next week to the guy that says, “I want to believe. I can’t believe.” Okay? So join us then.

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