By Whitney Woollard
Right now I’m tempted to believe that God is holding out on me.
There. I said it.
I planned to postpone writing this until I could speak about my unbelief in the past tense. Like most of you I’m more comfortable sharing my struggles when I can see them in the rearview mirror (with a lesson in my back pocket of course!). It feels godlier to say, “Six months ago I was tempted to look at porn or binge shop or cheat on that exam. But now I’m trusting in Christ’s work.”
I can’t help but think that this subtly undermines the gospel. Christ isn’t only sufficient for us when we’re past our temptations. He’s more than sufficient in the midst of them. Thus, Christians are free to share present tense struggles that elevate a high view of Christ even as we walk through real doubt and unbelief.
PRESENT TENSE KIND OF DOUBTS
Lately, it seems like nothing falls into place. Nothing comes easily to me. I wrestle. I strive. I fight. And . . . nothing. There’s a little voice within that enjoys pointing out that if God were really in control of the whole universe, then it would be easy for him to change my circumstances. It would take him no effort whatsoever to make a tweak here and there and poof! my life would be fixed. That voice takes my good theology—a high view of God’s meticulous rule—and comes to poor conclusions that God is withholding something good from me.
You understand this feeling, don’t you? Even as you read about my doubts, you’re internalizing your own. Perhaps it looks like one of the following equations:
- God is the Creator of life + You are barren = He is withholding good from you
- God is the Author of marriage + You are single = He is withholding good from you
- God is Owner of universe + You are broke = He is withholding good from you
Scenarios such as these tempt us to disbelieve and distort God’s character. We feel that God’s holding out on us—that he’s stingy. We conclude that we’ll just have to make things happen for ourselves. Like Jesus’ temptations in the wilderness (Matt. 4:1-11), we’re presented with an opportunity to believe the lies and to try and secure our desires apart from God’s provision and perfect timing.
For the most part, we know that these thoughts aren’t rational. God is sovereign, and God is good. There’s nothing in our experience that can change that. Then again, doubt and unbelief are rarely rational. But they sure are powerful! The more we focus on the lies and feed the doubts the more powerful that unbelief becomes. And the more powerful the unbelief becomes, the more convinced we get that we need to go out and make something happen for ourselves.
CHOOSING TO FORM HABITS OF BELIEF
It’s at this very moment, the present moment when unbelief rears its ugly head, that you and I have a choice to make. We can preach God’s truth to ourselves and allow it to strengthen our belief or listen to the lies and allow it to strengthen our unbelief. Either way, something will grow stronger. There’s no neutral ground. It’s not like we can just wait it out and see what happens. The path of passivity (“maybe tomorrow I will feel like God is good and gracious”) will only deepen unbelief. If we wait until tomorrow to believe God is good, upon waking up, we’ll discover that the unbelief has spread throughout our soul like terminal cancer.
But, if you are in Christ, the temptation to unbelief is not the final word. We can choose a different path! We have One who walked before us and was tempted as we are yet remained sinless (Heb. 4:15), so that he might offer himself as a sinless substitute in the place of unrighteous sinners (2 Cor. 5:21). Through our union with Jesus we can “receive mercy and find grace to help in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16). Moreover, Christ serves as an example of what it looks like to perfectly trust the Father in the face of temptation by speaking out truth and resisting the Devil in the power of the Spirit (Matt. 4:4, 7, 10).
As we’re progressively conformed to Jesus’ image, we can choose the path he chose. We’ve been set free from sin so we can pursue righteousness. We are not enslaved to unbelief anymore. You don’t have to keep doing what you’ve always done.
You can form new habits of belief that builds your confidence in God on a daily basis:
- You can verbally refute lies (whether personal, demonic, or worldly) the minute they pop into your head.
- You can cry out to the Spirit to help you when you feel weak and overwhelmed with unbelief.
- You can read, meditate on, and memorize Scripture to renew your mind.
- You can confess your doubts to a friend and ask them to pray for you.
- You can meet with God’s people on a Sunday or mid-week gathering to hear the truth and worship God.
The point is we have a choice. Jesus’ work on our behalf breaks the fatalistic patterns of sin in our lives and gives us supernatural power to battle unbelief. We don’t have to be resigned to our unbelief. We can be different. We can be like Jesus!
AN EXERCISE IN TRUST
Today, in my present struggle, I’m going to choose to follow Jesus by refuting the enemy’s lies and speaking God’s truth out loud. Sure, nothing’s coming easily to me. Life feels hard. But I refuse to believe God’s being stingy. I know he’s not stingy because of the gospel:
- He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things. – Romans 8:32
- Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. – Ephesians 1:3
- Do not be deceived, my beloved brothers. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. – James 1:16-17
When I meditate on these truths, my doubts are obliterated. Our God is a good God who gives us good gifts. There’s no way he could be stingy towards me—he’s given me his very own Son! Any feelings regarding my current circumstances simply cannot hold up in the face of the cross. I’m choosing to exercise trust in God because he is 100 percent trustworthy.
What about you? As you stand at the intersection of belief or doubt, what choice are you going to make to feed your faith in God? What Scriptures are you going to use to refute the lies of the enemy? Who are you doing life with that can help you fight the fight of faith? How will you exercise trust in God during moments of unbelief?
Whitney Woollard earned her M.A. (Biblical and Theological Studies) from Western Seminary, where she’s currently pursuing further theological training and working part time. She is most passionate about equipping others to read and study God’s Word well so that they might grow in affection for Jesus and his glorious gospel message. She is a regular contributor to “Gospel-Centered Discipleship” and writes for various guest blogs. She and her husband Neal live in Portland, Oregon, where she ministers to women at Hinson Baptist Church.