One key to dealing with intellectual doubt is to make sure that you plug into – and keep yourself plugged into – Christian community. When you’re going through periods of doubt, one of the worst things you can do is to unplug and remove yourself from the church and other believers.
As C.S. Lewis said, “…daily prayers and religious reading and church-going are necessary parts of the Christian life. We have to be continually reminded of what we believe. Neither this belief nor any other will automatically remain alive in the mind. It must be fed.”
And the primary vehicle that we are “fed” today is God’s Church.
But, what if it’s not you, but a friend who is struggling with intellectual doubt?
You need to patiently answer their questions.
1 Peter 3:15
15 but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence;
But how do we practically do this?
Start with questions. What do they believe? Why do they believe that? What are their specific doubts? Avoid the pressure of immediately diving into your answers, but instead become a safe person for them to express their questions and doubts to.
Secondly, listen patiently. Be careful not to respond in such a way to appear hypocritical or judgmental, but give them space to unpack their thoughts.
Then thirdly, use apologetics as they raise their questions in regards to the knowledge that you have learned.
Now, there’s a second type of doubt that many Christians wrestle with known as Emotional or Psychological Doubt. This is when we actually question God’s goodness. It may be cause by pain, depression, feelings of anxiety, broken relationships or any host of other negative experiences that rattle our understanding of God’s character.
Os Guinness puts it this way:
“The problem is not that reason attacks faith, but that emotions overwhelm reason as well as faith, and it’s impossible for reasons to dissuade them… [This kind of] doubt comes just at the point where the believer’s emotions rise up and overpower the understanding of faith. Out-voted, out-gunned, faith is pressed back and hemmed in by the unruly mob of raging emotions that only a while earlier were quiet, orderly citizens of the personality. Reason is cut down, obedience is thrown out, and for a while the rule of emotions is as sovereign as it is violent.”
Now, when we look at psychology, we see Sigmund Freud saying that belief in God is untrustworthy because of what he claimed as its psychological origin: that a Christian’s belief in God is nothing more than a psychological projection, or wish fulfillment.
However, fundamentally, this perspective commits what is known in logic and debate circles as the Genetic Fallacy. You see, simply because you can attack the genesis, or origin –of someone’s belief does not mean that their belief is untrue.
On the other side of Freud’s coin, Paul Vitz states in his book, Faith of the Fatherless: the Psychology of Atheism, that almost all of history’s most renown atheists suffered some sort of breakdown in their relationships with their fathers.
Vitz discovers that belief in God is not a psychological projection rooted in a need for a loving father figure as Freud expressed; but rather it’s actually the rejection of God that is rooted in psychological repression stemming from a painful experience in the atheists’ life having to do with their earthy father figure.