We’ve seen the concept of doubt many times in scripture. When Abraham and Sarah are told that their descendants would number greater than the stars, they laughed, for both of them were old and past the age of bearing children. Similarly, when Zechariah is told that Elizabeth would have a son and he would be named John, Zechariah expressed his disbelief and was struck dumb until John’s birth.
When Jesus said that He would tear down the temple and rebuild it in three days, or that He is the bread of life that can grant eternal life, see how many turned away from Him. And of course, we all know of the most famous example of doubt: Doubting Thomas, the Apostle. He was not there to witness the appearance of Jesus resurrected. He did not personally touch the wounds in Jesus’s hands and feet. Why should he believe?
As easy as it is to stand on the outside and criticize Thomas for His unbelief, how many times on a regular basis do we find ourselves doubting the Lord? How many times do we try to do things our way because we cannot trust God? And that’s not to degrade the process by which we think. Sometimes, we cannot help our faulted selves. We should not forget that Thomas went on to become a saint! Nobody is beyond saving.
Fr. Michael Hartge joined Josh Raymond on The Inner Life to talk about doubt in the spiritual life and the difficulties that can surround a phenomenon like that. Plus, they discussed where doubt comes from and how one might root it out before it becomes sinful.
But to begin a conversation about doubt, we first have to know what doubt is. After all, as much as we don’t want to be doubtful, we also don’t want to be naïve, gullible, or foolish. We shouldn’t believe everything we hear, especially if there is no substantiative evidence or precedent to inform our belief. To an extent, we should have our guard up because there is a lot of evil in this world and there are many who would like to lead us astray.
As Fr. Michael explained, doubt primarily comes from two different sources: fear and a lack of certitude. Fear can fuel paranoia and compulsive behavior to keep us stagnant and reject any moments that might involve risk to our health or our lifestyle or our body. Fear keeps us from seizing the opportunities that might lead to personal growth. Of course, this must be balanced with a healthy dose of common sense, but risk is a part of life and it is possible for a courageous, confident person to be practical.
Lack of certitude is the phenomenon that keeps us from being able to make decisions, even if the choice is between two good things. Fr. Michael used the example of deciding whether to leave one job for another job. Maybe neither option would be the wrong one, but a lack of certitude paralyzes us, keeping us from even being able to pick between the two.
The first step in defending against fear, uncertainty, and ultimately doubt is to realize where it comes from. When it comes to spiritual warfare, doubt comes from the devil. He is the father of lies and amongst his strongest tactics is the tactic of getting us to doubt ourselves and God and eventually come to believe those lies.
Monsignor Stephen Rossetti, a renowned exorcist, often says that there are 6 lies that the devil will tell you: you are an evil person, you are beyond saving, God doesn’t care about you, you are the devil’s eternal property, you are going to hell, and you should take your own life. At the root of each of those lies is a seed of doubt. Those lies run exactly counter to what we believe as Catholics.
Josh recalled the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden with the serpent. The devil did not tell Eve exactly what he wanted her to believe. Instead, he asked her a question: “Did God really say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1) He plants a seed of doubt. The devil continues, “‘You certainly will not die!’” (Genesis 3:4) Right?
It’s a given that we will experience doubt in our lives, particularly our spiritual lives, so Fr. Michael left us with some advice for when we experience those instances. Our instinct may be to bring it up to friends, family, and everybody we trust as we seek answers. But as a form of mortification, Fr. Michael suggested bringing it up to two people maximum: perhaps your parish priest, your confessor, or a spiritual director, an expert on the matter. Then, allow God to act. Let him work through your life to show you the answers rather than having somebody tell you. Open your heart, and He will guide you.
“‘I do believe, help my unbelief!’” (Mark 9:24)
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