For most of my life, I did not believe in God. I simply had no use for someone I could not see, could not hear, and could not touch. In the same way we shed foolish beliefs in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny, I thought mature adults can (and should) outgrow their need for a mythical father figure who lives in the sky. And even in the moments when I was tempted to believe, I could always fall back on my doubts. I always had an explanation, or a question, or a cynical thought, that could help me explain away my need for God to be real. The fever would break, and I could go back to my rational life.
Until one day, my doubts failed me.
I was 16, in a hospital room with my unconscious father. He had gone in for surgery, only for his surgeon to discover cancer. He was quickly diagnosed with lymphoma, and it was serious. I realized my dad was probably going to die.
Death as a concept was not new to me. And in the moments that snuck up on me, when the reality of death caused me to fear, or to wonder, about the true nature of this life, my doubts were there to comfort me: Well, no one really knows what happens when you die. Death is nothing to fear. It’s a natural part of the process. When death was an acquaintance, these were enough to keep him out of the living room.
But when death became a presence in my life and threatened to take away someone I loved, I turned to the only place I had ever found answers: my doubts. They talked a lot, but explained very little: Don’t be sad. Your dad, like you, and everyone you love, is a collection of cells and electrical current. When the switch turns off, it isn’t tragic. It’s inevitable. Live it up now! Your turn is next.
I knew in that moment that all of these thoughts, as disturbing as they were, were a logical conclusion based on my premise: there is no God. But deep within my soul, everything in me knew that was wrong. My dad was more than chemicals. And my love for him was more than a biological illusion. When I raised the point with my doubts, they shrugged.
A new thought occurred to me: should I doubt my doubts? Were the basic assumptions I had made about life and truth and God actually as trustworthy as I had been led to believe? It was a dangerous question, and for years I wrestled with the unsettled feeling it caused. But even in the moment, I realized it was the most important question I had yet asked in my young life.
Doubting my doubts did not make me a Christian (that’s another story). But it did make room in my mind and heart for the idea that I might be wrong. My father’s diagnosis (and he’s fine today, by the way) had led me to a conclusion I knew was false. Doubting my doubts allowed me to re-examine the premise. Maybe God was a better explanation for my experience of reality.
Doubt is not an enemy of faith. In fact, even in my own story, it was a catalyst in my journey for truth. But we should never take our doubts at face value. They are not nearly as trustworthy as they tend to present themselves. If you are reading this and you find yourself full of doubts, I understand. But take a minute and turn all your questions against them. You may be surprised by what they say.