When we find ourselves questioning our faith, it's important to remember that doubt implies a weakness of faith, not its absence. In general, when counseling those in doubt, have them ask God to sustain their faith through their time of uncertainty. Most doubts are of the head, and faith has always been a matter of the heart. Point out that doubts are almost always the beginning of a stronger faith. C.S. Lewis once said,
"If ours is an examined faith, we should be unafraid to doubt. If doubt is eventually justified, we were believing what clearly was not worth believing. But if doubt is answered, our faith has grown stronger. It knows God more certainly and it can enjoy God more deeply."We should embrace our doubts, and pursue them to the best of our ability. When we find the answers we seek, our faith will be that much more secure.
The New Testament directly addresses the doubting faithful through the story of the apostle Thomas. When counseling members of your congregation who have questions about their faith, refer them to the story of Doubting Thomas, and explore how Thomas' faith ultimately led him to a deeper understanding of the glory of Christ, leading him to eventually declare, "My Lord and My God!" (John 20:28).
Let them know that doubts are a natural part of the human condition, and that God's infinite mercy is sufficient to our shortcomings. If we come to God openly and honestly, he will provide the answers for all of our doubts.
There are many different kinds of doubt that even the most pious believers go through from time to time. Some are brought on by tragic events -- the untimely loss of a loved one, for example, may drive a Christian to deeply question his or her faith. Others may have doubts about the Bible, in particular, rather than about God or Jesus Christ. Sometimes doubts arise from Church practices and decisions made by clergy, such as the Spanish Inquisition or the recent scandals surrounding the Roman Catholic Church.
It's important to understand the kind of doubts your parishioners are facing, and, as best you can, to explore where they come from. Sometimes what initially appears to be a doubt about the Bible will end up being a doubt about the Church, or vice versa.
Not all doubts will respond to the same assurances -- the answer to the same question can be different for different people. How we answer a child who doubts God's love, for example, might be very different from how we answer a college professor who doubts the same. Some people require logical proofs for God's existence -- for others, a reference to the right Bible verse may be sufficient.
Responding to doubt requires you to know the doubter as best you can -- to be able to understand the way his or her mind works, and why it is that these doubts have entered their lives. Only then will you be able to offer meaningful and appropriate guidance for their crises of faith.
For some members of your congregation, the field of Christian apologetics may be a valuable resource for exploring their doubt. First Peter 3:15 tells us we should "be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." Christian apologists hold that Christianity is based upon rationality and empirical evidence -- that there's a logic behind our faith, and that it has its basis in things we can see, hear, and feel in the world around us.
Often, it focuses on historical data, exploring the reliability of the Bible and the events, people, and miraculous incidents it describes through careful historical study. Scholars such as Saint Thomas Aquinas and, more recently, Gary Habermas have written extensively about proofs for God's existence and the historical accuracy of the apostles' accounts of the resurrection. In contemporary times, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel have penned excellent introductory books for those seeking to bolster their faith through reason.
For many people, a faith inspired by the world around them leads to vanishing doubts. Finding the parts of our lives which continue to inspire our faith is often a first step to rediscovering the full scope of God's love.