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Certainty and Doubt

Posted by Lee Ballard on

By Lee Ballard--

This week at Planted, I was asked to speak about doubt. Believe you me, while it seems to be in my nature to wrestle with my own doubts, I worry that what I think about doubt and what I have to say about doubt may not be entirely useful for other people.

For about twenty years now, I’ve been trying to write a book on the subject. Originally, I wanted to tackle doubt from a purely epistemological point of view; I wanted to document the history of people thinking about certainty and uncertainty. I wanted to explore the limits of human understanding, when we should lean into it and when we should not. Over time, I began to focus on doubt both as a source of comfort and as a tool for overcoming the pitfalls of double-mindedness that may plague the modern Christian. I focused on the relationship between psychological doubt that comes from fear and logical doubt that comes from the inability to hold every part of a complex and broken world in my head at once. I wandered the border between doubt (when it helps discover truth) and unbelief (when it does not). I began to feel that doubt was an open door to a fuller relationship with God, but I could not say just how. In the midst of that struggle, God saw fit to gift me with major depressive disorder, and He has taken my head and heart on an unexpected journey.

Early in my struggle with depression, the Lord led me to Psalm 13. It’s a short little passage, but I simply could not escape it. The words were too true to be doubted despite the doubt that they expressed. I felt as if I was the one who wrote these words:

Psalm 13 
How long wilt thou forget me, O Lord? For ever? How long wilt thou hide thy face from me? How long shall I take counsel in my soul, having sorrow in my heart daily? How long shall mine enemy be exalted over me? Consider and hear me, O Lord my God: lighten mine eyes, lest I sleep the sleep of death; lest mine enemy say, I have prevailed against him; and those that trouble me rejoice when I am moved. But I have trusted in thy mercy; my heart shall rejoice in thy salvation. I will sing unto the Lord, because he hath dealt bountifully with me.

If that’s not doubt—if that’s not certainty—I’m not sure what is. It has been of great comfort to know that I am not alone in wondering where God is and that depression’s worst symptoms are not unique to me. Doubt yammered at David in some of the same ways that it has me, but doubt is not necessarily the enemy here. David doubted himself and his ability to cope with his thoughts and circumstances, not in the provision of God.

I have marveled at how that has played out in my own life. Throughout these terrible four years of depression, I have often felt God has abandoned me, yet I have never once turned the apprehension of my own limitedness (which necessitates doubt, I think) into unbelief. It has often taken others to help me recognize the provision of God, though. The Lord has brought people into my life who have reminded me of the love of Jesus in the midst of my fear, angst, and sadness. They have often believed for me when I could not believe for myself. They have led me to the certainty of Jesus’ bounty in the midst of my doubts. 


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Joyce Wachsmuth Nov 5, 2021 8:18pm

Thank you for your blog!


Dana Minkler Nov 8, 2021 8:58am

Thank you for your honesty, transparency and your heart for God. It is good to see how you have worked through your depression with Jesus and your church family at your side. Praying for you!


Nancy Nov 12, 2021 2:29pm

Powerful. Thank you Lee.