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Nagging doubts

Published: 17 March 2018 (GMT+10)

Caleb L., from the US, wrote in with a question about how to overcome the persistent fear that he might be wrong about God and the afterlife. Keaton Halley of CMI–US offers advice.


After a few months of reading your site I have been able to grasp how atheism and Darwinism are irrational beliefs. I suffer from OCD however and can never stop thinking, what if we are wrong? What if somehow we are wrong and we die and it is just over. The idea of ceasing to exist is disturbing to the extent that I would rather go to Hell than ceased to exist. Again, I deeply believe now that Darwinian evolution is an impossibility and that God has to exist, I just can not get the "What if" out of my head. Something else that reinforces this obsession are those studies that show religious people are dumber than people with no religious affiliation. It makes me think "What if I am just stupid". Are there any refutations of these supposed studies? I am skeptical of them. But anyway back to the original thing. How can i fully overcome my irrational fear of being wrong and ceasing to exist when I die? I did not really know where else to ask this so I posted it in the other section.

Hi Caleb,

Sorry to hear that you are struggling with this, but I’m glad you are seeking answers and asking for help. That is much better than ignoring the problem and allowing it to fester.

My advice would be, first, to analyze the cause of your doubt—is it primarily intellectual or emotional? If it is rooted in intellectual stumbling blocks, then perhaps getting answers to the specific challenges that bother you would help. You say that your doubts are reinforced by studies showing that religious people are less intelligent. I do not know what studies you are referring to, but any study which reaches that conclusion is plainly flawed, in my opinion. Experience tells us there are intelligent people on both sides and unintelligent people on both sides. Just think of all the brilliant theologians, philosophers, and scientists throughout history who professed Christ. And it’s not hard to find non-religious folk all over the map in terms of their ability to reason carefully. So, any study that claims religious people are significantly less intelligent would have to shoulder an enormous burden of proof to overcome the weight of contrary evidence. Simple observations tell us they cannot be right.

On the other hand, if the cause of your doubt is primarily emotional, then you might just need to instruct your feelings with facts that you already know deep down. You say you can already see that atheism is “irrational” and that your fear of being wrong is “irrational”. So, when doubts arise, you might simply need to actively remind yourself that there are no good reasons to give those doubts a foothold. You might review your reasons for believing in the Bible, spend time praying that God would restore your confidence, and refuse to give in to your feelings whether they subside or remain.

In any case, I think the following articles contain much advice that should also be applicable to your situation. So, I strongly encourage you to read these as well.

Besides all this, consider that ‘what if’ questions aren’t typically very helpful in getting to the truth of a matter. This is because they stipulate something that may be contrary to fact, instead of dealing with the evidence. Questions like, “What if the Mormonism turns out to be right?”, “What if the earth really is flat?”, etc. do nothing to help us decide whether these things really could be the case. Whatever answer you give only tells us about how you might respond in a hypothetical situation—a made-up world. But the strength of the case for and against Mormonism or the flat earth remain exactly the same in the actual world.

The same is true for life after death. The question, “What if we’re wrong” doesn’t help at all in assessing whether we’re wrong. We need to evaluate that based on reason. If we have good reason to trust the Bible as the Word of God, then we have good reason to believe in life after death.

The question, “What if I am just stupid?”, is similar. It sidesteps the evidence for life after death, and worries instead whether you can trust your own reasoning. But what reasons do you have for distrusting your own reasoning in general? We’ve already dispensed with the studies which reached that conclusion. But, furthermore, this approach is self-refuting. If you really concluded that studies proved you were too dumb to reason properly, then how would you know that you reasoned properly to reach that conclusion? If applied consistently, doubting your beliefs solely on the basis of questions about your intelligence would prevent you from reaching any conclusions with confidence. So, we need to focus on the reasons we have for our beliefs and just do the best with whatever intelligence God gave us.

By the way, Christians have an explanation for why we can trust our reasoning powers, but atheists don’t.

Finally, remember that Jesus is patient with us when we doubt, and He can help us to overcome doubt. For example, John the Baptist initially acknowledged Jesus as the Messiah (Matthew 3), but later sent his disciples to ask if Jesus was really the one they sought (Luke 7:18–19). Jesus pointed John to the ways in which He was fulfilling Old Testament predictions about what the Messiah would do (Luke 7:22).

Peter had enough faith to walk on water (Matthew 14:29), but Jesus saved him when he wavered and began to sink (Matthew 14:30–31).

Thomas said he wouldn’t believe in the resurrection until he felt Jesus’ wounds for himself (John 20:25). Jesus gently chided him for his lack of faith, yet still allowed him to touch the wounds, leading to Thomas’ climactic profession of faith (John 20:27–29).

The father of a boy with an unclean spirit requested that Jesus heal his son, with the words, “if you can” (Mark 9:22). Jesus said all he needed to do was believe. The man replied, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24), and Jesus healed the boy. This is a prayer I’ve prayed myself many times, because I do not have perfect faith either. I believe, yet I still need Jesus’ help with my own lack of complete trust in Him.

I pray that God will help you to overcome your own doubts as He’s helped others.

One more thing. We aren’t meant to live the Christian life alone, so you make sure you are also faithfully fellowshipping with other believers in a local Bible-believing church. It could be beneficial to seek advice from your pastor, elders, and friends there as well, who can come alongside and encourage you.



My initial response did not address your mention of OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder). If this is a genuine diagnosis, perhaps a somewhat different approach would be best. We do not give medical advice, but a colleague shared with me that, if you suffer from OCD, compulsive ‘scary thoughts’ may only get worse the more you try to reason your way out of them. If you recognize that your doubts are a result of your condition, then it might be better to ignore them and remind yourself that it comes from compulsion and is not a rational doubt. You also might benefit from counseling/therapy and possibly medication, seeking advice from professionals and fellow Christians, of course.

Helpful Resources

Readers’ comments

James K.
Well ‘studies’ also tell us that 90% of Americans are conservative, but only 40% willingly vote for republicans and over 50% would vote democrats (what kind of conservative votes for democrats?). 70% of population are “Christians” (apparently these researchers never took a stroll in a mall) BUT 97% engage in premarital conjugal relationships. These studies fluctuate more than the tides, placing too much faith in them is foolhardy. They are almost always in conflict with each other and the conclusions one draws from them often defies reason. There were two studies about alcoholism published a week apart. One suggested alcohol consumption may prolong life the other implied alcohol severely damages longevity. My suggestion to Caleb? You are an intellectual bible believer. Now you need to believe it with all your heart mind and soul. Heck, I love G-d so much I don’t care if someone labels me with perjorative insults. I see G-d’s hand in the complex life cycles of insects! Especially odonata and ephemeroptera. I see his wisdom in all the genetic variability he programmed into his creation. The tadpole and frog are the same organism yet gene expression produces different phenotypes! If we found a taxa of tadpoles that never grow up they would still be the same created kind as frogs. I don’t know if you are born again, but you really need to accept G-d into your heart. I debate with my evolution believing peers from time to time, but I have only grown stronger in my conviction. I have a great academic standing at my university, and I’m studying a field that is totally opposed to my faith. In fact I think I learn a lot more than my peers because I am a biblical Christian.
William C.
Ultimately, it's not a question for science but for historians. The question is was Christ raised from the dead? John Dickson's book 'The Christ Files' is an excellent place to start. He lets the evidence, both scripture and other historical evidence speak for itself. I've trodden this path myself.
Keaton Halley
Science can be useful in helping us to investigate the past, although we make the important distinction between operational and historical (origins) science.
graham P.
Excellent letter and response! If one might sensitively add that perhaps we sometimes need to get out more? All sorts of ideas are revealed to be obviously false when we go yachting, hunt deer, paint pictures or climb mountains. When a wild pig charges at me, for example, I have no trouble accepting that I exist, or that I shall suffer if it impales me on its tusks. Flat earth ideas are dispelled when I look from a yacht's deck to the horizon and see half a ships mast poking up from the water (the other half below the horizon).
Robert P.
Caleb, as Keaton has remarked, don't think you are some isolated case. All Christians have various doubts through their life, if they are honest.
Responding specifically to your particular type of doubt, I suggest this mental exercise:
1. You know Darwinian evolution is impossible ("I deeply believe now that Darwinian evolution is an impossibility")
2. You know, that you and the world around you, is in existence, with all its incredible and amazing 'specified complexity'. (Any serious discussion will not question this patently obvious fact!)
3. Therefore the world's existence must be a deliberate action and not an accident, by virtue of point 1. above.
4. If the universe is the result of a deliberate or conscious action to create it, then it has a creator. This is a critical point, as we have never observed in nature or in engineering any complex structure occurring without a mind or consciousness behind it. (See Book by Dr Werner Gitt "In the beginning was information" on CMI store website)
5. It then remains for the "seeker of truth" to find out who this creator is and whether he has attempted to remain in contact with the creatures that were created. Christians believe that this creator has communicated with us and that the record of this communication is contained in the old and new testaments of the Bible. More specifically that the Creator has made Himself known in the person of Jesus Christ
There are no other alleged communications from the Creator that come close to portraying a creator that would be consistent with the person required, in character name and deed, to have created such a glorious and wonderful creation.

6. It is therefore inescapable that your concern "What if somehow we are wrong and we die and it is just over", is unfounded. It's not over!!
Terry W.
I recommend listening to some worship music and memorizing the lyrics. When those doubts crop up, training your brain to respond with worship should help you cope with them with a great deal less stress and effort. Creation.com is a site implementing 2 Corinthians 10:5 on a large scale, demolishing arguments and pretensions from the giants of atheism like Richard Dawkins and the giants of compromise like Hugh Ross. It also applies to the niggles of anxiety and the tendencies of perfectionism and OCD: "Cast down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God; bring every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ." (NKJV, tense tweaked.)
Lassi P.
I must add to my previous comment that I do think, creation.com is a must-read-website to every english speaking christian. OCD just usually has this rewarding mechanism.
Laurel P.
Caleb, you are not the only one with doubts. I do not have OCD and I have those kinds of doubts often. I remember one time considering myself the little kitten in the poster, hanging on with his claws to the knot at the end of the rope. Then I realized one day, having that same thought come back, it is not I, the kitten, who keeps me on that rope; I was unable to save myself, so who am I to think I can hang on. What's missing in the picture of the kitten is the hands of our great God and Creator below, waiting for me to let go and quit trusting in my own strength to hang on. Such a relief. I still have doubts, but not as much fear, and then I also remember that there is no faith if there are no doubts. Those are the days I just keep on keeping on, knowing it's not by sight, and not leaning on my own understanding. God bless you, Caleb. I have been and will continue to pray for you. Laurel :)
Jan V.
I think it is also a matter of not being led by feelings, because feelings do not always tell you the truth. I do not believe in Jesus because I feel something, but because I want it, of course with the help of the Holy Spirit.
Lassi P.
Having conquered OCD myself, I think I just need to comment on this article. My greatest personal doubt was that God wouldn't exist, since that would've meant that we not only ceased to exist in death, but we wouldn't exist NOW as anything more than a complex chemical reaction. It was not despite, but since it was my greatest fear that I laid an unreasonable doubt to the only viable alternative: biblical creation.

I used to visit creation.com every time I heard of a new "missing link" or "apocryphical gospel" etc. just to relieve my feeling of panic, or to GET THE ANSWER NOW.

That however made the problem worse in a long run. By rushing to creation.com practically the moment the panic raised its ugly head I, ironically gave the panic a treat. So it came again. Then I stopped the habit. I started to only visit creation.com and others like it, when I didn't need it to help me with an unsencible fear. Also I finally stopped doing other things my fears commanded me to. Slowly it helped, because I now fought the real monster (OCD), not its weak but scary sidekick (any (pseudo)arguments the OCD might use).
I'll pray you win the monster too, Caleb
Anthony W.
Please also consider the spiritual in this situation. What is one of Satan's strongest weapons? Planting seeds of doubt (See Gen 3:1). The enemy constantly tries to deceive us, learning to identify those thoughts/temptations/doubts as seeds from Satan, and taking them captive, has assisted me greatly in my Christian walk.
Jon Stephan E.
Great response CMI.
I would just like to comment on the fear of ceasing to exist as more terrifying than going to hell. I do not think at all it's more terrifying loosing all your senses and abilities to think than going to hell. After all, this is what atheists hope for instead of God's punishment. This is exactly what they look forward to. They can sin without consequences. Living eternally with pain and no rest or eternally not feeling anything, I think the latter is more appealing.
Errol B.
Here’s an excerpt from a CMI article which deals with decision making theory. While Pascal’s Wager doesn’t deal with the evidence, it does give the diehard philosopher more justification for investigating the evidence. But it should also give one some peace of mind in choosing Christianity. See https://creation.com/pascals-wager

‘The Truths: Either God exists, or God doesn’t exist.
The ways to live: You can live as if God exists, or you can live as if God doesn’t exist.
Combining these we have the following conclusions:
1 If God doesn’t exist, and you live as though He doesn’t exist, you have no losses.
2 If God doesn’t exist, and you live as though He does, you have no losses but gain the advantages of a better life.
3 If God does exist, and you live as though He doesn’t, you lose big time.
4 If God does exist, and you live as though He does, you have no losses and gain everything.’

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