DoubtFaithFearGod

Wondering about God’s existence prompts panic attacks. Need help.

By August 14, 2017 No Comments

Emma posted the following submission on the website:  

I have panic attacks everyday about whether God is there or not. I used to believe whole heartedly but it’s so hard in this day and age with everyone attacking your beliefs, especially being a teenager since almost nobody believes anymore. I don’t have money right now because of family struggles but can you point me towards some good free Christian apologetics and places to start building faith? I’m desperate. I take all the meds they give me and yet every time I think about God I break down because of this fear I’ve had since I was a child. Thank you for taking the time to read this and reply.

Zach Breitenbach offers some considerations in response:

Thanks for your question! I can definitely sympathize with the pain you’re going through as you wrestle with your doubts. There are various types of doubts that one can have about the Christian faith. While some are factual in nature and relate to the evidence for the truth of Christianity, other doubts are emotional in nature and relate to how one feels about what is being doubted. I should say from the start that I am not a psychologist, psychiatrist, counselor, or any other kind of health-care professional. My training is in theology and apologetics, so I am offering advice from that perspective. I’ve talked with a number of people over the years who are struggling with doubts about the Christian faith, and from your very brief comments it seems likely that your doubt is largely emotional in nature. You are probably experiencing some level of factual doubt as well (i.e., doubts concerning the evidence for the truth of the Christian faith), and factual doubts are typically the easiest to resolve. One great thing about the Christian faith is that there is incredibly strong factual evidence that it is true, and there are outstanding resources for bolstering your confidence that Christianity is true. Besides the resources of this website, I highly recommend William Lane Craig’s book On Guard: Defending Your Faith with Reason and Precision as a great introductory apologetics book that has outstanding information and is easily understood even if you have little background in apologetics.

But factual doubt almost never hurts likes yours apparently does, so I strongly suspect that factual doubt is not the entire explanation for the turmoil that you are going through. Although you did not mention this, if you are having “What if” thoughts/doubts, that’s usually another huge sign that there are emotional aspects to your doubt. By “What if” doubts, I mean that even when you see that the factual evidence for the truth of Christianity is quite strong overall, you still find yourself struggling with anxiety over the mere possibility that Christianity may be false. Still, regardless of whether you are having “What if” doubts, even from what you have said, it sounds like you are experiencing emotional doubt. So I want to offer some suggested resources for dealing with such doubts in this response. By the way, the fact that you are having so much emotional pain over your faith is in one sense something that should bring you comfort. It means that you do care about the truth of Christianity. You would not be so concerned about your faith if it did not matter to you a great deal, and it is a good thing that it matters to you!

A great resource for Christians who are dealing with emotional doubt is the work of Gary Habermas, an outstanding Christian apologist. On his website he makes available two of the books he has written on doubt for free. One is called Dealing With Doubt, and the other is called The Thomas Factor. You can also find a number of video talks that Habermas has given on emotional doubt if you search on Youtube for “Gary Habermas emotional doubt.” What Habermas rightly emphasizes is the importance of recognizing when we are telling ourselves things that are not true. While the thoughts you describe could well involve factual questions, that usually doesn’t matter as much as what you are thinking about those subjects. All it really takes is one misplaced thought to stir up the pain.

Habermas points out that the key cause of emotional doubt is the way in which we “download” or internalize what happens to us (i.e., what we think to ourselves about things). Since what we tell ourselves about something often causes us more pain than the thing itself, taking charge of what you may be telling yourself or thinking to yourself about your faith in God is a huge aspect of resolving your emotional doubts. In other words, it is crucial to avoid telling yourself things that make you doubt your faith; instead, you can choose to replace those thoughts with truths that reaffirm your faith. For example, a doubter may feel anxious and think thoughts such as: “I will never feel secure in my faith when it is possible that my faith may be misplaced. If there is no factual proof of Christianity, I will never escape my doubts and my worries that Christianity may be false.” Whenever the doubter has such misbeliefs, they must be replaced with truths like: “The factual evidence for Christianity is enough to be confident that it is true and that it is stronger than the evidence for any other worldview. Based on the factual evidence alone, I would not be justified in doing anything other than committing fully to Christianity. So I will choose not to be anxious over a mere possibility when there is such good reason to be confident in my faith. I will pray to God regularly, read my Bible daily, constantly remind myself of the great evidence that Christianity is true, and live confidently in my faith. Regardless of my feelings, I will remember these truths and choose to live a confident faith. My feelings come and go, but they don’t change the fact that Christianity is true.”

I’d also recommend that you read a best-selling book by the Christian counselors  William Backus and Marie Chapian called Telling Yourself the Truth.  It is an easy read and has excellent suggestions for controlling some of the worst emotional pain in our lives. The book promotes a simple 3-step process that Backus and Chapian have shown to be highly effective. Habermas, who went through a lengthy period of doubt in his own life about his Christian faith, often says that this book influenced him more than any other book he has read outside of the Bible.

Finally, just try your best to be persistent with your faith.  I encourage you to have confidence that you can and will make progress in wrestling with your doubts. Emotional doubt is painful, but many have gone through it (it is the most common type of religious doubt) and many have made great strides to overcome it or minimize it. Please do check out the resources I have suggested, especially The Thomas Factor and Telling Yourself the Truth. Of the two Habermas books, The Thomas Factor deals most directly with emotional doubt, so I’d suggest going over it first. Many of the things the book says probably apply directly to your situation. I would also highly encourage you to see a good Christian counselor. Since you report having panic attacks as part of your experience of having doubts about God, I would recommend talking to a counselor about what you are going through. I pray that you will find a more solid faith that will help diminish your doubt and your emotional turmoil. 

Zach Breitenbach, Assistant Director of Room For Doubt and an adjunct teacher at Lincoln Christian University

Zach Breitenbach

Zach Breitenbach

Assistant Director of Room For Doubt and an adjunct teacher at Lincoln Christian University (LCU). With a passion for Christian apologetics, Zach was led to the Seminary at Lincoln Christian University. He taught undergraduate courses in business and theology and received an MA in Christian Apologetics with highest honors.