Dueling with Doubt: Helping Students Survive the Dark Night of the Soul

By Syler Thomas | Adapted from Game Plan: Practical Wisdom for the College Experience by Nic Gibson and Syler Thomas. | April 30 2012

When I was a college freshman, it was downright depressing how many of my Christian friends had left their faith behind by the end of the year. It is not uncommon for many college students to go through a phase known as the "Dark Night of the Soul," where they question everything they've known to be true up to that point. It can be an extremely scary time. The irony, though, is that the very thing that has the potential to kill your faith also has the potential to take it to the next level.

One of the worst things you can believe about being a Christian is that doubting equals sinning. This is simply not true. Doubting is not dangerous; in fact, it is often a sign that you are moving to a deeper level in your faith. Think of your faith like sedimentary rock. Each layer builds on the next, and the layer beneath forms the foundation for the next layer until you have a beautiful piece of rock.

Or imagine your faith like the houses of the three little pigs. The first house you build is made out of straw. It's a functioning house, but all it takes is a little huffin' and puffin' and it comes down. This is the point where many young Christians walk away. They say: Look, if this God thing was real, my house would still be standing. The other alternative is to say: you know, the house of faith that I was building was adequate for a time, but it's not strong enough anymore. I need to build a stronger house, with a firmer foundation and better materials. And so you build again, this time out of sticks. It's a better house, but it might take four or five puffs to bring it down.

You are once again at a pivotal time, and you can either leave the house destroyed or build another one, this time out of bricks. You learn from your mistakes, and the newer understanding of God that you find each time your previous house gets blown to the ground brings the wisdom to build a better house the next time. Let's take a look at a few of the ways that doubt can appear.

Doubt from Poor Decisions

First, doubt can sometimes enter our lives simply as a result of our own foolish decisions. Tony Campolo relates how he responded to a certain Christian college student who came into his office to talk about his doubts. Tony asked him: How long have you been shacking up with your girlfriend? Sure enough, Tony had read the situation accurately. The student knew what he was doing was wrong, but didn't want to stop, so was walking away from the God who he believed was restricting him.

If you are simply enjoying your sin too much to stop, you will find it difficult to have a strong, vibrant faith. Others of you may have a genuine desire to follow God, but because your struggle against sin is getting the best of you, you doubt that He is real because your struggle is too intense.

Something you should keep in mind if you're in this category is that as a newer Christian, you are not yet fully the person that God wants you to be. While it's true that as a follower of Jesus you are a new creature, that doesn't mean that you automatically start behaving like one.

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