Doubting Castle and the Giant Despair

PProg 49 p113 GiantDespair

Well, on Saturday about midnight the prisoners began to pray, and they continued in prayer until almost daybreak. A little before dawn good Christian, as someone half amazed, broke out in this passionate declaration: ‘What a fool I am,’ he exclaimed, ‘to lay here in a stinking dungeon, when i could just as easily walk at liberty! In my coat, next to my heart, I have a key called Promise. I’m persuaded it will open any lock in Doubting Castle.’ ‘That’s good news, Brother,’ said Hopeful. ‘Take it out and try.’ Then Christian took it from his heart and began to try it on the dungeon door. As he turned the key, the bolt on the door gave way, and the door easily flew open.”- John Bunyan, The Pilgrim’s Progress, 160.

No Christian is exempt from the struggle of doubt, or indeed any struggle for that matter. On those days when I boast in my confidence that I will never struggle in certain areas, I must remember the words of the apostle Paul. “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall. No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man,” (1 Corinthians 10:12-13). So doubt may come. Does God really exist? Isn’t it much easier to believe in a cosmic accident than in a God who reigns sovereignly? Is the Bible really true? I mean, it’s just a book written by some guys, right? Is Jesus really God? Wasn’t he simply crazy? Did Jesus really rise from the dead? Isn’t it possible that the disciples stole the body? Is He really coming back? Thousands of years have passed and I don’t see Him! Does Christ really satisfy and provide me with all that i need? Surely money, power, lust, possessions, and popularity can give me what i truly desire. Christian and Hopeful have been imprisoned by the Giant Despair in the Doubting Castle, and when we succumb to our doubts, we also find a home in Doubting Castle and are imprisoned by despair. Thoughts of suicide, divorce, and all sorts of debauchery invade our minds. If God isn’t real, if Christ isn’t who He said He was, then all is despair. We will simply perish into dust. And we are chained, unable to move. I have to learn something from John Bunyan here. I must not try to fix myself in times of doubt. I mustn’t try and distract my mind, go play basketball, read a book, or watch TV. I must begin in prayer. I must cry out to the God who can change my perception, who alone can strengthen me. “Lord! Help my unbelief!” And soon I will find, because He has promised me this, that God will give me what i ask for, for he does not desire His people to doubt and to despair. “The Lord is at hand; do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus,” (Phil. 4:5-6). And again, “Or which one of you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a serpent? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will you Father who is in heaven give good things to those who ask him?” (Matthew 7:9-11). And presently, though it may take many hours, much suffering, and perhaps numerous days, in my doubt and despair, I will remember because God will give me remembrance.
I am free! “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm then and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery,” (Galatians 5:1). We would do well to consider all the Gospel promises here. We would do well to counteract each doubt with a Gospel truth. But surely this one truth of freedom sums up the truths of the Gospel. For “if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed,” (John 8:36). “But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed…” (2 Timothy 1:11). I know whom. I must scream to my doubt, NO! I KNOW! I have come to taste in His goodness, come to trust in His ways, come to bank on His words, come to understand the filth of my own sin! I know WHOM. He is better than sin! He is true! He is coming again! His ways are right! I am no longer enslaved to doubt or any sin, for Christ by His death and resurrection has set me free to live unto Him and His glory (Romans 6). And then I can come again by faith to grasp onto all His promises He has given to me. He is the bread of life (John 6:35), I live on His promises and words (Deut. 8:3), He is alive (John 20:19), He is coming back (Revelation 22:20), sin can’t give me what i desire (Ecc. 6:7), His love and covenant are never ending (Isaiah 54:10), I am a new creation (2 Corinthians 5:17), etc. And the door will be flung open, and I will walk out into glorious day. Our prison door will easily open when we realize that doubt and despair cannot keep us from Jesus and cannot keep Jesus from us.

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