Today, we are privileged to have pastor and author, Steve Hinton as our guest. We had a meaningful conversation about doubt and faith. Pastor Steve also shares his journey of finding hope in the face of doubt and childhood wounding experiences.
- Doubt as a normal part of one’s faith experience
- What is the root of doubt?
- Why wrestling with God is a good thing?
- How to hear and discern God’s voice in the midst of doubt?
- Embracing the mystery of faith
- Seeing God through pain and suffering
- How can we help those who are hurting see that God is good?
- Pastor Steve Hinton’s book, Confessions: Finding Hope Through One Pastor’s Doubt
Links and Resources:
Pastor Steve HintonBook: Confessions: Finding Hope Through One Pastor’s Doubt
Transcript of Episode 37
Hope for Anxiety and OCD, episode 37. I imagine that if you’ve been following God for any length of time, at some point or another you’ve had some questions and doubts come up. How do we know that God is really good and maybe hard to come to a certain understanding of God due to past woundedness getting in the way. We’re going to talk about doubt today with pastor and author, Steve Hinton.
Carrie: Welcome and tell us a little bit about yourself.
Steve: Thank you very much. First of all, I just want to give a thumbs up to you. The whole question of anxiety, especially today, the past couple of years, everybody’s past year, everybody’s been worried about the physical aspects of COVID. Suicide hotlines are off the charts and nobody’s really talking about the whole anxiety.
I just want to encourage you and what you’re doing. I think there is a connection to me, I’ve been in vocational ministry about 27, 28 years now. So I’ve seen all kinds of anxiety and, and had to work through some of that myself, just from some wounding in my early childhood. I grew up in the Northern Panhandle of Texas, which is kind of a conservative area.
I grew up with a general biblical Jesus worldview, but I really didn’t know Christ until I was a young teenager. I had to work through some father figure issues in my life. Couple of dads were in there. And then when my mother remarried, when I was about seven or eight, He adopted me. Jim Hinton adopted me the father one year, but he had to work through his own issues from his own childhood.
All that to say is, you know, a lot of times people get their idea of what God is, who God is by the father figure in their lives. So that bled into the book that I had written Confessions: Finding Hope Through One Pastor’s Doubts and doubts a big topic today. Carrie, I’ve been married for almost 30 years. And we have four young adult children. I’m kind of an adventurous guy and I’m looking forward to having this adventure with you.
Carrie: Awesome. So are all your kids out of the house yet or not yet?
Steve: Just about our third is going to junior college here in the Houston area. The youngest is a college in another state.
My oldest works for a church camp in the state of Washington. And then my second one completed a tour with the Marine Corps and he’s about to do a contract, a security contract, actually for the army in Kuwait here in a month. So we’re almost to that empty nest place, but you know, we can see the light.
Carrie: There’s a line at the end of the tunnel. I’ll just watch out sometimes they become a boomerang generation and boom, bring back. So hopefully yours will say stay launched and you and your wife can enjoy your time.
Carrie: That’s awesome that you have been married for so long, having that type of background and having, you know, being involved in your children’s lives because so many people grow up in a broken situation and then they end up repeating that same pattern.
Steve: Yeah. And that was a big prayer for me, Carrie. That was a big goal for me coming into marriage and coming into parenthood thinking, man, I want to do this fight and not saying that to throw my mother or anybody under the bus but also looking at the right care, looking at society as a whole. We just have way more dysfunction played out today than what we witnessed 20, 50, a hundred years ago because a lot of these root issues that we’re talking about the anxiety, the doubt A lot of those are the fruit of people growing up with the traditional nuclear family, not intact like it was a number of years ago. So some of the anxiety is a by-product of how we’ve constructed life today.
Carrie: I think that sometimes when I talk with Christians in my counseling practice, there’s some shame maybe around having doubts about God or just through church ministry. People say, well, I know that I need to have faith. I know that I need to trust God.
They really struggle maybe with some sense of shame about having these doubts, do you feel like that’s a normal part of our faith experience?
Steve: I think it’s a practical part. I think it’s a reality today. And I resonate with what you’re saying there with the shame, and that’s actually one of the reasons I wrote the book so that people would see, here is a vocational pastor, a guy who’s vocationally in the ministry, and he wrestles with some of these questions and he’s come out of the other end. Therefore, maybe there’s hope for me as well. And even on the shame picture, you know Carrie early on in the process when I was finishing up writing, I had to ask myself this question, how raw do I want to be? Because on one hand, there’s going to be people, for example, in ministry or people who seem to feel like they’ve got it all together who might look at what I’ve written in a judgmental way, but then I thought I’m not writing it for those people.
I’m writing it for those people who are really wrestling. Maybe with the journey of doubt, asking, what is the root behind it? And I think you’re right, some people think, yeah, if I, if I really had faith, I wouldn’t be wrestling with this. But asking what is the root behind the doubt?
Just one needing more data, Luke chapter one, God shows up and says, by the way, Mary, you’re going to have. And her question is how will this be? In other words, she accepted what God was saying, but she’s looking for some clarification. Sometimes the doubt and people maybe who are listening in and maybe they don’t know Jesus yet.
Sometimes the root of the doubt is really not data, but it is an expression of rebellion. As long as I could push this issue off, as long as I can pretend to be an atheist or agnostic, I can push off responsibility. And then also, maybe just, again, looking at the root. Is somebody doubting because they see the promises of God,
they’re trying to walk in faith, but they have these triggers and it’s really not so much about God as it is something that happened to them early in their childhood that just totally got them off rails. And they’re not able to connect the dots and, you know, they need to talk to someone like you Carrie to pull all these pieces together to realize that our God in heaven is not our biological father or our mother or our aunt or whoever that might be.
So I think doubt happens, Elijah in the Bible, a huge man of faith, but in First Kings chapter 19, he wanted to die. He was wrestling with fear and he was also wrestling with exhaustion. So trying to acknowledge doubts there. Okay, how do we couch it? What’s going on? What is behind it? And just being honest about it.
Carrie: Just having a sense of prayer of, I believe, but help my unbelief.
Steve: There you are. I liked that. Yeah.
Carrie: Yeah. I know there are some things that I’m definitely wrestling in questioning God about things that I believe that he’s spoken to my life and I don’t see the fruits of that or their fruition of that vision. And it’s really hard, but I think the wrestling part is so important. It’s an important part of our relationship with God. I don’t think it’s wrong to question at times and say, Hey, help me understand this. You know, I believe that you were speaking this into my life, but then this is what actually happened. And that just brings us closer to God to even have those conversations. It’s a different level of intimacy.
Steve: I liked the way you finished that. You know, Carrie, the level of intimacy because sometimes the doubt will force us to move closer. We’re no longer functioning on this vending machine relationship with God. You put in your dollar bill, your quarters, your credit card, and then you get what you want.
And then sometimes like a good parent, God says, no, or God says not now. And part of the trust is stepping back and saying, okay, God, I don’t understand, but I’m going to trust that somehow. We’ve got to reframe things. Maybe there’s something I’m not seeing clearly. Okay, God, I’m going to be patient and wait on you to clear everything up.
Carrie: Right. I wanted to add something to what you said earlier about God is our father, but God is not like your biological mother and father were to you because they’re human and they’re imperfect and God’s perfect.
I would also say that sometimes people have spiritual leaders like pastors or other people in the church that they’ve really been wounded by, and God is not those people either. And so if people have been wounded by spiritual leaders who led them towards paths that were not biblical, or, dumped a bunch of extra rules and legalism on them and excluded them from grace. God wants us those people to have a different kind of experience with him where they understand his true character.
Steve: I think you’re spot on there, Carrie. And even in my own life, one of the greatest mentors in my life, a wonderful man of God, incredibly brilliant, but he’s very stoic, very logical.
I tend to be very ADHD and I want to go save the world and go see the world. So I’m going, into adulthood trying to process this. I don’t function the way my uncle functions. How does that play into God? And obviously, my uncle loves God and I love God and God’s doing this, but not this.
And then I start to doubt, well, did I hear from God, right? Or does God even liked me or what do I do now? So one of the things I do carry to encourage other people is I just try to point them to Jesus again and again, and again, even people who don’t know Jesus, I try to say I get it.
There are a lot of people out there who have wounded you, who have done things, maybe even false teachers, but I try to point them directly to the person of Jesus Christ, both divine and human. And that’s the perfection. No human being, no woman, no man, no matter how good they are is perfect, but Jesus Christ.
Carrie: How do you feel like God spoke to you in the midst of your doubt as you were wrestling with some of these things?
Steve: A lot of it Carrie is just keeping my nose in the Bible on a regular basis, even times when I don’t feel it. We have to ask ourselves what are we listening to. If we’re listening to the media, the world 24/7, that’s going to cost a lot of doubt.
If we’re listening to God’s word, who are we with, I believe we’ve got to be connected to a local body of Christ. So in some of the darkest hours, I try to listen to the still small voice of God, which means you got to shut up and be quiet. But also, we’re trying to hear God’s voice.
Okay. Well, God’s given us the revelation through the scriptures. So being in the scriptures, especially the Psalms, especially the Psalms over and over and over again. And just wait.
Carrie: Waiting is so hard sometimes when you really want an answer. I went through a divorce. That’s something that you probably don’t know about me. It was a pretty traumatic divorce a few years ago, and God told me through that process through basically three different situations like I sensed it in my spirit that God was telling me. You’re just not gonna understand that. And you need to let go of your need to understand because I wanted it to make logical sense and it just didn’t make any logical sense. So there was a mentor at church that also spoke to me as I was trying to process it with him. And he said almost the exact same words that I sense to my spirit. It was just like “Carrie, you’re going to have to let go of this need to understand because it’s just not going to make sense to you.” And I feel like there was one more situation at like came in threes and I was like, okay, God, I’m sorry that you had to tell me three times.
I’m sorry. I didn’t listen the first time, but I hear you loud and clear. This is just something that I’m not going to be able to understand. And that’s something that’s really hard for people with OCD to sit with their level of uncertainty and doubt about the situation. I don’t know if you know that but they call OCD the doubting disease. There are always questions.
Steve: I had not heard that, but that makes sense. There’s probably a connection with that and these control issues that I want to, why am I doubting because I want to control it and I can’t control it.
Carrie: Yeah, absolutely. Just trying to like wrap our minds around spiritual things. Sometimes God is so much bigger and beyond where we are that we’re not going to be able to keep humanly comprehend him fully. We’re only getting the bits and pieces that we can receive. I think there’s just so much more, and I’ve learned, I guess, through some of that process also to embrace some of the mystery of my faith, that it’s faith that’s part of the process is that there are going to be things that I don’t feel know or can’t fully explain and that’s part of my connection with God.
Steve: I think I’d put us to Kado on that. And again, part of the reason I wrote the book was to show, here’s a vocational guy who’s been in ministry for a long time, and he’s still wrestles with doubt. I have more questions now than I had when I first went to Bible college when I went to seminary, but by getting to a place where I’m able to say, okay, God. I’m okay. There are some things I’m never going to figure out, which actually means you’re bigger than I am and being at peace with that. So I think that might be a component of the doubt, being able to just rest in and again, looking at Mary. Mary, didn’t have all the details figured out, but she was able to say, okay, God, I’m your servant. You’ve given me a thumbnail sketch of what’s going on here and I’m going to trust you with the rest.
Carrie: Yes, that’s so good. So I know one thing that can come up in, in therapy and, you know, you had your kind of own share of childhood. What I would call attachment trauma with caregivers and other people have had other experiences in childhood that maybe they went through an abusive situation and they might really be struggling with.
What would you say to someone who struggles with this idea of God being good? Because maybe they’ve experienced a certain level of trauma in their past, and you had some things that you talked about in your book in terms of growing up without a father or having various father figures in your life? And so it’s hard for us to wrap our minds around, like, okay, if God’s good, why would he allow us to go through these very painful situations? Or why would he put us in that particular family that hurt us?
Steve: Yeah. Again, affirming them, listening to them and trying to understand them and be in their shoes. I think sometimes leaders, we try to answer too quickly until we empathize with them and then hear them. There’s the whole theological aspect the fact that we have free will, that’s why people make dumb choices. There actually is no good unless there’s the opportunity for evil, the opportunity to go against what is good because we would just be robots without them.
And then again, reframing that what we do, for example, what we think success is. You may have people in your practice who have huge incomes and huge salaries and they’re on speaking towards and things like that, but they have zero relationships with their spouse or their kids, but would we call that successful? The world would. But in my years of vocation and vocational ministry, any time I’ve been with someone when they’re on death’s door, if there is ever been a regret, it was always a relational regret. I wish things were better with my kids. I wish things were better with my spouse. It’s never a regret of I wish I made more money or something like that. So maybe reframing what is success, what is good. I’ve talked a lot about being in the Bible and I’m thinking of the apostle Paul. If anybody would have their prayers answered, it was the apostle Paul, but he made it very, very clear and talked about the thorn in the flesh.
There was something in his life that was causing all kinds of trauma and he prayed more than once. And God says, “I’m leaving this there for your good and my glory.” So I would tell people to keep their life in the word, keep pressing in, be in the church, because these are people that can encourage you.
And you go back and you look at Thomas, you know, refer to him as doubting Thomas. He said I’m not going to believe. Well, if you look at a context, Thomas was not with the other apostles. The first time Jesus appeared to him, Thomas was out of the community and Jesus came back around and said, Thomas, look at my scars and stop doubting and believe.
But that’s an illustration as to why I say care, you’ve gotta be in community to work through these doubting issues.
Carrie: Community is really, really powerful. One thing I’ve realized, I think through processing literally now hours and hours of traumatic material with people is two things. One, those hard situations are what builds our character.
So if we didn’t have those difficult and challenging situations, we wouldn’t be as compassionate as we are today. If I hadn’t have gone through my divorce, I wouldn’t have the understanding of grace that I have today that I’m really so incredibly thankful for. And it has allowed me to extend grace to other people. It’s taught me so much about forgiveness and so many different things that I could go into there. I talk about it in my initial episode, but if we don’t go through some of those hard stuff like God uses that in a beautiful way to really like the working of things together for good, like Romans 8:28 talks about in our lives.
And if we didn’t have all of that, we wouldn’t be the people that we are today. And God uses those things to sanctify us and grow us closer to Christ. One of the other things that I’ve realized through processing childhood trauma with Christians is often people will have this spiritual experience. It’s like once the trauma part gets cleared up, they’re able to see, look back through a different lens and recognize that God really was there for me.
And he was there the whole time, working behind the scenes. And he was always with me. He never left me. He preserved me through all of the challenging, dangerous, whatever, fill in the blank things that I went through. And that’s a really powerful experience, I think for people as well, to recognize and acknowledge, and just in terms of wrestling with the role of suffering, I guess, in our lives.
Steve: Yeah. There’s tons of volumes on suffering and how that fits in. It circles back around to the whole question “If God’s good, why is there suffering?” And again, reframing our world and in our worldview and in our philosophy and our theology.
The reality that God allows things to happen to refine us and thinking about my own story. I came out of high school with all these doubts about who I am, went into college, and I realized pretty quickly that God had called me to preaching that aspect of ministry. And I was pretty good at that. The art, the craft of homiletics and in writing. And I began to put my identity into that. And then when I go through a period of time and I went through a period of time where nothing is working right. And then I began to realize, it’s not about my identity as the preacher. It’s my identity as Steve, just Steve.
And that’s illustrative of getting to a level of depth, relationship with God If I had not had gone through these tough times. We may say, “Where are you, God? What’s going on?” Well, the bottom line is, there’s a lesson in that.
And we do come out of that with more grace to people, more compassion to people. And we’re able to minister to people at a deeper level that we would not have been able to do so If everything happened at exactly the way we wanted it.
Carrie: Right. What do you hope that people will experience by reading Confession?
Steve: Carrie. I hope they have a smile on their face. There’s a lot of raw material in there, but there’s some funny stuff. And I hope that they’re able to say “I get it. I’d been there.” And you know what? there are other people who’ve gone through the tunnel. I think there’s hope I can get through the tunnel as well.
I hope that it will be an encouragement to people that they will press further and deeper into the presence of Jesus and no matter what they’re going through, they can come out at the end of the tunnel stronger and then be able to share that with other people.
Carrie: Right. One of the things that I appreciated you sharing in the book that I felt like it would be good to bring out is this sense of like struggling with has God really forgiven me for my past mistakes. And this element of it took you a while to kind of work through some past sins. I don’t know how you would say it if like the devil was holding them over your head or you were, but it just was something that like kind of kept coming back up and coming back up for you.
A lot of Christians can really identify with that, that wrestling of really like how can we rest in God’s forgiveness and have that assurance?
Steve: That’s a good question, Carrie. And I think you’re right that I’ve had two or three monumental peaks where I was able to look at things and say, “yeah, I own it.
I did it. That was me.” I think that’s part of the process. We can’t blame other people. We got to own it. And then being able, to surrender it to God and realize that that whole Jesus died on a cross thing. It is finished. That’s a real deal. But again, I want to come back to the community. that’s the beauty of the church.
I’m not talking about my local church, although that’s true, but the universal church that has a body. We encourage one another. And for me to affirm other people and affirm the grace and then receive that back as well. That’s why it’s so important that we have people in our lives that we be people.
And then we have people in our lives to remind us of the things we know. We may have it in our head, but it takes a little bit longer to move that 12 inches down from our head to our heart. And that’s why we got to keep repeating it again and again and again.
Carie: Yes, absolutely. Just keep repeating like the promises that we have through scripture and in Christ. This is so important. We can’t forget those things.
So at the end of every podcast, I like our guests to share a story of hope, which is a time where you received hope from God or another person.
Carrie: One immediate thing, here we are, we’re recording this in may, and I know it’s going to launch later, but one immediate thing is a big debt that I took about 12 years ago because I was just so certain I was following God’s lead and everything fell apart. And over the past couple of months, it’s interesting Carrie to see, here are some things I have been praying about for years that it just seems they’re falling into place. So maybe again, part of the reason I wrote the book is to say, here is a narrative to show that God is faithful and we can look at the faithful stories and in the lives of other people. But I think that that would be a situation where I’ve been praying about a few things for years and just over the past month, they’ve just been coming together. And maybe that’s an encouragement to folks to not give up. Just keep on keeping on.
Carrie: Yes, that is really good. And there is something about persevering in prayer and waiting for God’s timing.
Steve: Yes because God’s timing is better than ours. Sometimes we’re not ready. Sometimes we are not ready for it. Sometimes other people aren’t ready for it. So it’s a waiting for it.
Carrie: Absolutely. This was a really great conversation. I really appreciate you coming on and talking with us about doubt today. That’s good.
Steve: Well, Carrie, thank you for the opportunity. And again, I just want to encourage you in what you’re doing because it is so vital, especially in our world today, people need hope and thank you for giving that to people.
Carrie: Thank you. We will put all the information in the show notes. The link to where you can find the book and get in touch with Steve, if they would like.
God in his amazing, perfect timing knew that I needed to have this conversation with Steve when I did. It was such a blessing to be able to talk about these things. And I hope it was a blessing for those of you who are listening as well.
If you’re new to the show, we are all about reducing shame, increasing hope and developing healthier connections with God and others, specifically for Christians who may be struggling with anxiety or OCD.
For more information, you can find this online at www.hopeforanxietyandocd.com.
If you’re searching for a little extra encouragement in the middle of the week, you’re welcome to follow us on Instagram or Facebook. Thank you so much for listening.
Hope for Anxiety and OCD is a production of By The Well Counseling in Smyrna, Tennessee. Our original music is by Brandon Mangrum and audio editing is completed by Benjamin Bynam.
Until next time. May you be comforted by God’s great love for you.