I’m John. Sometimes my faith is a mess. If God exists, I wonder if He knows my name. Or if He does, whether I even matter. And if I matter, why does He have such a “funny” way of showing it. And when He shows it, I wonder when the next shoe will drop and I’ll end up rock bottom again.
My faith doesn’t run like a machine. I wish it was like the lawnmower I hear next door. That banged up beast will monotonously roar all the way through its task, munching weeds and grass, discarded Dixie cups and clots of debris with nary a pause.
That isn’t my faith. It probably isn’t yours, either.
Check us out on sunny days, when the track is flat and smooth. We look like high performance race cars. You had morning devotionals, took a long hot shower, drank some coffee, helped the kids get off to school, and you’re still running five minutes ahead of schedule. Life is good. Thank you, Jesus.
But then there are those other days, when the race car is up on blocks in the front yard. Right next to cousin Ernie’s chickens. It reminds me of the sign I saw today: “You say you’d go to jail for your faith, but are you willing to go to church for it?” The question has to be asked because we might need to take a look under our hoods.
Faith is important. The Bible calls us “believers” almost four times as often as it calls us Christians. That means we are primarily identified as people of faith. Without faith, we become walking contradictions—unbelieving believers.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen.” The words “assurance” and “conviction” make a case for certainty.
But did the writer of Hebrews mean to imply that faith is all about mathematical certainties? Does it mean belief purrs along at all times in a state of perfect equilibrium? I don’t think so. If it did, we wouldn’t call it faith.
Even non-Christians see the absurdity of holding out for that kind of assurance. Albert Einstein said, “As far as the propositions of mathematics refer to reality, they are not certain; and as far as they are certain, they do not refer to reality” ¹
If Hebrews 11:1 did refer to something that resembled absolute unquestioned belief, it couldn’t possibly mean an unbroken state of it. The reality is that our assurance, no matter how passionate, runs in spurts, interrupted by frequent distressing states of doubt. This happens because of four big things.
Unanswered prayers: The frustration of asking and not receiving has weighed upon us all from time to time. Many of us have been told (wrongly), we would get whatever we asked for, as long as we generated a strong enough positive thinking force around the request.
More than a little disillusioned faith has occurred right here, with cynicism following it. Learn about prayer more comprehensively than through one or two cherry-picked “comfort” verses. The picture that will emerge from the Bible is more realistic, mature, and reliable.
Personal pain: Chronic suffering can wear us down over time, while sudden tragedy feels like a sucker punch. Either way, this generates the question of “Whose side is God on, anyway?” Pop theology has done a terrible job of preparing people for the sufferings of human life. Instead, a lot of pulpit talk is escapism.
“Just claim it!” sounds inspiring in sermons, but falls flat when God insists on taking you through the valley of the shadow of death. And yes, He sometimes insists. A recommended course of study—find out what the purpose of God is for the Christian life. Comb theologically robust chapters like Romans 8. Become an expert on the divine purpose of God. Remember though, that pain is pain. Regardless of what you know, life can hurt.
Intellectual difficulties: Eventually we all get around to wondering if the flood of Noah isn’t folklore rather than faith. And while we’re at it, how about people living hundreds of years, strange miracles, so-called contradictions in Scripture, contradictions from science, morally ambiguous commands, and well, the resurrection of Jesus?
Is the Bible guilty of at least a little fudge factor? Like mold on a slice of bread, these tiny suspicions will grow if we let them. They don’t simply resolve themselves and disappear. Instead, they hang around, retarding healthy faith. Unfortunately, too many of us affected by suggestions of doubt planted through movies, You Tube videos, and “edu-tainment” like the Discovery channel, fail to counter them with a Christian response.
Here’s a dirty little secret: nearly all the objections to faith we could possibly harbor have been recycled to death. None are new. Highly intelligent Christian responses to them can be seen in books by authors like Josh McDowell, Lee Strobel, or Mark Mittleberg. If you prefer high-brow discussions, search Amazon for books by Ravi Zacharias or William Lane Craig; Stephen Meyer or John Lennox for issues of science. Some of these guys were atheists who saw through their own objections.
Spiritual flatness: If you think sin or spiritual laziness doesn’t effect you, think again. Paul said those who neglect a good conscience suffer shipwreck regarding the faith (1 Tim 1:19). If you protect a “pet” sin, or refuse to turn from a sinful lifestyle, the confidence you had in Christ will become anemic. No better cure for this exists than repentance and drawing close to the throne of grace “that we may receive mercy and find grace for timely help” (Heb. 4:16). Don’t hug the rattlesnake of your own sin until your faith becomes its casualty.
Hiccups happen, but they should never be fatal.
Photo credit: Freddie Montelro
1 As cited by Ravi Zacharias in his book, A Shattered Visage, p. 177.