Tag Archives: crisis of belief
Today I got an unexpected phone call from an old friend. We talked a lot about faith and in the course of that conversation, I verbalized some things that I’ve been beginning to realize new and fresh in recent days. In a recent post (“When I Lost My Faith”) I talked about the journey I’ve been on the last year or so, the events that led to a crisis of belief for me and my intellectual and willful journey back. Though I made many realizations and began to accept some hard truths, I still wasn’t “there”. Don’t get me wrong, we never fully “arrive” when it comes to our faith, but what I’ve known and experienced in the past has been an ongoing inward desire even though I wasn’t always perfect in the way I lived that out. I wanted that again, but knew I didn’t have it. I read a lot about it. I know that true faith is a gift from God, but if it’s a gift, what do you do to get it?
You Can’t Get It
A lot of our experience in life can be a simple numbers game. That’s true in sales. If you hustle and make enough contacts and follow the right processes long enough, eventually you can make things happen. Ask enough girls on a date and eventually one will say “yes” (“So you’re saying there’s a chance!”–thank you Jim Carey). Anyone can do that. That’s the American dream, right? But what if the thing you want can’t be “hustled” for? That can be a frustrating place to be, can’t it? That’s where I was. Here’s what I realized–Most of the time I didn’t have it, I didn’t really want it. I was done. I was angry. I was hurt, wounded and frustrated. My story wasn’t being written the way I thought it should be, so I took the pen back. Yeah, that worked like a champ.
The more empty I became, the more I realized what I used to take for granted. I knew there was more. I had experienced it many times before, but I tend to have a really short memory. Most of us do, if we’re honest. What I had experienced before was also in the context of a fairly untested “bubble”. I had it good but I was very out of touch, yet we get very angry if anyone tries to mess with that “bubble” (look at how many people of faith act in the political arena when their views are threatened as an example…or just try to change the music in your church even slightly and watch how “Christ-like” people respond). I say that in jest, to a certain extent, but unfortunately it’s all too true. None of us like change, really–unless it’s our kind of change, whatever that is. So, bottom line–my bubble burst and I didn’t like it.
But, You Can Have It
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.” (Eph 2:8).
“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him…” (Colossians 2:6)
“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7:11).
Somewhere along my journey back, I prayed a very raw, but honest prayer that sounded something like this:
“God, I know you’re there because I’ve known You before, but it’s not because I feel You now. If the truth be known, I haven’t felt You in months, but if You’re there, I guess You already know that. I want to believe You but just don’t feel like I can anymore. BUT, if what the Bible says is true, then faith doesn’t really come from me, it comes from You. I sure don’t deserve it, but I guess that’s what grace is all about. So here’s the deal…if you could find a way to give me faith once again, as best as I can tell, I believe I would gladly receive it.“
The conclusion of that prayer wasn’t fireworks and flashes of light and it certainly didn’t come immediately, but I had a quiet assurance in my heart that if I really wanted it, He would give it to me again….and He did. One day I woke up and sensed His presence once again, perhaps like never before. Many inward concerns and worries, seemed to fade in the light of that Presence. I’ve already blown it, but that faith is still there–so is His grace.
So, you can blame God for the injustices you see in the world and the seeming injustices of your own life and you know what? He’ll even let you for a while. I’ve spoken to God with more raw disrespect than I’ve ever spoken to anyone in my life. I don’t say that as the magic formula for a thriving prayer life, but in His grace God knew that allowing me to get that out, was enough to let Him in. After all, I wasn’t screaming at the wall, my car, myself, or some other deity–I was screaming at God, which proved one thing–I knew He was still there. Eventually, by experience, I came to know the truth of this: “And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6).
So if you find yourself without faith today, ask yourself this question: “How much do I really want it?”
You may be surprised by the answer.
“Without faith it is impossible to please Him (God)…”. You may have heard this before. I’ve recently been soberly contemplating this verse as it seems my faith has largely vanished. Being brought face to face with the ugliness of this life and seeing the general condition of the world around us, I’ve found myself where many others have been: “How can a good God allow these things?”.
For some perspective, I’ve spent the last 16 years as a worship leader in local churches (the last several of which at what many would refer to as “mega” churches). But this past year I’ve seen the disintegration of my family as I have known it through a divorce. I experienced the loss of my father and caring for a mother whose health is deteriorating. I have mourned the untimely and tragic death of a new found love and witnessed the tidal wave of sorrow and confusion for those left behind. I have seen the resulting poor decisions, loss of career, finances and the broken hearts that I have hurt while trying to pick up the pieces. I don’t say this to garner pity or justify any of my poor decisions but to give some perspective of where this comes from. This is not the story I wanted to write.
My faith has been shaken to the core. I have honestly and intently looked elsewhere for meaning, fulfillment and some sense of purpose in the wake of it all. I have perused, pursued and participated in (too) many “alternatives” and have come up just as empty as I went in. Nothing brought relief and nothing seemed to satisfy. Have you ever stood before a congregation leading them in songs that you aren’t sure you even believed yourself? I have. Have you posted inspirational scriptures to social media hoping to find the faith to one day believe them? I have. Have you ever led “worship” while living completely opposed to the values that you claim to share? I have. Have you ever used others that you claimed to love in an attempt to drown out your own pain? Yep, that too. What I have found, though, is my story is not all that rare. Through my trials and poor decisions, I have found far more people that identify with the story I never intended to write. If there ever was an ivory tower, it has been torn down to its foundation. For too long, all I could see was the rubble, but now I’m beginning to see how those pieces could be used to build something of even greater significance (who actually lives in an ivory tower, anyway?), and someplace I hope to one day call “home”–a place that’s honest, and yes, at times uncomfortable, but always real and relevant to me, my family and to anyone who cares to share in the journey.
So why do I write today? Obviously, my audience (both of you), may have changed. I used to write mostly about issues in the “church world” from the perspective of a pastor engulfed in worship and the arts. While those are still of high interest to me, I doubt my current job in sales gives me much credibility in the “arts” world and my past year has pretty much determined that the word “pastor” not be used as a title in my name at least for some time. So, with that in mind, I write here today as simply someone learning how to be a child of God–a beloved child of God. It’s not easy. It feels like it should be. But it’s not. I don’t write as someone who has the answers and I don’t write from a place of healing and victory (yet). I do write from a changing perspective that though I may not have the answers, there are questions still worth pursuing. It’s these questions that I hope to ask and share with you as I journey on this path of being “beloved” of God and rediscover with my heart some really important things I’ve known in my head for a long time. Some will think less of me (yes, I am a hypocrite and a pretty big one at that), but maybe some may find my story redemptive enough to join me on the journey. I still have doubts. Many. BUT I am also finding that if you’ve never doubted, I doubt that you’ve ever truly believed.
So, what has brought me to this place?
I cannot ignore the rational evidence of God.
When I had no faith, I was forced to look at alternatives. I also realized that all self-conscious creatures have to exercise “faith” in something. If there was truly no God, then where did everything come from? I am familiar with many of the alternatives, but honestly, I don’t have enough faith to believe in those either. I’ve always known this intellectually, but now I know this from experience. You see, either way, daily life is a matter of faith or willing ignorance. I’ve never been a fan of willing ignorance (it’s just the way I’m wired), though I’ve participated in it plenty. So, that left me with either putting my “faith” in some form of chance or in an intelligent designer. Personally, I have to choose design. I cannot “prove” God but I also cannot deny the evidence.
I cannot ignore my past experiences with God
If we’re honest, many of us church folks have had “questionable” religious experiences–you know that time the hair on your arms stood up during the key change of your favorite worship song that “spoke” to you during that horrible time in your life only to find out it happened again at the Journey concert with your girlfriend while listening to the intro of “Faithfully” (which is also, no doubt, goosebump worthy–thank you Jonathan Cain). BUT, also if I’m honest, I cannot deny several times that were undeniably “God moments”. It was those moments (mostly during quiet prayer or passionate private worship) that kept coming back to me. Sure, some may explain them away as internally constructed “promptings” of my own creation, but my experience tells me different. Again, I cannot prove them to you, but I also can’t deny them.
I cannot ignore what I know about the Bible
The Bible is an incredibly complex collection of “books” written by over 40 authors over more than 1,500 years amid varying cultural contexts. Most reasonable people (based on many years of archaeological research) won’t deny that. It’s what you believe following these facts that dictates how you respond. I will also be the first to tell you that anyone who tells you they have ALL the answers to the difficult parts of the Bible–you need to be the first to run like the wind. No one does, no matter what they say. There are difficult parts of the Bible–there is no doubt about that. Some appear at a surface glance as a result of differing cultural and religious contexts (should we really stone disobedient children? should women really be silent in church?), and some from seeing what seems to be competing ideas about who God is (like God’s judgment vs. His love, or how can a loving God allow such evil in the world, or what is the Trinity, really?). There are many who have written much about these difficult topics with varying levels of success, but if most of us are honest, we probably identify more with Mark Twain who said, “It ain’t those parts of the Bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it’s the parts that I do understand.” What I have found about the Bible can probably be summed up in the answers to 2 questions–and herein lies the difficulty:
1) Am I really as bad as the Bible says that I am? Yes.
2) Am I really as loved by God as the Bible says that I am? Yes.
Religion (based on my performance) can’t fix that.
I can’t ignore what I know about Jesus
In John chapter 5 in the New Testament, Jesus sees a crippled man and asks a question we all need to answer: “Do you want to be made well?” If you are a human being and have lived any length of time on this earth and believe that you have absolutely no need of being made well, you can feel free to move along and stop reading now. I can’t help you. You don’t need it. BUT, if we’re truly honest, we know we’re all broken to some degree or another. Most of us deep down inside know we need to be fixed and we all want to be loved unconditionally. But I’ve discovered religion can’t fix me. Turning a new leaf can’t fix me. Living by a set of “theories” about love or anything else can’t fix me either (regardless of what a well-meaning, charming, yet ridiculously moralistic “Christian” movie may say–sorry “Old Fashioned”). But being transformed by a living relationship with God made possible by Jesus can. I need to be reminded of this.
If you want to know what God is like–look at Jesus (John 14:9 – “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father…). Study the gospels, look at the life of Jesus and see the passion (and the failures) of His followers and His beloved in the days following his resurrection. We are not all that different. I resonate with C. S. Lewis (once an agnostic) who said, “I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.”² It’s the only “filter” that really works for me. Are you free to reject Christ’s claims and go wherever you want? Sure you are. I have. But I had to stumble over a Savior with out-stretched hands on a cross to get there and you will too. At the end of the day, the Bible isn’t about rules, but about revealing a relationship with God. In nearly every belief system and civilization in history, citizens died to make someone king, but in Christianity, a King died so we could be citizens. I’m finding a love like that to be more and more undeniable even despite my many doubts.
I can’t ignore the power of genuine community
When my faith has been at it’s lowest points, it seems that often at just the “right” times, God sends the “right” people into my life. Don’t get me wrong, I’m still struggling with those times where I felt completely isolated and alone and those times still come. Bot too often to deny, my faith has been strengthened by someone or a group of “someones” who were there for me. It takes some brutal honesty to get the greatest benefit (at great vulnerability and risk–they might really judge you despite what they tell you), but when you’ve hit rock bottom, what do you have to lose? Over 15 years of “making church people happy” (the unwritten job description most pastors have of their worship and music leaders but will deny to their grave) can wear on you. BUT with all that said, while many churches don’t “get it”, many Christians do and churches everywhere are full of people who do actually “get it”. You just have to work a little to find them sometimes, but they’re there. Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water (look it up if you’re under 30). If you’ve been burned by a church before, I challenge you to give it another shot. Just quit looking for the perfect church, because they’re filled with people like me. But if you find the right one, they just might point you to Jesus.
Have you ever been in a place where you doubted your faith? What brought you to that place? How did you get back or have you? I’d love to hear your story and I think others would too.
“The story we’re telling the world isn’t half as endearing as the one that lives inside us.” – Donald Miller from Scary Close: Dropping the Act and Finding True Intimacy.