Myself.” Ponder that with humility -and be very afraid if that and that alone is reality for you.
A comment came in from Jay Haze: “…perhaps in the future you can offer some help to those of us who have experienced troubles in this life and are wondering where God is and are barely hanging on to our faith.”
You may consider this post a sort of further discussion, a “part two” re. my recent post “The Trajectory of Grace”.
This is a long post and I think with good reason. It is not a Bible study as such, though I quote scripture as usual.
I believe in the Lord Jesus as well as God’s power to heal and have seen first-hand and participated in full-on miracles. And I have been present at long-term agony and difficult deaths by both godly people of faith and truly empty, tragic unbelievers. Straight-up. Talking about God, faith and the sheer elements of pain, tragedy and disasters in life simply must be considered in light of this question of “If there is a God and a loving God at that… why all this??”
And what would I know about any of it?
Two hours prior to my first draft of this very blog my dear wife did everything short of fully screaming for some 30 minutes of intense physical pain. It comes and goes. She works at deep breathing ala Lamaze techniques she used while having our babies years ago. She has arthritis in every joint. It’s a dna thing passed on via her father’s side of the family. She also has asthma and has been plagued with muscle cramps from her ribs to her toes, sometimes lasting an hour or many hours. She knows and has tried every possible cure. We have prayed plenty and seen many folks healed but she continues to deal with all this -even as she’s in pain from her third replacement, this time her left knee after both hips being replaced due to bone-on-bone arthritis decay.
She also pulled her groin muscle a few years back and there is no guarantee that even surgery can fix that.
If there is anything worse than suffering physical agony the likes of torture, it’s when the one you love most on earth suffers and you do all you know to do including prayer- and rarely see what seems a positive response.
Then there are those who lose a spouse, child or best friend due to a drunk/high driver, tornadoes, or merely lying rip-offs in this or that church assembly that can crash one’s faith.
Who among us never experience expectations and dreams being smashed in any number of ways, living with unfulfilled desires of all sorts?
Thoreau wrote “Most men live lives of quiet desperation.” It does seem that way.
Ok, let’s get to the guts of this right quick:
Living in an imperfect, fallen world among imperfect, fallen people often if not mostly focused on themselves and their problems assures us of trouble.
Add to this illness, accidents, natural disasters and purely foolish choices and more, any of which at various times maim, destroy and even kill.
IF God exists, WHY all this? If He actually loves us, WHY??! I not only think in light of the troubles I and all have faced but a careful study of human history begs this question and indeed, it’s a reasonable question.
For any believers reading, if you are now offended I’d say it’s time to face reality as it is, not as we’d wish it to be. For any atheists or agnostics reading I’d say the exact same thing. We all believe what we believe by faith.
Faith in your own ability to comprehend life and it’s pains. Faith in this or that element of scientific theory and proofs. Faith in other people’s ability to discover, prove and comprehend. Faith in what you read. Faith in personal and shared experiences. These are at least several of the reasons we believe in anything and anyone.
Plenty more gifted thinkers and writers than I, at times literally tortured individuals- have written reams of excellent response to this question. Many have rejected God and Christ on such ground as well- and I include those who once professed saving faith in Him.
Among the writings that I think may prove helpful are C.S. Lewis’ brilliant “The Problem of Pain” and “A Grief Observed”.
What I believe is pure fact? Proof of a metaphysical reality? Or proof no such thing/world exists?
We choose or reject faith in God. Yes, “choose”.
Either way it’s a decision that comes via a number of decisions.
It may be based on a sense of contact, calling, how circumstances unfold in our life, what we deem intelligent thinking and answers on this and related questions. Few would disagree that a scientific method (or two), personal growth in knowledge, learning, wisdom, at times archaeological finds or lack of them, biblical studies and more affect how we come to believe our eyes have been opened to the truth about God’s existence -or lack of it.
If we are truly honest, often it is more than what we believe are facts derived from the above information, but our impressions from others, people of character and sincerity we have come to respect as true- and don’t miss this: worthy of our faith. That is, we come to have faith in those people.
Even the matter of exegesis vs. eisegesis comes into play. What I mean is we all bring our pre-believed prejudices and experiences to the text of scripture which often weigh upon and determine what we believe, do or don’t accept as truth based not on what’s there but what we choose to believe, what we took into the study of the text prior.
A if not the punchline as I see it: we either seek Him for Himself -or largely we seek Him for what He can give us, what we want, or what we believe we need.
The obvious sin, the sometimes deception, self-righteousness and harshness of so-called Christians, the very real sins of local and larger churches is often cited as reason enough to reject faith in Jesus -sort of like deciding “The kids are rats so the parents aren’t worth knowing either! I drove a Ford! It was a lemon, a waste, useless piece of junk. NO more Fords for me, they’re a joke!”
“They’re ALL hypocrites!” As if the church is the only group on earth with two-faced goofs? Really!?? Nice try.
Hypocrisy is one of the fastest go-to’s I hear from those who say they once followed and presently do not serve the Lord. I hear it as both truth and actually, quite a lame excuse. Keep reading and hopefully I can explain why.
When finished here you might consider exegeting the sheer number of times the terms “faith”, “believe” and their varied tenses are used in this admittedly long blog post. Secondly, consider the number of times they relate directly to those who have lost faith, who teeter on the edge of or largely proclaim zero faith.
Then consider the fact that all people have faith. Yes, fact. A full-on atheist proclaims the non-existence of God BY FAITH.
Another reality: doubt is as much a part of life as is faith. Though we may doubt we’ll make it through another day, if we had no faith we wouldn’t leave our beds morning after morning. Even an addict would not walk the street or prostitute for a fix without faith that by doing so they might get what they need.
Our very survival on all levels calls to and is answered by at least some spark of faith.
Surely you know atheists and agnostics as well as professing Christians experience heartbreak, pain, cancer, plane crashes, earthquakes and other natural disasters? In the real world, a genuine faith happens in tension with doubts, fears and apparent non-solutions among we who in any number of ways, hurt, are disappointed, betrayed, feel truly lost in the turbulence of our world.
A great many who once followed Jesus no longer proclaim faith in Him nor even belief that there is a God -largely due to their spouse leaving them.
Suicides, mental illness, there are many, many thorns along the human trail.
I am writing this very blog on a netbook passed on to me by one of the most loving, godly people I ever knew. Curt Mortimer is in my top 3 list of genuine people of faith in Jesus Christ.
He experienced one of the most incredible pains one can on the planet. His eight-year old son died of cancer. Soon after his marriage ended in divorce, family split apart and along with a number of other issues, this man drew closer and deeper to the One He (and I) believed/believes is the risen Jesus Christ of the Bible. Though suffering, questioning, hurting and having all the thoughts you might expect challenge and tempt a person to simply rage or be swallowed by depression he never ceased following and loving God -whom many of us call our gracious heavenly Father.
He had also -as a pastor no less- experienced rejection in a traditional church, in the very denomination he had come to faith and grown up in.
So where was… where is God in all this misery?
The man was not only full of knowledge but wisdom, a deep compassion, truly studied. I’ve never seen such a personal library. He had studied biblical Greek, the great philosophers and taught school including English for years. He was an incredibly gifted poet. And he suffered intense loss yet grew and grew in faith, hope and love.
“God is a very present help in trouble” says the Scripture. Curt and my Wendi both believed and now believe this to be the truth.
Many take other routes as I myself did prior to following Jesus in daily relationship. For me things like self-idolatry in music, booze, drugs and sex in wave upon wave of constant addiction actually brought me TO saving faith. Many don’t survive that sort of trip.
When deep tragedy enters our life we are very often tempted to self-medicate. The mental, emotional and physical anguish that visits, even establishes residence in our life may move us to unbelief. “How could a loving God…?”
One of several of non-remedies to our misery is to reject “the pipe dream of a Deity who supposedly gives a rip about me.”
IF He -is- and answers prayer, it’s clear not all our prayers are answered. Those that are at times aren’t responded to as we wish, or when we wish. Sometimes it’s as if He neither hears, cares or simply shrugs and gives an answer which is obviously “NO.”
For me there is no mystery as to why plenty of people through the ages came to despise Him and those who claim He exists, claim they follow Him.
You may need to work on this next sentence a while, but here it is:
Neither knowledge, emotion, intuition, logic, science nor human effort fully answers or in all cases protects us from the reality of actual suffering all too common in this life.
God, like life, must be experienced. The rub is that He, being God, interacts with us on HIS terms, not ours. We in cooperation by faith choose to link with Him despite or because of our hurts and sense of needs if not merely wants. Choice.
This is true of individuals, groups and at various points in history, nations.
As a dear, wise (Christian pastor) friend throughout most of my life has often said, we must learn to live with the ambiguities of life.
AMBIGUITY -doubtfulness or unclarity of intention
If God IS, how do we have some sort of assurance whether we’re in the midst of great struggle and pain or a time of peace and general well-being?
Before I list how I believe I hear His voice and have for some 47 years of my life, let me tell you how to plug your ears:
*Seeking Him for what you want rather than for Himself… and what He wants for you.
*Seeking Him like a celestial slot machine in order to fulfill all your personal desires regardless of what “hitting the jackpot” might do to you or those around you. You cannot possibly know as God knows how a choice may be rather benign, heal or destroy you or others you influence.
*Demanding He does your bidding to your personal satisfaction.
*Expecting you deserve or have somehow earned, merited YOUR answers to YOUR issues YOUR way and when suffering just keeps happening blaming HIM and rejecting HIM because you and not He is the focus and center of your life.
All of these can easily crash our faith. From a spectrum of anger and rage on one end to depression and major despair on the other brought on by experiences we cannot control all the way to arrogance, ignorance or core disgust at not getting what we want from Him we may well arrive at unbelief.
Ok- so how does He speak? How do I believe I have heard His voice for most of my lifetime?
There may be more ways, but I have found Him in His Word, that is The Bible. I have found Him in prayer. I have found Him in circumstances. I have found Him speaking to me through all sorts of people. I have found Him in supernatural things like dreams, visions and prophesies fulfilled in my life.
Certainly He speaks in nature and likely other ways but in these five general areas I have repeatedly heard His voice, been comforted and confronted in affliction, danger, accusation, physical pain, during fearful moments and when it seemed my prayers were simply rejected.
I have sensed His presence in a number of ways over and over again through my journey but any certainty of assurance when in severe pain or otherwise, has come in these ways.
I am convinced that when He is faithful to Himself doing exactly as He sees fit (which we may expect of the God Who cannot and will not change from His Own perfection), He is being faithful to me and all who genuinely call on Him for Himself and His will to be accomplished in their life, especially when we choose Him REGARDLESS OF THE COST.
Through the ages many have “put their hand to the plow and looked back”. It is no shock to me that people have and will choose their own script for life over His because walking with Jesus involves a selfless, sacrificial love that just plain hurts. Whether believers -be they a pastor, Bible teacher or friend told you otherwise, Jesus told us clearly in the Gospels.
If you’ve slugged through this post THIS far you certainly may be asking “Just where is the good news if any?!”
The sad reality is that when hurt happens to those who refuse to seek Him and follow Him in obedience and without close relationship of this sort, they have no Comforter, Helper, Advocate with the Father or a faith to carry them through the storm.
We don’t just tolerate the miseries and injustices around us, we seek to act in the love of Jesus to bring healing, peace and relationship with Him to those who are sick, living in raging chaos and all too often alone it the middle of the rapids.
Some of our fellow believers ended up martyrs. Fact. Now there is a topic for full-on atheists to make light of! “Crazy people willing to die for their faith in Jesus, what a waste over a myth, a man-made charade that simple-minded and/or demented idiots hold as ‘truth’ ‘eh?!”
Look, I have been working to finish a first draft of a book on how God showed up in my life to the point of my coming to believe and not only having faith via His absolute “invasion”, but presently and right through the years His constant, consistent seeking and finding me even as I have sought and found Him via those five areas I listed above has been continual. Not always a joy ride by any means! But the joy I experience, the sense of His enduring presence is not something I either take glibly nor can I wish it away as though He is nowhere to be found.
You cannot live as long as I have without your faith being tested -and sometimes seriously so. You can believe me, call me a total liar, self-deceived or simply someone seeking to live off of a faith-myth, you have that ability, your own mind and your own reasoning.
What I cannot do is deny my own lifetime of experiences as though they never happened and “Therefore He doesn’t exist.” I cannot and will not.
CERTAINLY “your mileage may vary” because He deals with each of us as individuals.
What I can tell you is that He “wrote on my wall” in such a way that it would have taken more faith to DISbelieve! I could not and cannot.
So as I experience Him in His Book, in prayer, via other people, via circumstances in my life that unfold in surprising, amazing ways often, and then in the occasional dreams/vision/prophetic area, all I can say is He has so knocked on my door that the sheer odds of all of this contact being purely imagination or delusional is just not a possibility for me.
In closing, in my years of conversation, reading and experience with others it’s also clear not all get the exact same intensity of contact, signs, clarity that God is speaking to them.
He does as He chooses with those He chooses. He is well aware of what sort of evidence you need and how YOU need to hear Him speak so that you will have a living faith. Yet if you are not willing to “seek Him with all your heart”, if you are not “seeking, asking, knocking”, if you are not “listening”, then “My sheep hear my voice and I know them” will not be your experience. He finished that sentence with: “…and they FOLLOW ME”.
When we deny God His rightful place as God of our life, if we simply don’t care about bothering to follow Him and apply His Word and indeed, commands to how we think, pray, act and involve ourselves with Him and those around us, we are actively not interested in faith in God but faith in ourselves and personal pursuits which therefore make Him second, third, fourth or at least far down our list as we live out our false deity on earth.
For some I think the issue is not actually faith as such, but that we can and should seek Him in relationship and loving daily obedience. If such is not core to our faith, I’d say we do not experience life as sons and daughters of the Most High God Who IS, but rather as rebels who find doubt -regardless of sufferings- a way of excuse, a route we choose and in which we may then simply ignore Him.
Countless people have loved and served Him faithfully (“Though He slay me yet I will trust Him”) while countless others have chosen rage, anger and/or despair, depression and self-pity over faith and drawing closer to Him -in- the struggles, pain and ambiguity of life.
It’s like “I TRIED marriage. A painful mess. I’m DONE with that!!” “I DID the church thing… it stank. People are idiots who do THAT”. So if God doesn’t jump through the hoops you design for Him, if He doesn’t “play nice” according to your assessment of what that should look and feel like, He just doesn’t exist?
Every day it comes down to “Choose this day who you will serve” and this being so, a song I wrote years ago was titled “You Get What You Choose” meaning relationship with Him REGARDLESS of all else including the sufferings in life.
Nobody can nor will live your life for you. You choose to seek Him, walk in faith and faithfulness WITH Him or not.
Plenty of people blame God as opposed to seeking and walking with Him. It’s understandable -especially when we want, even demand the security of our being in control when we truly never had it in the first place.
This is why faith in ourselves [as though we were Him] is such a sick, tragic faith.
The worst problem comes when we recognize we are not our own savior nor can we be. It is as if we are dangling over the Grand Canyon in mid-air likely to drop at any moment and are trying to imagine a sky hook.
Quoting A.W. Tozer who here quotes John Owen: “John Owen, the old Puritan, warned people in his day: “You have an imaginary Christ, and if you are satisfied with an imaginary Christ you must be satisfied with imaginary salvation.”
Regardless of what information or perspective you hold as credible, for myself, it comes to this ethic: for some 80 percent of my lifetime I’ve been given a faith that has been incredibly encouraging, rewarding, and for me the questions have been sufficiently answered in real time, real ways and in an experience of Christ’s sustaining love and a sense of peace I simply never found anywhere -nor in anyONE else but my Savior.
Crosses? Ohhhh yes, they are part of my life -as Jesus promised they’d be. That element has ceased to be a mystery to me a very long time ago.
As always, thanks for stopping by! -Glenn