It is a paradox. If you are really serious about your faith, at some point you will almost certainly come to a place of doubt and crisis. It just seems to be a part of the process. Working these situations through, however, can be times of major growth, and one more way for God to show us His ability to bring good even from difficult situations.
There are times when everything in life seems to be going against you. I am not speaking here of a few problems, but those times when everything not only goes wrong, but goes wrong over and over again. We begin to feel discouraged and then even persecuted. We pray faithfully and there seems to be no response. We see injustice happening in our lives and cry out for God to make it right, not to let the bad guys win… and there is a deafening silence from above. We cry out even louder to the Lord Who has told us He will not forsake us, that He will always go through the fire with us ~ and there is no answer. Things keep going badly. We lose our jobs, our health begins to break down, or there is some other catastrophe. We feel our lives are falling apart. We feel isolated and alone, and totally inadequate to meet all the challenges. Just ask Job.
We don’t understand why God is not rushing to the rescue and giving us at least a little encouragement. We begin to question if what we have believed all these years is truth. Does He really love me? Is He really always on my side? Does He even exist, or is life really just a random struggle we have to maneuver all alone? These occasional thoughts are almost inevitable, because deeper faith almost always involves struggle.
Hebrews 11:1 addresses faith like this: “Now faith is the substance of things hoped for; the evidence of things not seen…” The whole point of faith is that we are trusting in something which can’t be proven, but is longed for; that is understood but not always visible. God’s presence is often very gentle so that He gives us room to make choices. We may sometimes wish He was a little more forceful in our lives, so that there would be no question of His presence or His will. However, He is not an oppressor; He wants us to choose Him voluntarily. The usual wisdom about His silence in our lives is that if He is not there it is we who have moved. However, it has been my experience that sometimes God chooses to be silent so that we can stew in our own conflicts long enough to recognize some of the deeper problems before He answers.
We have to ask ourselves why God would allow circumstances to be so difficult in the lives of those who love Him. Sometimes it is because we have been trying to control our own lives and have neglected to seek His will. Sometimes He wants to drive us toward Him, or set up a situation which will help us grow. Sometimes it may be His way of showing us that we have been trying to hold back part of our lives from Him. Sometimes it is just the rain falling on both the just and the unjust… and our solution can only be found in Him.
God wants us to choose Him; He wants us to trust in His wisdom and His love for us. He wants our whole heart. There may be times when we want things we believe are good for us, things that are modest and not unreasonable ~ yet He withholds them. Our doubt may expose the fact that we really don’t trust Him completely. It is in these times we have to let go of what we assume is best for us, and trust Him to give us what we need… whether it is something material, or something spiritual. He may have something else even better in mind. The only way forward in faith is to be prepared to make a hard choice: to hold on to our autonomy, or let go in faith.
The first time I had a time of doubt was when my children were babies. One of my friends had a baby who had died from SIDs just three weeks before I was due to give birth to my second child. Besides my sorrow for my friend, it scared me. I was already mourning two miscarriages I had before that pregnancy. Another friend’s child had been born with severe congenital problems which were painful in the present and would lead to an early death. Another friend had suffered seven miscarriages in a row ~ the last baby dying when she was just short of being viable outside the womb. I was angry on their behalf. I was frightened for my own children. I shook my fist in the face of God and told Him that He could do anything He wanted to me, but He was to leave my babies alone. From that point on He was silent in my life until I was able to let go. It was very immature, but it was real for me at that time. It took me a long time before I could come to the place where I recognized that my children were gifts from God, and that they were not mine but His. I had to trust in His love and wisdom ~ even if it meant that He took them Home before I was ready to let them go. Even though He did not require that of me, I had to surrender my will and the lives of my children into His loving hands ~ trusting in His goodness, even though I did not always understand His ways.
Later there were other times of doubt, with other issues. T he principle remained the same. I believed He was asking me to give up things I was gripping tightly ~ whether it was an idea, a habit, a prejudice, my desire for justice, my emotional need for security ~ all these have had to be surrendered into His charge. In the case of justice, I had to accept that sometimes in this world the bad guys win. In the case of security, I had to learn the difference between needs and wants. I am learning to accept in trust whatever He thinks is best for me. At present, it is learning to live with constant pain and severely limited independence. Sometimes the internal struggles have gone on for years, but I am happy to report that it gets easier with experience. I am still in the process of learning many things, and learning humility has been among the most persistently difficult. Yet, that is what He asks, and because I love Him I want to continue to submit to His shaping and molding of my character and spirit.
There have been a lot of tears and pain over 66 years of faith. Each crisis has ended when I have finally been able to come the end of myself and say to Him truthfully, “Not my will but Thine, Father. Whatever You want, whatever You choose for me, whatever it costs: I am Yours.” At that point, I feel the burdens lift and faith begin to flow again like a river of life and hope. Were all my problems resolved in the way I wished? Absolutely not… but I am learning to live with them in peace, because I have surrendered them into the keeping of One Whom I know has my best interests at heart. None of this is simple or easy ~ but it is possible in His strength.
I am learning that the circumstances of life are mostly irrelevant. It is our response which is important. Life or death are equally fine. The redeeming thing is to love and honor Christ in everything.
No one can make these decisions for me. I can stop the process at any time and even abandon faith. I can remain stalled at a certain point of spiritual development because I am not prepared to give up the next part of me which He wants me to relinquish. Or, I can take it step by step, and continue to grow slowly but steadily into the fruit of the Spirit and ultimately toward the image of Christ.
Much of the life in Christ is a struggle between our old nature in the flesh and the new nature we have received in Christ. We still long to have things our way; we still want to maintain control over all our circumstances and not let anyone else tell us how we are to live our lives. Faith encourages us to surrender that control to Christ. At this point would I choose to have been able to sail through my journey with no doubts, no places of struggle? Emphatically not! Every struggle, every place of doubt and despair has eventually led to deeper faith and greater trust in Him. The journey has been difficult at times, but it all leads me Home.