I think most of us would admit that sometimes our faith is stronger than at other times. Questioning my own beliefs and choices is part of the development of a mature Christian. It is always better to know exactly what (and why) I believe than blindly to accept someone else’s beliefs.
I am never satisfied with my spiritual life. Yet, I must be careful not to fall into the trap of self-denigration and depression. It is better to work questions through in the strong belief that God wants me to understand, and has my best interests at heart. My normal nature is something like Thomas, who needed proof before he believed. I am always sort of hanging back, waiting for the other shoe to drop. I trust God more than anyone or anything ~ but occasionally over a long life there have even been times of doubt about Him. I have learned to persevere through these times, and eventually my feeling of hesitation goes away. God, in His kindness, reminds me in some way that He is still here, and that He loves me. My fear (usually the source of doubt) disappears.
I was reminded of this at church recently when a speaker shared his own early battle with anger and resentment toward God. He didn’t understand God’s allowance of unfairness and pain in the life of innocents, and he wrestled with his feelings. He had a history of violence in his family. His father used to beat his mother and his sisters, making him watch ~ and as a child he would rage at God, blaming Him for the injustice. Later he understood that it was not God, but his father who had chosen to act like this… but some of his wariness persisted. I was so grateful for his willingness to be transparent. It made me feel less guilty about the fact that occasionally I have also found it hard to trust God (or anyone) completely. Deep trust has had to develop gradually, and while at this point in my life I almost never doubt Him, there are still a few gray areas where I have questions. I am sure they will all be explained eventually, even if I have to wait for heaven.
At least twice in my life I have seriously come to doubt my own faith and God, and have had to work my way back by consciously assessing what I knew I still DID believe. In the process I discarded a number of things I had been taught by the Church, but which I had not found to be true in my own experience with Him. I had to move beyond the stern legalism of my youth and move forward to the realization of a life filled with grace as opposed to one characterized by fear. I eventually came back to faith stronger and closer to the Lord. Doubt must be faced and faith be authentic, not just based on what others tell us we should believe.
Doubt can serve a real purpose in our lives if it makes us stop and look truthfully at the difference between what we really believe and what are just nice words which we want to believe. We need to deal in reality, not an idealized life of perfect faith and always having the right answer immediately to hand. It is hard to learn that we must be dependent on God in all things. We have been taught in the world (and it is inherent in our nature) to want to be autonomous and to control our own circumstances. This is the old nature which is in us, or maybe promptings from the enemy who tries to find any little chink in our armor to draw us away from faith. Whatever takes our focus away from Christ is going to be hurtful to us in the long run.
Each of us stands before Christ with a secret life. Almost all of us have wounds and bruises which we have brought with us from our childhood and youth. We may not really understand or see these wounds clearly because we have had them so long we may not even know their source. Many have their root in sin… an old-fashioned word not often heard these days. The source of the sin may be found in ourselves or in others, but sin always wounds and destroys.
As adults these wounds can color our ability to be objective, or make us distrustful and cynical or fearful. We may over-compensate and become defensive and aggressive, or go the other way and withdraw from life. Christ is the great healer and leveler, and a healthy relationship with Him takes us toward emotional health and centeredness.
The thing is, if I want to be a mature Christian I can’t continue to view life through the understanding of a hurt child or teenager. The process of coming to terms with these hidden agendas is part of what it means to mature in Christ. In order to grow I must learn to think things through with independent impartiality and not be bound by old scripts and knee-jerk responses. God already knows all about these secret wounds. As I go through life He is in the process of bringing them into my consciousness, helping me to see them and acknowledge them, and then healing them. As each secret hurt is healed, I become more able to face my present problems with calm. It would be difficult in this process not to have questions and doubts from time to time. It is vital to realize that I cannot put my trust only in my emotions; emotions are momentary and not always objective. The way through doubt is by solidly putting my trust in the unchanging goodness of the character of God and in His Word.
I don’t believe in magic… yet there is something special, something one might even call supernatural in the Words of scripture. As we read, the Holy Spirit helps us refocus our thoughts along the right channels and gives us the right perspective. Alone, I will struggle with my conflicting ideas and ambivalence. Then I take up my Bible and immediately begin to get my thoughts in line. It is as though I have been fighting a cacophony of loud, dissonant sounds, and suddenly in its place I hear the sounds of harmonious, peaceful music. In Christ and in God’s Word I find the release I need to heal those secret wounds and bring me to a place of serenity and self-acceptance. We Christians are sometimes afraid of self-acceptance; after all, we are (or should be) acutely aware of our own sinful natures. Healthy self-acceptance isn’t a matter of denying our sin or loving ourselves in a selfish way, but a recognition that God has created us in His image, and that He has given us worth through the price He paid on the Cross for our redemption. I know I don’t deserve it, but His gift has given me worth whether I deserve it or not! To refuse to acknowledge that gift would be ungrateful.
What I have learned in life is that no matter what the problem, knowing Christ and learning to trust Him makes it better. As I sat in church listening to the speaker opening up his own wounds in transparency before us, I looked at the people around me. It is a small church, so we know many of the lives of those in the pews near us. I thought about each person specifically, and knew that in the life of this one was a difficult aged parent whose care is draining them of energy. The person next to him has a child in mission work in a remote part of the world, and who is in constant danger. Next to her is a man approaching sixty whose job is on the line, and who may be out of work at the end of the month. Across the aisle is a childless couple who desperately want children, and who may be too old to adopt. Near them is another couple whose child has gone off the rails and who is a source of constant pain for the parents. Not one person I saw lives without problems. Yet, there we were, all of us gathered to the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, finding solace and comfort and strength in Him and in each other which will carry us through this coming week. These are sensible people, not easily fooled or gullible. All of us have found something in Christ which can heal our secret lives. In Him we find the peace which enables us to continue putting one foot in front of the other, the security that enables us to work through all our doubts and come out stronger in the end.