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When someone says that they are going through a faith crisis, what they mean is that some event or series of events has happened in their lives which is forcing them to question one or more of their core beliefs about God. A faith crisis is just that—a crisis. It is a terribly upsetting experience and when we’re in the midst of the storm, we often feel convinced that irreparable damage has been done to our relationship with God. It’s rather like being diagnosed with some incurable, fatal disease—all you can do is sit on pins waiting for your symptoms to worsen. Our core beliefs about God affect our entire perspective of life. Once one pillar of security crumbles, the ramifications to the rest of our faith can feel devastating. It is in the midst of faith crises that many Christians either walk away from the faith entirely, or strengthen their grip on deception, permanently lodging themselves in a stagnating position. The goal of this post is to prevent you from making either of these mistakes. How you view a faith crisis determines whether you end up better or worse for having gone through it. Nothing will make the actual experience comfortable, for some degree of panic is inevitable when God is ripping your theology apart. But once we understand what He is trying to accomplish, then we can avoid getting stuck in the grip of Satan.
Imagine yourself standing on the top of a high cliff, enjoying the scenic view of the valley below. From where you are, it looks like you are standing on solid ground. But a man standing in the valley looking up at you can see that you’re standing out on a very thin lip of rock which has been severely eroded away underneath. The lip is less than a foot thick and could give way at any time. This is often the precarious situation that God sees us in as He examines our core beliefs about Him.
We all start out with some very simplistic beliefs about God which are just plain wrong. But we don’t know they’re wrong, and for a long time He lets us continue under the assumption that they are correct. Why would God do this? Why does He purposely let us cling to deceptions and shelter us from the full truth? He does this for the same reason that you don’t use words like “molester” and “rape” around a five year old girl. There are many difficult and disturbing realties about the world that we are not equipped to handle until we’ve had the chance to reach certain stages of psychological development. If we are exposed to those truths too early, many complications arise. This is why one of the most important duties of a parent is to act as a shield which protects their children from being blasted with truths that they are not yet ready to handle. A good parent gently eases their child into reality one bite at a time. We don’t want our children lying awake at night worrying about how we will pay the monthly bills. To thrive, children need to start off in a shielded world of living in which their biggest crisis is having a toy break and their biggest fear is the potential of a monster lurking under the bed. For children, these little things are huge problems which often overwhelm them. That’s why they run to mom and dad to save them after they’ve had a bad dream—because they don’t yet have the ability to put their traumatic experience in perspective. That’s why they need nightlights and teddy bears and lots of time being cuddled on their parents’ laps. The world is a frightening place for children, even when they are only being exposed to a fraction of it. So also, when we are spiritually young, we can’t handle many realities about who God is and how He operates.
We all start off with an oversimplified view of God. When we say that He is good, we don’t just mean His Character is good, we also mean that He can’t possibly associate Himself with evil. Now in reality, God can and does associate Himself with evil all the time. He’s the One who invented the whole concept of evil and made it a part of our lives. But we’re not ready to grasp this when we’re spiritually young, so God lets us keep the illusion that He has nothing to do with making bad things happen. Many of us also believe that God would never intentionally deceive us, or let us feel abandoned, or fail to come through in our hour of need. We believe that when we pray for things in God’s will, He will always give them to us, and we have a very simplistic idea about what God’s will is. We think the Bible will supply the answers to all of our questions, we think the leaders in our churches would never lead us astray, and when we meet Christians who are caught in the storm of a faith crisis, we think that they’ve brought their trouble on themselves. After all, God is good, He is nice, and He would never purposely lead us astray. So when Christians try to say that God has tricked them or broken a promise or abandoned them in their hour of need, we tell them to wash their mouths out with soap. And when they say the Bible is a crock and that God is a sadistic jerk, we gasp in horror and label them as hardened rebels. Yet these souls aren’t rebelling, they are simply reeling from the shock of having core truths ripped away from them. They need support, not bullying, but unfortunately young Christians are not equipped to support them and far too many Christians today are striving to be forever young. This causes Christians in crisis to find themselves suddenly feeling cut off from the main Church community. Already feeling like they’re losing God, it’s often too much to feel like they’ll lose all their Christian friends as well, so the temptation to cling to immaturity for the sake of fitting in becomes very strong. This is when we see Christians turning down the first of two deadly roads: denial. They rewrite their own history—either pretending the crisis didn’t happen or pretending that God had nothing to do with it. They turn the blame onto themselves and decide it was their own lack of faith or misunderstanding that caused them to become so upset. Then they repent of sins they never committed, take back all the nasty things they said about God, and get back into the good graces of Christians who will never grow up. Another good soldier is lost.
But in other cases, Christians are too angry to take the blame for things they know they didn’t do. Instead, they cling tightly to their hatred of God and also write off the entire Church as well. They decide God is a harmful delusion and that anyone who falls for it is an idiot. Then they go running down the road of carnality, determined that the world will have something better to offer them. And everywhere they go, they spread the word that Jesus is a crock and that anyone who tries to put their faith in God will live to regret it. Another good soldier is lost.
You don’t have to make either of these mistakes. If you have already made one of them, you can come back from it today and let God finish what He’s started. Faith crises are like sticks of dynamite which are used to blast false assumptions out of our theological foundations. The goal is to purify and strengthen your belief system, not permanently cripple it. When you let God complete this fortifying process, you will end up holding onto truth where you once held onto a lie. Truth will not fail you—lies will. God doesn’t want your entire life to be a series of traumatic shocks. It doesn’t take a bunch of crises in order to resolve critical problems with your theological foundation. Sometimes it only takes one if God packs in enough explosive power. But the key is to recognize that He is trying to help you, not harm you, and then let Him do what needs to be done.
If you have an infected wound, a doctor will have to do some painful things to you in order to clean that wound out and restore it to a place where it can heal properly. If you’re kicking him the whole time, the process is going to take a long longer—he might even back off and stop trying. In the same way, when we refuse to let God work on us during the crisis period—when we close our minds, shut out His Voice, and refuse to accept that He has some positive end goal—then we only end up hurting ourselves. God wants to draw us closer to Him, but He’s not going to force intimacy upon us. He demands some level of cooperation on or part. Now that cooperation doesn’t have to look pretty. When we’re feeling disillusioned by God, we’re going to talk nasty to Him, have foul attitudes, and accuse Him of all kinds of ugly things. God will patiently weather our tantrums as long as we don’t completely shut down on Him. In the Psalms, we find David accusing God of all kinds of unfairness and disloyalty when he was down in the pit. Let’s not forget that it was David who first said those famous words, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1)
God would much rather we curse at Him then turn our backs on Him. At least when we’re angry, we’re still emotionally engaged and He can work with that. It’s very important that we let the full impact of the blast hit us and not try to hide behind shields of denial. If you know that God has broken a promise, don’t pretend He didn’t. If you know what you prayed for was supposed to be in His will, then don’t pretend it wasn’t. If you know that you didn’t misunderstand Him, then don’t pretend you did. BE HONEST about what has happened and about all of the questions that it has raised. If needed, make a list of all the truths about God you are now finding yourself uncertain about.
Is He really good? Does He really care about me? Can He really be trusted? Is the Bible really of any use? Is there any teacher who can be trusted? Is Christianity just a delusion? Is there even a God?
There is no question that is inappropriate for you to ask. The only way you can harm your relationship with God is by NOT asking all the questions that rise up in your soul as you go along. Don’t let questions scare you, no matter how fundamental they might seem. If you suddenly find the whole idea of Jesus rather ludicrous, then be honest about that in your heart. Let God drag every hidden doubt into the bright light of scrutiny without trying to hide them again under a blanket of Christian clichés. It is by facing our doubts head on that we grow. It is by questioning the most basic facts about God—even His very existence—that we end up with unshakable confidence and faith in Him. You MUST be willing to doubt. The Christian who refuses to doubt stagnates in a pool of infantile delusions.
One of the reasons we’re afraid to doubt is the fear that we will end up with questions that we can’t answer. Of course we will—that’s the whole point. You can’t answer anything by yourself. Truth comes from God, not from human minds. If God doesn’t educate you, you will have nothing at all. It is by doubting that we realize our total dependency on God. A girl can play dollhouse and make believe her dolls are alive, but they are not. If she were to get into a crisis, the dolls would be powerless to help her. So also, people today who put their faith in false gods will find their delusions are utterly useless when it comes to giving them guidance in life. As a Christian, you are not clinging to some fantasy that the human race invented. You are in an eternal relationship with your three very real Creators, and this relationship has two sides to it. It’s not on you to try and come up with the answers to your questions. God assumes full responsibility for illuminating your soul with wisdom and truth, and He can be counted on to come through. But you won’t ever realize this until you let Him take you through a storm of doubt. You won’t realize how secure you are in His hands until you see that He has complete mastery over the storm—He controls its beginning and end. He tears down and He rebuilds. There is NOTHING that will crumble in your relationship with God that He won’t rebuild even stronger if you let Him have His total way in the process. But He will insist on working at His own pace, not yours, and that means you might have to endure an uncomfortable period of waiting while monstrous doubts hover over you. But as scary as the doubts look, they have no real power to hurt you, and this is another critical lesson God wants to teach you in this period. When He says we are secure in His hands, He means it. When He says that He will never let us go, He is talking about something that only HE has control over. You can’t make God tighten His grip on you. You have no power over Him at all. If He wants to drop you, He can do so. But He has promised that He won’t, and that promise will stand. It is by facing our doubts and questions about God that we end up realizing just how faithful and trustworthy He is.
Let’s look at some examples of how we end up better off for going through faith crises. Here are some classic patterns that have unfolded in the lives of maturing Christians.
Initial Belief: God will never lie.
Crisis Event: God made a promise, then failed to keep it.
Initial Conclusion: God cannot be trusted.
Final Conclusion: There are times when God will use deception to accomplish some good purpose. But everything He does will be for my spiritual best and His Character is completely trustworthy.
Initial Belief: Bible teachers are infallible.
Crisis Event: A teacher led me astray.
Initial Conclusion: I have no one to guide me in life.
Final Conclusion: All humans are fallible, but that’s alright because I don’t need humans to guide me in life. I have the Holy Spirit, and He is perfect in every way. He will teach me everything I need to know in the order that He knows is best for me. With Him as my Teacher, I don’t have to worry about going astray, for He is faithful to me and He will use even my ignorance to strengthen my walk with Him.
Initial Belief: God will be near to me in a crisis.
Crisis Event: God felt far away in a crisis.
Initial Conclusion: God cannot be trusted. He leaves when I need Him the most.
Final Conclusion: God never left me, He just caused me to feel like He was gone so I could learn to stop trusting in my emotions to guide me. Instead, I will put my trust in God’s faithfulness to me. I know that His devotion to me never changes, no matter what my emotions say.
Initial Belief: God will not forgive someone for denying Him on earth.
Crisis Event: I denied God.
Initial Conclusion: God has cut me off because He thinks I no longer care about Him.
Final Conclusion: God knows that I love Him and He will never cut me off. He judges me by the desires of my heart, not by my external behavior. Without God’s help, I can’t make my actions accurately reflect the desires of my heart. God let me deny Him to teach me how He really judges me and to free me from the fear that my human weaknesses can come between us.
Initial Belief: If God is real, then He is good, and He would never do anything bad.
Crisis Event: God did something horrible to me.
Initial Conclusion: God cannot be evil, therefore God does not exist.
Final Conclusion: God is real and He is good, but He will do things that I consider evil in order to accomplish greater good. No matter what God does in my life, I can know that He is with me and He always has my spiritual best in mind. It is worth suffering at God’s hand, for I know that my suffering will result in greater treasures if I wait for Him to complete His work.
Initial Belief: God views me like I view myself.
Crisis Event: I do something terrible.
Initial Conclusion: I am disgusted with myself, therefore God must be disgusted with me as well. I cannot forgive myself, therefore God cannot forgive me either.
Final Conclusion: God does not view me like I view myself. I have to earn my own love, but I do not have to earn God’s—He loves me because He wants to. God’s love for me is not based on my behavior, and His expectations of me are far more realistic than mine are. I no longer need to fear losing God’s love every time I disappoint myself. God will teach me how to adjust my expectations to be more realistic so I stop expecting the impossible from myself.
Initial Belief: God will always give me clear direction in life.
Crisis Event: God refused to direct me, and I made a decision that resulted in disaster.
Initial Conclusion: God set me up to fail and now He blames me for the result. God is unfair and impossible to please.
Final Conclusion: God is always guiding me, but His guidance comes in many forms. Even when I don’t receive any clear word from Him, I can trust that if I sincerely want to please Him, He will guide my steps and whatever happens will be for the best. I am released from the burden of needing life to make sense because I know that my life is the hands of a good and faithful God.
These are just a few scenarios of many that we could list. Notice how in every case, the initial conclusions are very grim and upsetting. This is where we get permanently stuck when we shut down on God and refuse to receive further counsel from Him. But if we remain receptive to the Holy Spirit and finish the ride, then He will bring us to final conclusions that are extremely positive and soul-freeing. God wants us to grow in the truth, and He is an endless source of good news. But there are times when He must use violence to wrench false beliefs out of our tight grip. There are many false beliefs we cling to because we think we are being loyal to God by refusing to waver from what we think are rock solid truths. But we must always remember that we are the ignorant children in this relationship, and God is the Parent who is infinitely wiser than we are. If we are going to mature in the faith, we must be willing to let Him continuously revise and perfect our beliefs. The good news is that this process stops feeling so traumatic once we understand what God is doing. There are some very unexpected jolts in the road, but then we learn how to move fluidly with God like an attentive dance partner. Christians who let God complete the good work He’s begun in their lives end up with immeasurable soul peace and joy, unshakable faith, and rich communion with their Maker. Set your sights on the highest prize and wait for God to calm the storm He has started.