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In this post, we are speaking to souls who have been called by God to preach, but are now wrestling with some serious doubts about what they believe.
Who wrote the book of Hebrews? Should we serve wafers or bread for Communion? How can God really be everywhere at once? There are many questions you can debate and ponder without feeling unsettled in your personal walk with God. But there are other questions that shake the very foundation of your faith.
Is God really good? What’s to stop Him from throwing us all into Hell? What if Jesus isn’t even real? Am I really saved?
Many Christians think a shepherd of God’s people should never ask such questions. Well, many Christians are wrong. You don’t get the privilege of deciding when a storm will hit the country where you live, nor do you get to decide when a hurricane of doubt is going to start pounding your own theological structure. God is the One who creates and directs all storm systems, and if you currently find yourself wrestling with some very unsettling questions, the first thing you need to realize is that you aren’t here by accident.
Change is an essential part of growth. Does a five-year-old boy look the same as he did when he was five days old? Does a tree look like the seed that spawned it? Certainly not. If you’re growing in the faith, you won’t look like the same man you were five or ten years ago. Your theology must be constantly changing if you are growing closer to God. Your understanding of Him must be constantly expanding, deepening, stretching, and reshaping. Spiritual progress is marked by an unending string of new questions. Questions are a fantastic sign of growth, for questions mean that you are engaging with God on a soul level.
To not find anything about God upsetting, your soul would have to either be dead, blind, or in a state of denial. God is a very upsetting Character. His unstoppable power, His vast complexity, His unpredictability—how can you not be afraid of Someone who could speak all matter out of existence with a single word? How can you feel totally secure with a God who is holding your molecules together when you can’t understand how He could possibly find you so interesting? God is massive. We can’t even measure the span of the universe we live in, yet to God, this whole thing is like a speck of sand on a seashore. How can you seriously contemplate a Being of this magnitude and not start asking a lot of disturbing questions?
What is keeping God interested in me? What can stop Him from uncreating us all? How do I really know that He cares about me personally? How can I be sure that He is who He says He is? If He is accountable to no one, what makes His promises of any value? Why does He let good people suffer so hideously? Why doesn’t He answer those who are sincerely seeking Him? Why does He let evil triumph in this world?
These are very important questions, and if you’re asking any of them, that’s a very good sign of progress. Of course Satan and some of your parishioners will tell you just the opposite—they will want you to interpret your questions as a sign of spiritual failure or digression. After all, God’s goodness is supposed to be a no-duh basic that you figured out a long time ago, right? WRONG. Trust is a multi-layered thing. It isn’t a question of whether you trust God or not—it’s a question of how much you trust Him. You obviously have some trust in Him already or you wouldn’t have aligned with His calling to shepherd His flock. Trust is a wonderful thing, but God is greedy. He wants a rich, deep soul communion with you, not some shallow acquaintance or mediocre friendship. No matter how much trust you have, you can get a whole lot more, and the more you get, the stronger your bond with God will become.
Trust is the foundation on which your entire relationship with God is built, and that trust is focused on a very specific thing: His goodness. It isn’t the cross that saves you, nor Jesus’ atoning Blood. These things are symbols of salvation, but the real salvation is God’s goodness. If God wasn’t good, Jesus would have never died for your sins in the first place. If God wasn’t good, then Yahweh would never consider His Son’s Blood to be a sufficient atonement for your sin. If God wasn’t good, then His entire Covenant with man becomes utterly meaningless.
In this world we have a saying: “A man is only as good as his word.” But in reality, a man’s word is only as good as his character. An ungodly man can promise you the world and be counted on for nothing. But a man of godly character will honor his commitments and do his utmost to follow through on his promises. God MUST be good, or everything He does and says becomes an evil sham and God Himself becomes a Monster who delights in the suffering of His people. But who gets to decide God’s Character for Him? No one. God is who He is, and no created being can alter Him in anyway. We didn’t decide for God that He is good. He told us that this is the way it is.
What sets Christianity apart from every other religion is that we are resting our confidence in fact, not fiction. We are not trusting in an illusion, we are digging our roots down into a rock solid truth that we had no part in creating. God existed before us, and who He is has nothing to do with us. He introduced Himself to us, He defined Himself to us, and we are anchoring our souls on His reality. God’s goodness is not something we made up, it is a reality which He revealed to us—a reality which we cannot change in any way.
But what if God is lying? What if He’s intentionally not telling us information which would reveal that He really isn’t good after all? These are very serious questions which cannot be brushed aside into the “that’s just beyond us” pile. If God is not really good, then everything you’re teaching your flock is a sham. But now let’s take it to another level—what if you’ve got the wrong God entirely? What if the whole Yahweh-Jesus-Holy Spirit package is completely wrong, the Bible is a bunch of baloney, and you’re just as deluded as the Mormons, the Muslims, and the Hindus? The world is full of religions that contradict each other and among their followers we can find many souls who are willing to die for their beliefs. What makes you different than them? How do you KNOW that you are staking the future of your soul on something more than wishful thinking? If you’re asking these kinds of questions, of course you’re panicking, but you’re also in a very exciting place.
It all comes back to God wanting a deeper relationship with you. That relationship is founded on trust in His goodness. For the bond to grow stronger, your confidence in God’s goodness must grow stronger. Before now, you probably thought your confidence was pretty strong. Now you can feel it fracturing under the pressure of questions you can’t answer. That fracturing is excellent—it means God has cranked up those refinement fires and He is melting down your trust so that He can sift out more of the dross. Is it a frightening process? Absolutely. But is it necessary? It is if you want to know sweet intimacy with your Maker.
Suppose I set two blocks of cement in front of you. On the outside, they look very strong and sturdy. Because you associate cement with strength, you instantly assume that both of these blocks will be able to support a great deal of weight. But what you don’t see is how different these two blocks are on the inside. One is solid, but the other is filled with large pockets of air. When you start stacking weight onto these two blocks, the one that is filled with air quickly smashes apart. Its cavities have weakened its strength, and it simply can’t stand up under very much pressure.
In the Church, the term “trust” has the reputation of cement—it often sounds stronger than it is. When someone confidently says, “I trust God”, they sound very strong in their faith. But are they? Trust always looks good on the outside, and a Christian with strong trust doesn’t sound any different than one with weak trust. Both claim to really trust God, and both think that they do, but when a storm of doubt comes, only one soul’s faith remains intact. The other quickly crumbles apart because his trust is filled with holes. Now should the weaker man be looked down on for his inability to stand? On the contrary, we should consider his fall to be a great sign of progress, because now his weaknesses are exposed.
If I want to strengthen my weak block of cement, what should I do? Get out a sledge hammer and pound the thing to pieces until I’m sure that every cavity of space has been opened. Then I will pour the fragments into some new cement mix and those pieces will become part of a new, solid whole. In the same way, when God wants to strengthen your trust, He is going to violently pound on your theological structure until its weakest points are exposed. He will force you into situations where you will be confronted with things which will drag your secret doubts about Him to the surface. And once those frightening questions have been brought out into the light, He will resolve them as only He can do, and you will end up with a trust in Him that is far more solid than it was before. Is it a frightening process? Yes it is, but it is a very necessary one. EVERYONE has major weak points in their trust. The only reason their faith is still standing strong is because God is intentionally sheltering them from certain experiences which He knows would instantly cripple them. But if you’re to the point where you’re starting to seriously question core truths about the faith, then you are in a thrilling place. God has effectively knocked you to the ground. Now it’s just a matter of waiting for Him to raise you up into a whole new level of trust.
It is vital that you wait for God to resolve the questions you are currently struggling with. Do not try to shove them back into some dark closet, and don’t be content to settle for the old clichés that no longer comfort you. Be honest in your soul about the doubts that you have. Look them square in the eye and do not try to pretend that they do not frighten you. But also realize that when God rebuilds your house, it will be a structure which nothing can tear down. This whole process is about raising you up to new and glorious heights in your relationship with God.
There is a very real peace that we can experience before our faith is ever tested. But the peace we experience after the whole thing has been blown to bits and reassembled by God—that is a peace which makes our former peace look worthless by comparison. If you want to know true intimacy with God, you can’t run away from doubts, you must learn to face them and wait for Him to conquer them for you.
Let’s talk about how your calling fits in to all of this. It’s easy to think you have no business trying to shepherd the flock when you are waffling on core essentials. But let’s not be so hasty to extinguish the light. God could have created this crisis before He activated you as His shepherd, but clearly He likes this timing better. Do not assume that you should step down from the pulpit just because you are in the midst of a storm. And don’t think you owe everyone an explanation of your struggle, because you don’t. Your walk with God is a personal thing, and your flock is probably incapable of understanding what you’re going through, which means they’ll just turn into mouthpieces for Satan. Total honesty with God is essential, but you need to be guarded about who you share your theological struggles with. Do you know any mature Christians who have been through their own crises with God? Has God put anyone in your life who seems to have already resolved the questions that are troubling you? Some dialogue with these souls might be useful. Bring up a theological point that is troubling you and ask them for their view of it. You don’t have to share the depths of your own crisis, but you want to be open to God talking to you through some unexpected channels.
As long as God keeps giving you messages for the flock, He clearly wants you to man your post. Suppose in the midst of this mess, you hear Him shaping up a sermon about faith. What a crock, right? How can you preach about faith when your own faith is buckling? Here is where we need to remember what the role of a shepherd is. We do what God tells us to do because He is the One telling us. Obedience is our response to a Divine command, and it cannot be delayed over a lack of understanding. You do not need to personally agree with a message God tells you to preach—you just need to know that God is the Source of that message.
If you can’t even see the soul of a man, how can you discern its needs and properly care for it? We shepherds work with blindfolds on—this is how it has always been. We rely on God to guide us in the tending of His flock. He hands us messages, and we cast them out in accordance with His timing. We have no idea which souls He’s targeting on a given Sunday morning, nor do we need to. We know that the task of maturing souls is way beyond our human capabilities. We only carry a shepherding staff because we know that God is the One who placed it in our hands. Obeying Him is more important to us than understanding why He finds it useful to work through bumbling humans.
God doesn’t make mistakes. When you know that He is the One who called you into this role, then you need to stay here until He discharges you. Doubt, embarrassment, condemnation—these are not the Voices of God. If other people knew the kinds of questions you are wrestling with right now, they might scoff and think you are an invalid shepherd. But the opinions of other people are utterly worthless. It is only God’s assessment of you which will stand, and if you have been walking with Him, then He is very pleased with you. When God is pleased with souls, He rewards them with the greatest treasure of all: a closer walk with Him. That is what you’re on your way to, and your crumbling faith is a critical step in that direction.
It is a great privilege to be chosen by God to shepherd His flock. Don’t miss the very high compliment He has given you by entrusting you with such an assignment. And now that He has set to work to bind you even closer to Himself by strengthening your foundation of trust, how can you say that you are in a terrible place? You are in an awesome place. You are a privileged soul who has received an invitation for greater intimacy with your Maker, and all you have to do is stay honest in your soul and wait for Him to resolve all this for you. Place all of those distressing questions in front of you and ask God to have His total way in your life. He will fix this mess, and when He does, you will be in a much better place than you were back when you thought that this was a place that good shepherds were never supposed to end up. Good shepherds don’t sit around stagnating in their personal walks with God. They grow continuously, and growth requires change.
Faith in Crisis: How to Grow Through the Storm
Unintentionally Leading God’s Flock Astray (Help for Pastors & Priests)