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One of the most thrilling moments in a serious Christian’s life is when he suddenly finds his great confidence in God crumbling to dust right in front of him. As his faith melts away like ice cubes in a pot of boiling water, the Christian is left feeling completely helpless and unable to stop the erosion process. In a horrifyingly short period of time, he goes from being totally confident about so many things to being in serious doubt about everything–even the reality of God. Beliefs that used to have such a clear ring of truth suddenly sound so ludicrous that the Christian can’t talk himself into accepting them any longer. His doubts become so intense and his faith so non-existent, that he feels he has no choice but to thrust the whole concept of God away from him and find some way to try and deal with the dark, meaningless existence that fills the place where his confidence once was.
As we said, this is one of the most thrilling moments in a serious Christian’s life. Of course it doesn’t feel thrilling when you’re the one going through it—instead, it feels terrifying and identity shattering. It’s only after you emerge from this nightmarish period—which you will—that you will be able to look back and see why it was such a critical experience for you to go through. Meanwhile, this post will help you understand why this is happening to you, how you should respond, and how you should expect this crisis to end.
First, let’s talk about how you got here. In your relationship with God, there are two parties involved: you and Him. The kind of crisis you are currently in was entirely initiated by Him, and because He gave you no warning about what He was about to do to you, you were completely caught off guard.
Now it’s important for you to understand how your current crisis differs from another very common issue that often results in Christians converting to atheism. For many Christians, life is going along just fine until God suddenly does something to them that they consider to be horrifying and totally unforgivable. At this point, Christians find themselves forced into a corner where they are being challenged to deepen their submission to God and accept His Divine right to do whatever He wants whenever He wants. Rather than accept the challenge, many Christians choose to rebel, and they tell God that they are officially divorcing Him. They then flee to atheism as a means of expressing their refusal to accept God’s sovereignty. They are enraged about the lines that God has crossed with them, and they are determined to hold an eternal grudge. The only way that they will come down off of their high horse is if God is willing to grovel to them, which of course He isn’t. So the Christian throws up a wall between himself and God, and he begins a long-term sulk which he often hopes God will find personally wounding. While these people’s claims to have lost their faith in God can make them sound like they are in the same place that you are, they’re really not. The first group is in a state of spiritual rebellion, for they are intentionally withholding submission from God and insisting that they should be able to define who He is and what He can do. This is not what you’re doing.
The kind of crisis we are addressing in this post is not a result of souls digging their stubborn little heels in and refusing to accept the sovereignty of God. You didn’t get in your current crisis by refusing to accept God’s will for your life. While some Christians choose to throw their faith away in an act of rebellion, your faith was ripped away from you against your will. The solid foundation that you once stood on has eroded for reasons that you can’t explain. Often the kind of crisis you’re in does not occur in a sudden, clearly defined moment—it’s more like an unsettling feeling which starts creeping over you. At first, you try to shake it off, but it only gets stronger until you feel like it’s strangling the life out of your confidence in God.
A correct understanding of how you got where you are will help you steer clear of useless responses. When you run to atheism because you’re having a hissy fit about submitting to God, then you need to own up to what you’re doing, repent, and ask Him to help you embrace your place as the creature who doesn’t get to control your own Creator (see Returning to the God You Divorced: Guidance for Christians). But when your crisis is the result of God strategically dismantling your faith, rebellion is not an issue, therefore trying to repent is a total waste of time. God is not mad at you, He isn’t rejecting you, and He hasn’t left you. The terrifying position He has forced you into is not a form of Divine punishment. Instead, it is actually an indication that God is about to pull you much closer to Him than you ever were before.
Right now you’re like a man who has just been thrown into an elevator against his will. What makes the whole experience so confusing is that the man thought he was already living on the top floor of his building. And yet as the doors to the elevator close and the whole thing starts to rise upward, the man suddenly realizes that his assumptions were wrong. It turns out that the man’s building is much higher than he realized and he’s going to be very pleasantly surprised when the elevator finally stops and lets him out on a level that is much higher than the one he was living at.
The kind of crisis God has thrust you into is one that He usually reserves for souls who are very sincere in their pursuit of Him. This kind of crisis is wasted on the half-committed. It’s only serious seekers who benefit from this kind of transition—the souls who really want to find truth and have a meaningful bond with their Creator. Sincere seekers of truth come in a wide range of religious backgrounds and life experiences. You might not have been firmly planted in Christianity when God did this to you—instead, your faith might have been rooted in some other religion which you have now lost all confidence in. Regardless of where souls start, this kind of crisis drives them all into the same miserable position of feeling like they now have no idea what truth is. Once strong confidence is shattered, it seems impossible for it to ever be rebuilt.
So then, let’s summarize. You want to know the truth about God—the real truth. You want to have a positive relationship with whoever the real God is, and you want to succeed with Him, whatever that entails. You didn’t arrive at these goals on your own—the real God has been leading you to them. It is precisely because you have been responding so well to His previous convictions that He has now blown your confidence in spiritual matters to smithereens. And now that we understand how you got here, let’s talk about the why.
In our material, we often say that relating to your non-human Creator is quite different than relating to another human. If a man wants his marriage to last, would he intentionally sabotage it by finding ways to annihilate his wife’s trust in him? Of course not, and yet this is exactly what God has done with you. Whenever God starts acting in ways that feel negative to us, we naturally project human motivations onto Him. What would motivate a man to intentionally rip the element of trust out of his relationship with another human? We can’t imagine a man acting this way unless he had decided that he no longer wanted that relationship in his life. This kind of sabotaging behavior feels intensely negative to us, thus souls in your position can’t help feeling like if there is a God, then He must harboring very hostile feelings towards them. This kind of assumption adds to your misery, because now you’re not only feeling adrift in a sea of unresolvable doubts, but you also feel like if you ever did get back to understanding who the real God is, you’d no longer have any hope of getting into a good place with Him. And yet the truth is that since God is so very different than humans, your logical assessment of His motivations is completely wrong. Big sigh of relief there.
Human beings are extremely limited creatures who are often incapable of fixing what they break. This is why we are so careful in the relationships that we care about—because we are afraid of doing irreparable damage to the bond. If your current problems were happening in the context of a human relationship, then you would indeed have a major mess on your hands. But because it’s your relationship with God that’s in a crisis, you are in a far better place. God is not limited like humans are. He is more than capable of fixing anything that He breaks, and this means that He can afford to take risks in His relationship with you that you couldn’t get away with taking in your relationships with other humans. And because this a Creator-creature dynamic that God is cultivating with you, it requires very different handling than a creature-creature dynamic. This thing that God is doing to you which feels so awful is actually a very positive and necessary experience for you to go through if you’re going to get where you and God both want you to be.
Now in our material, we frequently mention four soul attitudes which are essential to you thriving in your relationship with God. Reverence, submission, dependency and trust, are the foundation upon which intimacy with God is built. These four soul attitudes function like the four pillars that are holding up the roof of a building. The roof can’t be put on until the four pillars are in place and of equal height. Maybe your reverence and submission pillars are very tall, but your trust pillar is a short stub. In such a situation, you will need God to do some major work on your trust pillar so that the thing can grow taller. This is how it works in real life: God is cultivating those four critical pillars in your personal dynamic with Him, and the crisis He has currently thrust you in is about adding serious footage to your pillars of dependency and trust.
The soul attitude of dependency says “I can do nothing without God.” All four of the critical soul attitudes come down to you accepting and embracing certain core truths about who God is and how He operates. As a Sovereign, All-Powerful Creator who reigns with absolute control over everything He creates, God says that you can do nothing without Him. He is the One who sustains your existence, He is the One who enables you to understand truth, and He is the One who controls every aspect of your existence. While God can exist apart from you, you cannot exist apart from Him. You are totally dependent on Him in every area.
Now as a human, you are familiar with the concept of things depending on other things in order to function. Your cell phone can’t function without a battery. Your body can’t function without oxygen. So when God says that you are dependent on Him for all things because He is the One sustaining your existence, this doesn’t sound too difficult to get your mind around. And yet Christians often feel that they understand dependency far better than they actually do. Our grasp of this concept comes in stages, with some aspects of dependency seeming more obvious than others. One aspect of dependency which tends to be harder to grasp is our dependency on God to reveal truth to us. When you grow up in a religious community of folks, the reality of God is often assumed, along with many other beliefs. It doesn’t even occur to you to question the validity of your beliefs until God starts giving you reasons to doubt the things you’ve always been taught.
Now in the process of spiritually maturing us, God is constantly chipping away at one belief or another. What is making your situation such a crisis is that God is attacking a concept that many of your beliefs have in common. For example, Christians can dicker over the meaning of a single passage of Scripture, and that can be somewhat upsetting for those who have always viewed that passage a certain way. But questioning one passage of Scripture is quite different than questioning everything. If God wants to raze your entire theology to the ground, then instead of challenging your thinking on one particular issue, He will dig deeper and start attacking the very source of your beliefs. For example, just who was it that taught you everything you once believed? Humans and their written Scriptures? Well, since when can humans be trusted to tell you the straight scoop about anything? Humans are easily confused, easily deceived, and extremely limited in understanding. Once God points out to you that your entire system of beliefs was built on human traditions and theories, He can topple your whole theology. After all, if you can’t really tell the difference between God talking to you and humans talking to you, then you can’t really claim to know jack.
Before God moves you on to advanced stages of spiritual discernment, He wants you to be very clear on how desperately you need Him to teach you in life. God is the only Source of truth. He is the only Teacher you can trust. We frequently remind you of these two truths in our material, but you won’t grasp how critical these principles are until God rips the cover off of your own confidence and shows you that the whole thing has been based on human hearsay.
You will never know God unless He wants to be known by you. You will never find truth until God brings it to you. In your relationship with God, you are never in control, you never lead, and you are incapable of initiating. This relationship is a complete departure from any relationship that you experience on earth. You cannot find God like a man finds a treasure by following clever clues that humans left behind. No one finds God—He comes to them. Every choice you make in your relationship with God—every conversation, every comment, and every response—is initiated by Him. When God talks to you, it’s like the call from an unknown number that comes in on your cell—you can choose to answer or ignore the call, but you can’t initiate a new call to that number because you don’t know what it is. God always initiates in His relationship with you. He controls the pace at which you mature, and the rate at which you learn. He even controls your seemingly random musings about Him. It won’t even occur to you to wonder certain things about God unless He prompts you to do so. So you see, this business about you being totally dependent on God is much farther reaching than you realize and it has life-changing implications.
The only reason your relationship with God even exists is because He wants it to. The only reason you exist is because He wants you to. Dependency isn’t just about realizing how non-existent your control over God is. It’s also about realizing how personal God’s interest in you is. By ripping your theology to shreds and throwing doubt on every belief you’ve ever had, God is clearing out all of the beliefs you’ve accepted because of your faith in humans and He’s preparing you to experience what it’s like to have God teach you directly in life. This isn’t to say that nothing you believed before was right. But it’s vital that you see God as the One who is resurrecting that belief instead of just falling back on your old system of trusting humans.
Up until now, you’ve been like a student who sits in a classroom eagerly accepting whatever human teachers write on the large blackboard at the front of the room. Many human teachers come in and out of the room, and they each jot down a new idea on the board which you don’t question. Eventually the board is crammed full and all of that scribbling represents your previous beliefs about God.
Now let’s continue with this classroom metaphor. The crisis you’re currently in was caused by God suddenly appearing in the seat beside you and saying things like, “Why are you so quick to believe what these people are telling you? How do you know that any of them even know what they’re talking about?” It was these comments that caused you to start squirming in your seat and viewing that blackboard in a negative light. At first, you tried to ignore what God was saying, but He wouldn’t stop nagging at you with those disturbing questions. Thanks to His persistent pestering, you reached the point where you lost all confidence in what was written on that board. Just looking at all of those notes became so agitating to you, that you finally had to get up and erase it all just to get it out of your face. As years of insights were turned into chalk dust, you sank down into a serious depression. But God has a huge smile on His face because this is exactly what He wanted you to do. He now gets up, picks up a piece of chalk, and says, “Now I will teach you what is right.”
So what is God going to write on that board? Will He rewrite some of the things that you erased? Probably, but the huge difference will be that you’re now going to see Him as the One who is doing the teaching. Before you didn’t see Him as your Teacher—your trust was anchored in humans, instead. But now that God has provoked you into wiping the whole board clean and letting go of everything you thought you knew, He has you perfectly positioned to re-anchor your trust entirely in Him. Be clear about this: God will start writing on that board, and when He does, you will know that what He’s telling you is the truth. Right now you don’t have any confidence—just a bunch of anxiety as you stare at that huge blank board. And yet while you think that blankness represents the death of faith, it actually represents the beginning of a fabulous and very necessary change in who it is you’re putting your faith in.
It’s so easy to say that our trust needs to be anchored in God alone, but it’s an agonizing process to get that to happen in real life. This is why we began this post by saying that you’re in a thrilling place—because you are actually in the process of making a transition that most souls will never make. You will never really know the truth until you are recognizing God as your Teacher. And you aren’t going to recognize Him as your Teacher until He drives all other teachers out of the room and gets you to throw out everything they’ve ever taught you. To get your faith properly anchored in God, everything must be put up for revision. You can’t afford to hold back certain concepts that your ego really wants to be true. You can’t ever gain the kind of confidence you want to have until you have erased that entire board and waited for God to pick up the chalk and start writing. So you see, while you feel like you’ve lost your connection with God, He’s actually the One who has initiated this whole crisis for the purpose of greatly strengthening your personal bond with Him. The only thing that’s really getting destroyed right now is trust that was anchored in the wrong thing. But when it comes to what you’re about to gain, that is a very long list.
So what do you do in the meantime? You dig your heels in and refuse to be intimidated by the vast blankness of that board. If your honest truth is that you don’t have one shred of confidence about any spiritual concept, then stand on that. Don’t try to fake faith, because that’s a backwards step. Embrace the emptiness. Embrace the total loss of confidence and let that pile of questions raise to the sky. You’re not sure who God is or even if He is—fabulous. The fact that your doubts have obliterated the most fundamental concepts of your faith just demonstrates how completely that board has been erased, and a complete rejection of everything you ever believed just because of what some human told you is vital to getting the most out of this exercise. You will have nothing until God starts writing on that board, and He will as soon as He feels you’ve learned what He’s wanted you to learn by staring at that blank board. Right now, feeling the scope of the nothingness is critical, because it’s helping you realize what it really means to be a creature who is absolutely dependent on your Creator. Once God starts writing on that blank board—which He will—you are going to discover the epic difference between just believing in God and personally knowing Him. Welcome to the threshold of intimacy with God.
Why the Holy Spirit Left You: Guidance for Panicking Christians
Shepherding the Flock When Your Own Faith is in Crisis (Guidance for Pastors & Priests)
Faith in Crisis: How to Grow Through the Storm