Two Ways To Confront a Crisis of Faith

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shatteredclay asked a question:

Pastor! I find so much joy, hope, truth, and God in your words on an almost daily basis. Recently, I started a new job that isn’t my *first* choice, but I needed work, God gave me work, and I am trying to honor Him by doing this job the best I can. Yesterday, a coworker asked me how he could confront his recent “crisis of faith”! He’s doubting God’s existence, etc. I’m honored he shared with me, and scrambling to help him without overwhelming him! I KNOW you’re the man for this question!

Hey dear friend, thank you so much for your trust with such a huge issue, and I’m completely humbled by your love for your coworker. You’re really doing a good thing.

May I first say: Every person in the world will run into a crisis of faith. It’s inevitable. We need to know that this doesn’t make us “bad” or “sinful” or “back-sliders.” You don’t have to read very far in the Bible to see men and women of God who also doubted and panicked and became mad at God.

I think doubt is a good thing, because it forces us to confront our deepest beliefs. Unfortunately, many Christians are taught that doubt is “disobedience” or “unconfessed sin,” so they either guilt-trip themselves into a faith-frenzy or just walk away altogether.

There are two helpful things to consider in a season of doubt. The first is intellectual fulfillment and the second is existential satisfaction.

The Christian — and really, every person alive — needs both things to thrive and survive.

My first major faith-crisis came shortly after I came to Christ in college, when I doubted the Resurrection. I asked several pastors for help about the evidence. They gave me tons of research on the issue. Even more so, I studied all the arguments against the Resurrection, and while this was a scary process, I found that both sides had legitimate arguments: so I had to decide.

It came to a moment of trust, where I could choose to believe the Christian faith had a coherent, empirical history underneath its teaching. But it was a huge achievement to even see that Christianity could be intellectually fulfilling, and has in fact fulfilled the greatest minds of history.

The second issue, the existential part, is a much more fluid, lifelong process that requires the diligent application of faith as well as the messy church community. Head-knowledge is helpful, but it’s the active reliance on God in the everyday trenches that really brings Jesus to life.

Here’s an example. I served at a homeless ministry for about four-five years (which has recently closed its doors due to low funding, sadly), and I would volunteer in the food serving line. Hundreds of people showed up every Monday.

One particular Monday, as I was handing out mashed potatoes to smiling faces and empty plates, I suddenly got giddy at serving all these needy people. It was an incredible joy to give my life to these strangers with their outstretched hands — and then I wondered if this is how God feels about us, as we extend our empty plates to Him. I was struck with the joy He must have in giving us Himself. I remember going back to my car in a daze, and I sat there for a while. I wept. I thought about how there’s no other love like that in the universe, who would so freely give us His Son even when He saw the darkest depths of our hearts.

This existential encounter with God can’t really be scheduled. This is why I often tell my friends to keep serving, keep praying, keep singing anyway, because God meets us in the places we least expect when we least expect it. I don’t mean that we just fake it or force it, because we do need a break sometimes and to just be, but Christianity makes the most sense when we’re becoming who we’re called to be by doing His work. We get glimpses of a supernatural divinity breaking into our everyday world, and over a lifetime, these have fortified my shaky faith to persevere, even in the hardest of seasons.

I must apologize that all this sounds rather mechanical and even ambiguous. The truth, of course, is that a crisis of faith is incredibly difficult to overcome, and anything I said above is no magical plug-in formula that will bring everyone back around. Some walk away, for years or for life, and the best we can continue to do is be encouraging, to be wise, to be inviting, to be Christ for them.

I haven’t found a single silver bullet or a one-argument-fits-all, and it wouldn’t work anyway. I’ve been at the bottom of doubt, and nothing reached me there. The best my friends could do was pray and stay and listen. And in the end, we must listen and love so much more than we lecture. We cannot force anyone to meet us where we are: we meet in the dirt first.

— J.S.

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