Every Christian goes through the crisis of faith. It’s not the time to numb one’s mind.
Part of normal, healthy Christian growth is discovering we’re wrong. ’Cause we are.
I’m wrong, you’re wrong; every Christian is wrong. We all have incorrect beliefs about the universe, God, Christ, the bible, salvation, how Christians oughta behave, everything. We learned them from other messed-up Christians. Or we learned them from our messed-up world, but assume they’re still correct, ’cause our fellow Christians believe ’em too. Or even despite what our fellow Christians insist.
Fr’instance when a pagan comes to Jesus, she figures now she’s gotta give up all her porn. (Or any other frowned-upon activity.) She’s heard good Christians don’t get mixed up in that. But then she discovers all her Christian friends are super into porn, and she’s so relieved: It’s no problem! And that’s what she’ll believe from now on. If her pastor rails against it, doesn’t matter. She’ll keep her opinion, and keep it to herself.
Well, the Holy Spirit’s working on us, pulling us towards truth. But that’s gonna take time. Sometimes we’re resistant, or too distracted by all the porn. Either way, the Spirit has things to teach us, and we’re not gonna grow any further as Christians till we learned them. Because they’re just that important.
The problem is when this new information or revelation is too much. It’s really not; the Spirit knows what he’s doing. But we don’t trust him enough. We lack faith. So we hit a crisis. We either have to accept what the Spirit’s teaching us and keep moving, or we have to stop.
And by stop, I mean stop. We quit Christianity.
Which takes a few different forms. The most common one is not, as you’d suspect, leaving God and embracing atheism, or some other religion. Much easier to embrace Christianism. We stop following the Holy Spirit and start following a system. Might be the system we’re already dabbling in: We decide to get knee-deep in Christian apologetics, or Calvinism, dispensationalism, Fundamentalism, Methodism—pick any -ism. Might get heavily involved in the Christian Left or the Christian Right: Christianity becomes all about abolishing the death penalty, or same-sex marriage. Might quit church and try the go-it-alone route. Or might find a like-minded church which preaches about how the world needs to change… but us? Doin’ just fine.
We take the ideas we’ve embraced thus far, enshrine them and establish them as our system or denomination… and live in its rotting carcass, and pretend it doesn’t stink. Because once you’ve stopped growing, you’re dead.
Or, ideally, we don’t stop. We accept where the Spirit’s taking us, tough it out, and keep growing.
This is the
Different Christians, different impact.
The reason it’s called a crisis of faith is ’cause it’s so often traumatic. We had our blinders on an awfully long time. We’re stunned to discover our core beliefs, or our fondest beliefs, were wrong—or worse, lies. We’re embarrassed to discover we adopted a worldview which required very, very little from us—sometimes out of laziness, sometimes doubt. We’re horrified to find our churches were cults, or our leaders and friends just as misguided—or worse, hypocrites.
For some, it’s not that huge of a crisis; it’s not traumatic at all. “That’s so obvious! Of course I believe that. How could I have missed it?” We weren’t resisting it so much as surrounding ourselves with the wrong crowd. (This was my experience with charismatic Christianity: Though I grew up in an anti-charismatic church, I’d never adopted their attitudes. Making the switch was easy.)
Other times it would be traumatic—if we hadn’t embraced the Spirit so absolutely. We trust him so much, we don’t care which of our dearly-held habits and beliefs he overthrows. We’ll change everything for him. Seriously, everything. It won’t be easy, but it’ll never shake us away from God: Following God is the entire reason for the shakeup.
But not every Christian believes the Spirit’s the person behind it. They believe, and preach, all doubt comes from the devil. God’s all about faith, right? Never doubt.
Especially when these are deeply held, deeply cherished beliefs. Or when we’ve been taught Christians have to believe ’em, otherwise we’re not truly Christians. In the church I grew up in, we were taught not only does the bible have no errors, if if did have an error in it, we’d have to throw it out. And for that matter, we’d have to throw out our religion, ’cause everything we know about God comes from bible. (Y’see, they don’t believe God talks to people anymore. So prayer is one-way, all prophets are frauds, and personal appearances by Jesus don’t happen and don’t matter.) When you raise the stakes so outrageously high, it’s no surprise people will fight their doubts tooth and nail.
Yep, even fight the Spirit over them. Hopefully we’ll lose. But you know how stubborn people can be. Defeat them in an argument, and they’ll never concede; they’ll just bide their time, look for better evidence, come back later, and restart the argument. And some of us are the very same way with the Spirit. He tells us to put something down; we go looking in the bible, or among fellow Christians, for proof that we can take it back up. Just like the hypothetical new believer and her porn. We don’t accept the Spirit has the last word and final say; we want the final say.
So it becomes a struggle—a crisis of faith. We fight it out. And since we can’t possibly win (the Holy Spirit is God Almighty, after all) the only thing we can do is retreat—and live our lives in dead faith, or no faith.
Divorce is not an option.
This passage bears reading.
John 6.59-69 KWL
- 59 Jesus said this while teaching in the Kfar Nahum synagogue.
- 60 All his listening students said, “This teaching is hardcore. Can anyone heed it?”
- 61 Jesus, realizing his students were whispering to one another about this,
- told them, “Does this freak out out?
- 62 Suppose you see the Son of Man ascend to where he previously was?
- 63 Spirit’s what makes you alive. Flesh doesn’t help you any.
- The things I’m telling you are spirit. They’re life. 64 But some of you won’t believe it.”
- For Jesus knew from the start there are unbelievers—
- and a certain one will be turning him in.
- 65 He said, “This is why I’ve told you this: Nobody can come to me
- when they’d not been given me by the Father.”
- 66 From this, many of his students went back to where they came from.
- They were no longer walking with him.
- 67 So Jesus told the Twelve, “Don’t you also want to go?”
- 68 Simon Peter answered him, “Master, to whom would we go?
- You have the words of life in the age to come,
- 69 and we believed and knew: You’re God’s saint.”
Simon Peter wasn’t Jesus’s best student for nothing. He knew even though the Master might teach something hard to understand, or even impossible to believe, he has the words of eternal life. There was no other option for Peter. There’s Jesus. That’s it.
Not everybody thinks this way. Lots of folks are really just dabbling in Christianity: They were raised Christian, or their version of Christianism works for them. Present them a convenient option, and they’re outa here. I knew a man who quit Christianity for Buddhism. Growing up, he grew tired of always asking God’s forgiveness for sins which he never intended to stop committing. He heard the Buddhists didn’t consider such behavior a sin. (He heard wrongly, but the “Buddhists” he knew were, like Christianists, just adopting a form of Buddhism instead of the Buddha’s actual teachings.) So he decided that was the religion for him, and switched easily. People can adapt to any religion when it lets us worship our real gods.
In the case of Jesus’s students who bailed on him, they couldn’t handle his teaching about the bread of life.
We can’t think like that. We have to determine now, once and for all: No matter what the Spirit puts us through, we’re with him. We’re committed. Our relationship with God is for better or worse, not just better. For richer or poorer, not just richer. In sickness and in health, not just health. Yeah, it’s exactly like marriage. The church is the bride of Christ, remember? We have to be just as committed. More, considering how easy our culture finds it to divorce.
What shakes, and what doesn’t.
I live in California, and we get earthquakes. (So does Israel.) So I know a little something about earthquake-proofing your buildings. You don’t achieve this by building on a firm foundation. When the ground shakes, so does the foundation; doesn’t matter how firm it is. Only those who live outside earthquake country would write worship songs about “how firm a foundation… is laid for your faith.”
Certain parts of the building are designed to stay standing. They may shake. That’s okay, so long that when the shaking’s over, the building stays up. The ancients knew this, and based their buildings’ stability not on foundations, but on various solid, stable stones. We call ’em cornerstones.
Nowadays our buildings are made with a wood and steel framework. (One which shakes, but stays up, in an earthquake.) So cornerstones tend to be ceremonial. But not so in Jesus’s day. And it’s why cornerstones were so important. When Paul wrote this:
Ephesians 2.19-22 KWL
- 19 So then you’re no longer foreigners and strangers.
- Instead you’re fellow citizens of saints. Family members of God.
- 20 Constructions on the foundation of the apostles and prophets—
- Christ Jesus being the foundation wall himself.
- 21 In Christ the whole building fits together, growing into a holy temple, by the Master.
- 22 In Christ you’re also built together into a dwelling-place for God, by the Spirit.
notice who’s in the most stable position. It‘s not the apostles and prophets—the folks who wrote the bible, so most folks tend to skip over any apostles and prophets currently leading our churches, and point to the bible. Fine; point to the bible. It is the foundation of our faith; they’re not wrong. But useful as the bible is, it’s not bible. It’s Christ. I live in earthquake country. The foundation won’t keep a shaking building up. The framework, the foundation walls, the cornerstone, does. Christ does.
I point this out ’cause when we Christians have our crises of faith, fellow Christians tell us to turn to the scriptures: The bible has all the answers. But we discover, to our horror, it actually doesn’t. It tells us what God is like, and how he saved us. But the details we seek for our various crises: Often not in there. Don’t need to be. We’re supposed to trust God.
We’re supposed to trust God despite our not having all the answers, despite his not always giving us answers. We’re meant to turn to him. But that’s not what we do. We’re told the bible has answers. So we scour the bible for ’em. And when we don’t find them, we get very, very frustrated—the bible won’t give us what we were promised!—and we despair, and quit.
Or we try other routes. Find some Christian guru who knows all. We’ll try friends, or popular Christian books, or TV preachers—anyone who claims to have a solution. And y’know, they might. And might not. Maybe they went through a similar crisis, and the Spirit led ’em through it, so they have good advice. But maybe they turned to someone other than the Spirit, so they have rotten advice. Or maybe they’ve never been through your crisis—or any crisis, ’cause they turned Christianist long ago, so their only advice is, “Stop doubting. Just believe really hard.” You quench that Spirit. How dare he lead you into truth and stress you out like that.
No, I’m not saying ditch our fellow Christians and try the go-it-alone route. Absolutely not. But we need to figure out who the trustworthy Christians are before our crises hit. Otherwise we’ll turn to anyone who tells us what we want to hear, rather than people whom we already know hear God.
Refuse to accept simplistic, useless answers from Christians who deny their doubts, insist we should never doubt, and pretend they never doubt. Challenge the leaders of the church to deal with your serious questions—to stop watering down Christianity in the mistaken belief that just because the gospel is a simple idea, everything in Christendom is simple. Get real. That, too, is what the Spirit wants.
Many Christians claim the faith crisis is a private, internal struggle, just between us and the Lord; just head to the prayer closet and pray it out. Bad idea. Go ahead and share your struggle with trusted Christians. Let ’em pray for you and with you. Let ’em encourage you; share some of their testimonies about how God got them through their faith crisis. ’Cause we all go through this, and if you hide your crisis you’ll never learn from their experiences.
You’ll have fears. That’s normal. You’ll have doubts. Also normal. You’ll be tempted to pretend everything is just fine. Don’t do that. Don’t turn to hypocrisy. Don’t embrace sin instead of growth.
Our cornerstone is Jesus. So when the bible and fellow Christians are of little help, Spirit of Christ has every answer. Regardless of whether he shares those answers, we gotta trust him. Yes it’s hard. Particularly for those of us who like to have answers. But this is how we do it. Cling to Jesus and ride out the earthquake. Let him shake everything off you which needs to come off.