19 April 2021

Faith crisis: When our core beliefs get shaken. (And yours is coming.)

Hopefully the main reason, or at least one of the reasons, you’re reading this blog is you’re interested in growing your relationship with Christ Jesus.

Sad to say, a lot of Christians aren’t interested in any such thing. Not that they aren’t interested in Jesus! It’s because they assume they’re doing just fine. Life is good, so God is good all the time, and all the time God is good. Heck, some of you might think this, and you’re just reading this blog ’cause I amuse you, or you generally agree with me… or you’re looking for evidence I’m some heretic. Whatever.

Such people will continue to believe they’re doing just fine. That is, till they slam into a faith crisis. Or as Christians prefer to call it, a “crisis of faith.” It’s when we discover we’re wrong about God. Hopefully we already knew this—we get that nobody understands him 100 percent except Jesus; we’re certainly not claiming we have Jesus-level knowledge. (Well I’m certainly not. I don’t know about some preachers.) What turns our error into a full-on crisis, is intentionally or not, we turned these wrong ideas into our core beliefs. We made ’em vital to our entire understanding of God. And once we found out we’re wrong, of course we’re rocked to our core. Now we gotta reexamine everything.

Unless your life is short (which’ll no doubt trigger someone else’s crisis of faith), faith crises are inevitable. Everybody has one. Everybody. You’re gonna have one someday. Brace yourself.

The only exception is of course Jesus. ’Cause like I said, a faith crisis is when we discover we’re wrong—and Jesus isn’t wrong. He fully, absolutely does know God. Jn 1.18 The rest of us aren’t quite so omniscient, much as we’d like to imagine we’re God-experts by now. Even longtime Christians have faith crises. Sometimes big huge ones, if we’ve invested a lot of effort, time, and our own reputation, into promoting beliefs which turn out to be wrong. If you spent all your life promoting cessationism, but Jesus appears to you one night and tells you to cut that out, you’ve gotta humble yourself so much. If you’re not used to humility, it’s gonna be rough.

So when the crisis comes, Christians either

  1. Grab Jesus’s hand tight, and let him lead us through it.
  2. Quit Jesus altogether.
  3. Go into serious denial, shut off our doubts, shut down our faith, and only pretend to be growing Christians from then on.
  4. Yep. It’s either follow Jesus, quit Jesus, or lobotomize your Christianity. Like those cessationists whom Jesus ordered to repent… who haven’t. If you don’t wanna go their route, work on that humility! This way when the Spirit shows us we’re wrong, no matter how much it shakes us up, we’ll know better than to insist, “No I’m not wrong,” and stop following Jesus—one way or another

    The crisis of faith?

    Often a faith crisis is called “the crisis of faith,” because people assume there’s only one type of faith crisis.

    It’s this one: Bad stuff happened in a good God’s universe. As it does. But immature Christians assume bad stuff will never ever happen to us, because we’ve been taught all our Christian lives that all things work together for our good. Right? We sing it in our worship songs, and wear it on our T-shirts.

    Then bad stuff does happen. As it happens to absolutely everyone. Everybody dies, which means everybody’s gonna have a loved one who dies, including people whom we really, really don’t want to die. Parents will die. Children might die. Best friends might die unexpectedly, even violently, sometimes painfully. Turns out God doesn’t magically rescue us from all our woes. Not that he ever promised to. “In the world ye shall have tribulation,” Jesus stated. Jn 16.33 KJV He didn’t make exceptions for his favorites.

    But naïve Christians don’t believe this, so they freak out. They believed God promises to keep us safe. He didn’t. So now they’re not sure they even believe in him anymore.

    Okay. Yes this particular form of faith crisis happens. All the time. So often, you can see why people think it’s “the crisis of faith,” because it’s the most familiar form it takes: People find out they’re dead wrong about God—pun totally intended—and it shakes ’em to their core.

    I blame it on bad pastoring. Pastors have a duty to tell Christians this isn’t how God works. They know—or should know, from personal experience—it’s false. They should say so. They don’t.

    And too often it’s because these pastors don’t believe it either. They think, and preach, God does make all things work together for our good. Turns out they’ve somehow never been through this particular faith crisis themselves. Or they have, but they’re in massive denial about it: A loved one died, and it was hard, but God caused such wonderful things to happen as a result of that death, that instead of grief they now have warm fuzzy feelings. God truly does make all things work together for our good.

    Yeah, no. This is a bright red waving flag meaning these pastors are spiritually immature. And therefore not qualified to be in church leadership.

    Yes, I’m entirely serious: If you went through a faith crisis, and came out the other end not recognizing and confessing you were wrong, you’re still wrong, and you’ve resisted the Holy Spirit’s attempt to correct you. Are you sure you want people who ignore the Holy Spirit, to be in charge of your church? I don’t. Pretty sure Jesus doesn’t either.

    Some crises are harder than others.

    When a pagan comes to Jesus, she figures now she’s gotta give up certain activities Christians frown upon. Like porn: She’s heard good Christians don’t get mixed up in porn, so she shouldn’t either.

    But of course she discovers all her Christian friends are super into porn. So she’s so relieved—hey, it’s no problem!—and that’s what she’ll believe from now on. If her pastor rails against porn, won’t matter; she’ll keep her own opinion. And keep it to herself, same as all the other inconsistent Christians.

    Thing is, porn is a problem. As the Holy Spirit within us is gonna show us as he’s working on us, pulling us towards truth. But sometimes it’s gonna take time. The Spirit has lots of things to teach us, and he might consider these other things, for now, more important than quitting porn. And once he gets to it, sometimes we’ll be resistant. (Or we’re too busy with all the porn.)

    But once the Spirit finally does make an issue of it, we’re not gonna grow any further as Christians till we heed him. Because these things are just that important.

    The crisis is when this new information or revelation is just too much for us.

    It’s actually not. The Spirit knows what he’s doing, and knows precisely how far to push or stretch us. But we haven’t always learned to trust him. We lack faith. So to us, it feels like a crisis. Either we accept what the Spirit’s teaching us and keep moving forward, or we have to stop. And by stop, I really do mean stop.

    For some this isn’t that huge a crisis. It’s not traumatic at all: “I have to stop doing that? Okay, I’ll stop doing that.” Or “That’s so obvious! Of course I believe that; how could I have missed it?” It shook a core belief, but we’re still kinda flexible on those core beliefs, because we know Jesus is more important than our fundamentals.

    For others it’s traumatic. If you think fundamentals are as important as Jesus, you’re gonna fight for those fundamentals as hard as you would Jesus—and if you think they’re more important, you’ll fight Jesus all the harder. If these are fond, beloved beliefs, we’re gonna be horrified by the idea they’re wrong—or worse, lies—or embarrassed to discover we adopted a worldview which is in any way contrary to God. We might refuse to accept our churches are cults, or our leaders and friends are terribly misguided—or worse, hypocrites.

    And sometimes yes it’s traumatic… but we’ve learned to trust the Spirit 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 the shakeup. 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 6.59-60, 66-69 KWL
    59 Jesus said this while teaching in the Kfar Nahum synagogue.
    60 So, many of his students who heard him said, “This word is hard. Who can listen to it?”
    66 As a result of this lesson, many of his students went home and no longer followed him.
    67 So Jesus told the Twelve, “Don’t you also want to go?”
    68 Simon Peter answered Jesus, “Master, to whom will we go?
    You have lessons of life in the next age, 69 and we believed, and came to know 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. Jn 6.32-59 They were too materialistic. They only thought of what Jesus could give them, and Jesus’s metaphors made ’em realize he was talking some serious commitment. Didn’t take much to trigger their crisis of faith, for they had very little faith to begin with, and weren’t willing to push through it with Jesus. They just left.

    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, the 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.