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Why are we so defensive on God’s behalf?
Why do we become so frightened of hard questions?
Do we think the Bible asks us to defend God’s character, or is it deeper than that?
Not all of the time, but all of us do harbor a bit of the recurring agnostic inside. A tiny voice that says, what if it isn’t true?
What will become of me if it isn’t true?
This flicker of fear lingers so insidiously that when someone asks a questions to which we don’t know the answer, when someone expresses a doubt we ourselves have thought, we tend to lash out, to push away, to shame.
If this piece of what I believe turns out not to be true, perhaps none of it is true.
Is God so fragile?
Is the God who flung the stars into space, who has the power to overcome sin and death so uncertain that one piece of the puzzle can bring the entire edifice crashing down?
Is our God a house of cards?
If your God is a house of cards, you need a new God.
You need a God who is big enough to cradle all our questions, deep enough to hold all our doubts.
You need the God who shows His power through the universe we see, who reveals Himself through His Son in Scripture, who speaks to us through His Spirit within us.
When you know this God, you can let go of your need to defend. You can rest easy with, even welcome the doubts and questions of others.
When you are safe and secure in the LORD Almighty, you become a place for others to find rest. You become a safe place where people can sit with their questions and doubts without feeling shamed or guilty.
What if we as a Church became a place where people could question and yet trust, where people could doubt and yet worship, where people could wonder and yet love.
What if we welcomed the not-so-sure rather than driving them away?
What if we could be comfortable with the hard spaces, acknowledging that not everything has an answer we can know right now?
It starts with you and with me. Can we let go of our fear and trust that our faith is not a house of cards?
Imagine a church where people could worship even when they don’t have it all figured out.
Imagine a church where people could love and serve even in the times when they aren’t quite sure about it all.
They explained it away. They looked for the rain that must come since it was thundering, or even went so far as to call it an angel.
Anything but the voice of God.
Some things are too astounding, too wondrous for our hearts to accept.
The resurrection is one of those things.
The resurrection is anything but dull. The story of God becoming man, being defeated by man, and rising again to defeat death is the most heroic tale of all.
That man should play the tyrant over God and find Him a better man than himself is an astonishing drama indeed. ~ Dorothy Sayers
But it is hard to accept that we cannot save ourselves. It is humiliating to acknowledge that there is absolutely no way we can cleanse our own hearts. It is a bitter and unendurable truth that we are hopelessly imprisoned in our shadows and darkness.
The resurrection throws its light over our darkness in such a daring, audacious way that our helplessness is impossible to ignore.
So we choose to explain away the resurrection or else we attempt to dull its edges so that we cannot be cut.
We choose to explain it away as Jesus’ teachings becoming immortal in the manner of Shakespeare, or as the spirit of Jesus living on in us in the manner of Socrates, or as simply a manner of speaking in the symbolism of the human spirit conquering all.
Yet the resurrection refuses to be explained away.
You can call it nonsense or you can call it lies, but you cannot call it poetry.
You can deny the resurrection and live mired in the fear of inexorable death or you can believe the resurrection and allow it to bring you hopeful life in the now, but you cannot claim to believe in the resurrection and continue on in your darkness and dread.
The remarkable thing about it is that the real truth of the resurrection seems to be too strong for us, because it will not suffer itself to be hidden or concealed in these harmless clothes. ~ Karl Barth
Resurrection always bursts forth, rising up and shouting, “Do you truly believe that the only reason Jesus came, suffered, and died was to bring you empty comfort in the middle of the reality of life?”
No. Unequivocally no. The truth of the resurrection gives us certainty of our outcome. The truth of the resurrection gives us perfect assurance that death is, indeed, defeated and that we are, indeed, able to be presented before God pure and holy.
The truth of the resurrection blazes forth and tells us that everything has changed.
When darkness closes in, will I believe that the light is still there?
Will I trust God’s Word more than my own heart?
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it? ~ Jeremiah 17.9
It’s hard in a world telling us that feelings are what is real. We are taught that whatever we feel, whatever we think, this is truth.
Regardless of what I think or feel, however, there is Truth that is above all else.
And that Truth tells me that I am held closely by God no matter what.
Yet now He has reconciled you to Himself through the death of Christ in His physical body. As a result, He has brought you into His own presence, and you are holy and blameless as you stand before Him without a single fault. ~ Colossians 1.20-22 (Italics mine)
He has already done this, and this will never change. No matter what my feelings tell me.
His thoughts and wisdom come from years of walking steadily towards God.
This father of mine who has read the Bible through every year for years upon years, who yet still is searching and seeking, discovering new depths in this Word that he loves.
We walk through the woods, sunlight blazing through the red and yellow leaves, the sounds of fall in the leaves at our feet. In spurts, in between the happy screams of children running up and down hills, he speaks to me of his latest wonderings.
He wonders about the difference between the writings of Paul and words of Jesus.
“What if…” he feels his way forward. “What if we didn’t have Paul’s letters? What if all we had were the gospels, the words of Jesus? Jesus speaks much more of actions, of behavior, of thoughts and emotions. He almost never speaks of grace.”
He’s right. Jesus doesn’t dwell much on the beauties of grace. His business seems to be with the practical, with the fruit that a life of a disciple should bear.
Only those who do the Father’s commands will enter the Kingdom.
By your words you will be acquitted or condemned.
When asked, What must I do to be saved?, His answer is simple: Keep the commandments.
It is enough to bring despair, if that were the only way to be saved. Obedience for salvation? This is not gospel. This is not good news.
Yet when someone comes to Him for healing, Jesus tells them that it is their own faith that has saved them.
What does it mean, this faith that is a saving faith? What kind of a faith will save us?
Perhaps a clue comes from the times that Jesus tells us, Whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life.
Perhaps it does all come down to whether or not we truly believe Jesus. If we truly believe that His way is best, that He is who He says He is and therefore knows what in this crazy upside down world He’s talking about, then we will obey Him.
Not perfectly and not all the time (Which is where Paul’s grace seems to come in. Which is where Jesus’ statements like it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God…but with God all things are possible seem to bring in grace), but if you really believe then you will allow your heart to be changed.
Sometimes it is dramatic and fast, like Paul. Other times it comes slowly and painfully, small choice by small choice, like the disciples.
It does seem, at times, that there is an apparent contradiction between works and grace in the New Testament.
It also seems, though, that while we can never be good enough to earn our way in, and while it is only by the blood of Christ that we are able to come near to God at all, at the same time, once we have decided that He is truth then our lives should reflect that truth.
A life that is given up to the Lordship of Christ should bear fruit.
We do not try to obey so that we can be loved, but rather the love of Jesus allows us a beginning of the ability to obey, however imperfectly.
The grace brings about the works.
I am still learning, however, and welcome your own wisdom. What would happen if we only had the gospels and not the letters of Paul? How are grace and works reconciled, and should we put a greater emphasis on works?
I watch my littlest follow her sisters around like a puppy. She is desperate to be big enough to join in with their play. She is willing to try anything to keep up with them and to feel a part of their games and, more importantly, their friendship.
I see myself all too well in her. I, too, find myself following after others with whom I desire friendship. I will do things that I don’t enjoy or participate in too many activities just to feel as though I belong.
I find it hard to understand why I do this, to figure out what lies behind this quiet, desperate feeling. Part of the trouble is that there have been too many occasions of friends drifting away as though I weren’t quite worth the effort. I think, though, that an even bigger part of the trouble is my disbelief of what God has told me, of what He has told all of us.
I don’t truly, deep down inside, believe that I am worth being loved.
If I did, it wouldn’t matter how many friendships ended quietly, I would still be ready once again to make myself vulnerable for another.
I don’t believe that I am valuable and that all I truly need is Him. So I chase after other people, trying to prove my worth to them and to myself. I think that I need other people more than I need the approval of my God.
I forget, you see, that I already belong. I belong to the One who tossed the stars into their orbits and who crafted the sweet violet. I belong and I am worth more to Him than all the birds in the air.
Maybe someday I will do a better job of believing it.
There sometimes comes into the heart of all of us a desire to be sure. A sudden longing for certainty about that which we profess to believe.
We wish to be able to say I believe with no niggling of doubt that causes us to draw back from the ringing shout we had wanted to pronounce.
Doubt is that persistent shadow that startles us now and again just when we’d thought we’d left it behind for good. It is that small voice that sometimes lingers and sometimes only whispers and is gone.
We want it to disappear for always. We long to be certain, to be troubled no longer by questions.
Yet I am beginning to discover that certainty is not faith. Certainty is based on evidence, on proof, on concrete and unassailable fact. Faith, however, is relationship. It is risk and it is vulnerability.
Certainty is about control, about predicting behavior. Faith is a gift from me to you, a gift of myself placed into your hands.
I have read about certainty and faith in the context of a marriage. Certainty in marriage is secretly reading all of your spouse’s emails and texts and journals. Certainty in marriage is hiring a detective to follow your spouse to be sure he is being faithful. Certainty in marriage is tapping the phones to be sure of the trustworthiness of your spouse.
Faith in marriage is a gift. It is an offering of myself, of my vulnerability and my heart, to you as one whom I believe to be faithful.
When I trust you, I take a little piece of myself…and put it into your hands. And then I’m vulnerable. Then you respond, and I find out whether you are trustworthy…I give you the gift of my trust, and you give me the gift of your faithfulness. ~ John Ortberg in Faith and Doubt
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not what we truly long for.
If by it (the intellect) we could prove there is a God, it would be of small avail indeed. We must see Him and know Him. ~ George MacDonald in The Curate’s Awakening
Perhaps, after all, certainty is not such a prize to be pursued. Perhaps, after all, God is more pleased with the vulnerable gift of faith than He is by the chasing after an elusive proof of His existence.
I sit in the early morning, looking out the window at the wind making shimmery the leaves of our cottonwood, and remember Kristina. It is the third anniversary of her death, and it sometimes still feels as though we are stumbling through the dark. So much hurt and fear back then, so much hurt and fear all around us now. In this world, it will always be so. There are glimpses of light that keep us going, slight breaths of a hope that keeps our eyes searching the gloom for that bright and beautiful future that is promised, but it is easy to get distracted by the ugliness all around. I am drawn back to a post I wrote soon after Kristina’s death.
In the middle of this pain common to all of us who live in this world, as we sit surrounded by those who love us, it is tempting to add a veneer of softness, to speak in clichés that turn raw, ripped-open pain into a lie. Sometimes this is even encouraged among those of us who follow Christ. Yet to do this denies that we are real, that our hearts can be ripped in two, that our pain and loss can suffocate and almost overwhelm us. To do this denies that Christ is real, that His body and heart were also ripped apart.
My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
When God seems not to place much importance on whether we are free from pain or suffering, it is difficult not to live in a state of paralysis. It seems a formidable task both to acknowledge the depth of pain we feel and also to acknowledge the depth of God’s love for us.
We see this pain in the world around us. We see it all throughout the Bible. Abel. Abraham. Joseph. Moses. Uriah the prophet…murdered for prophesying while Jeremiah was allowed to live. John the Baptist…Jesus’ cousin. All of the apostles…Jesus’ closest friends.
Understanding why Kristina had to die is hard. I might never know the reason.
God’s purposes are not for me to understand His plans: His plan is for me to understand Who He is…Faith is this unwavering trust in the heart of God in the hurt of here.” ~ Ann Voskamp
What can we do when everything inside of us wants to turn tail and run from the painful possibility of God’s loving best? Can we truly trust in the heart of God?
We often learn best through story. One story that helps to show us what to do is written in C.S. Lewis’ story of Narnia, The Silver Chair. Two children (Jill and Scrubb) and one Marsh-wiggle (Puddleglum) are given by Aslan (the Christ-figure) four signs with which to find the lost prince of Narnia. They completely botch the first three signs which leads to their imprisonment with a madman who is chained to a silver chair. The fourth and last sign is that someone “will ask you to do something in my name, in the name of Aslan”. The madman entreats the three travelers to free him, who says:
“Once and for all, I adjure you to set me free. By all fears and all loves, by the bright skies of Overland, by the great Lion, by Aslan himself, I charge you –”
“Oh!” said the three travelers as though they had been hurt. “It’s the sign,” said Puddleglum. “It was the words of the sign,” said Scrubb more cautiously. “Oh, what are we to do?” said Jill.
It was a dreadful question. What had been the use of promising one another that they would not on any account set the Knight free, if they were now to do so the first time he happened to call upon a name they really cared about? On the other hand, what had been the use of learning the signs if they weren’t going to obey them? Yet could Aslan have really meant them to unbind anyone – even a lunatic – who asked it in his name? … They had muffed three already; they daren’t muff the fourth.
“Oh, if only we knew!” said Jill. “I think we do know,” said Puddleglum. “Do you mean you think everything will come right if we do untie him?” said Scrubb.
“I don’t know about that,” said Puddleglum. “You see, Aslan didn’t tell (Jill) what would happen. He only told her what to do. That fellow will be the death of us once he’s up, I shouldn’t wonder. But that doesn’t let us off following the sign.”
That doesn’t let us off following the sign.
We aren’t guaranteed that anything here on earth will turn out all right. We try so hard to grasp at that security, to bring it into existence, but it simply is not there. Instead, if we have nothing else (and we do have so much else!), if we can turn to and trust nothing else, we have the cross.
After his wife of only four years had died of cancer, C. S. Lewis said, “If only I could bear it, or the worst of it, or any of it, instead of her…But is it ever allowed? It was allowed to One, we are told, and I find I can now believe again, that He has done vicariously whatever can be so done. He replies to our babble, ‘You cannot and you dare not. I could and dared.’”
And so we find that perhaps, after all, it does not matter why. It does not matter whence came the hard thing or even that it may be painfully hard. If God ever had to prove anything, at the cross He proved His love, His promise to work for the best of all He created.
It is not a bad thing to seek for the why’s and how’s and from where’s. God is able to handle our questions, our fears. Yet if we never get any answers, if we never know the reasons, if we never understand, then we who have chosen to follow Christ, who have allowed Jesus to be the Lord of our lives, we who have embraced His sacrifice of love…
I am wrestling with the difficulty of believing God.
I suppose it would be more accurate and honest to admit that really I am wrestling with why I don’t believe God much of the time.
This struggle to believe manifests itself in different ways at various times and seasons in my life, but currently I am noticing it in two particular ways.
One struggle I have is in believing that God truly loves my children.
When I say it like that, it seems ludicrous. We are talking, after all, about the same God who gave up His only Son so that my children could be with Him forever.
Yet I worry about my babies. I worry about their safety, about whether they will survive to adulthood (although sometimes I think that it might be me who causes them not to survive), about whether they will suffer some horrible trauma along the way. I worry about whether they will learn to love God most of all and whether they will love people. I worry about my children…which means that I am not believing God.
God has promised that He loves my children even more than I do. He has promised that He will do what is best for them and that He will give them what they need. But I still worry. Why?
Part of the trouble is that I don’t trust in what God’s best is. I know that sometimes His best is painful and even when I can trust in that for myself, I often want to protect them. It is truly ridiculous that I would want to protect my children from God, but there it is. Deep down inside, I sometimes believe that I know better than God, that my goals for my children are more important than God’s goals for them.
I don’t know why I wrestle with this. When I state it so plainly, even I can see the foolishness of it. It should be easy to believe. Yet it is not.
The other struggle I currently have is in believing that God’s Spirit will truly guide me through life. I have trouble believing that God is interested in all areas of life. Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to guide me in my parenting? Can I really trust the Holy Spirit to show me the best way to train, disciple, even educate my children? Does God’s Spirit care about a business, a household, a career?
I don’t believe it and so I want to rely on books, on methods, on other people to tell me how to raise and teach my babies. Yet if Jesus is before all things, if all things hold together in Him, and if Jesus sent His Holy Spirit to us to guide us and teach us Jesus’ truth, then He truly is interested in showing me how best to live my life. All aspects of it.
Why is that so difficult to believe, so hard to rely on? It seems like it should be simple. God has never broken a promise; He has proved over and over that His way and His love is best, that His Spirit is faithful to show us truth. I am foolish to doubt the faithfulness of such a God.
Yet I do. I am like the Israelites who refused to believe that God would provide enough manna on the sixth day to provide for the seventh or that He would provide enough harvest bounty in the sixth year to provide for the seventh year of Jubilee. I doubt and I worry. Yet even through the doubt and worry I still keep plodding forward, step by painful step, begging for God to help me trust Him, desperate for more of His Spirit.
I trust that He will. “I believe; help my unbelief!”