Struggling Through Faith To Faith

Faith has disparagingly been characterized as a “crutch” for “weak minds.”  And on one real level, that is true: every Christian, for example, in exercising faith, has realized that he or she is a spiritually helpless sinner facing a just, holy and morally perfect God.  Christianity has been called the only religion in which one must first claim personally helplessness in order to join.  If someone wants to trivialize the faith of the Christian as a “crutch,” I cannot help but ultimate affirm the characterization.

But, for “weak minds”?  There I would profoundly disagree.  Faith is not a sign of weakness, but a source of strength, inspiration, and resolve.  Let me provide a non-religious example in the D-Day invasion: imagine being one of the thousands of men who waded ashore to attack Omaha Beach in the face of murderous machine gun fire, mortars, howitzers, and mines.  Whole companies of men in the first waves were simply wiped out.  Men fortunate enough to make it ashore discovered there was absolutely no cover.  And that they could neither retreat nor advance without perishing.  Yet advance they did.

Men screamed and ran without their arms until they were mercifully cut down.  Men tried to walk as their entrails dragged behind them.  Men without legs screamed and screamed and screamed as they flailed in agony.  The surf turned red with blood, and all that could be heard was enemy machine gun fire and screaming and explosions.  And yet somehow they advanced.  Over the bodies of their dead and wounded, the Americans continued to come.

What drove them forward to victory, I would argue, was faith, and faith of the most desperate kind.  Faith that their cause was just and necessary.  Faith that their generals had devised a good plan that could be accomplished if they did the parts assigned to them.  Faith that they would ultimately prevail, rather than fail.  And so somehow, in spite of everything that went wrong for the Americans on Omaha Beach that day (e.g., the troops launched too far offshore in too-deep water; the naval bombardment that hit far too inland to damage the German fortifications; the Sherman tanks that were supposed to be landed to support the assault sank), the American infantrymen somehow forced themselves out of the burrows of sand that they had scratched for themselves and assaulted the German fortifications.  And yet somehow, in spite of so many of their brothers perishing in the attempt, they pushed their way over the Germans and won the day.  And it was faith that drove them forward.

All trivializing aside, faith is never easy.  There are always disasters, always barriers, always obstacles that must somehow be overcome.  It is always so much easier to surrender, to give up, to abandon hope, than it is to cling to what often appears to be the tiniest sliver of hope.  I would argue that – the analogy to a “crutch” for the “weak” aside – it is always more difficult to maintain faith than it is to abandon faith for cynicism, pessimism, and despair.

Furthermore, we all have to exercise faith in our everyday lives, whether theist or atheist.  How do I know my breakfast isn’t poisoned or loaded with e coli?  How do I know my spouse isn’t trying to kill me?  How do I know for certain that my car won’t explode, or that the brakes won’t suddenly fail?  How do I know I won’t get in an accident on the way to work?  And on and on.  We all have to put our doubts aside and choose to believe in something every single waking moment.  The only question becomes which object(s) we choose to trust.  Because at some point every one under the sun has to place faith in someone or something outside of themselves, outside of their own limited abilities, and outside of their own ultimately incredibly finite knowledge.

And faith is ever only as good or beneficial as its object.

But what about those times when “faith” doesn’t seem to work?  What about those times when we pray and pray, and there is no answer or – even worse yet – when the thing we pray for so diligently does not come to pass.

Many American infantrymen certainly didn’t triumphantly prevail in their faith; thousands died, and their bodies lay in soil hallowed by their blood in row upon row of cross-marked graves at Normandy.  Did the fact that they died mean that their faith was in vain?

Ultimately, no; their side and their cause prevailed.  And in that sense, Christians can continue to have that same faith that, regardless of what happens to them, that ultimately the God they cling to will prevail in the cosmic battle against evil and the forces of evil.  And more: that the God who triumphs over evil will triumph over His believers’ evil natures, and ultimately bring them through the end to the perfection of Christlikeness.

But, like the wounded, screaming soldier lying broken and bleeding on the beach, that ultimate reassurance may not always be enough to comfort.  Is there more we can say about the believer’s constant struggle with faith?

I had my own struggle, recently.  And I believe God brought me through it with a lesson.  That lesson has helped me; if you are reading this, perhaps it can help you as well.

I have had three particularly difficult experiences in my life: the first occurred when I was a young Christian in the Army.  I was injured badly, and in spite of all my prayers, everything seemed to take the worst turn for me.  I got out of the Army broken spiritually as well as physically.

For the next ten years, I lived like a pagan.  I never denied that there was a God, but I wondered.  where had He been when I needed Him?  What good had He been?  Did He even care?  Was He even there at all?

But finally, I reached the end of myself.  I came to miss the relationship – yes, relationship – I had had and enjoyed with my God.  I began to study, to read, to answer the question that I had been raised to simply accept as a presupposition.  Was God real?  Was Christianity real?  Did Jesus really rise from the dead, and in so doing ensure that I, too, would ultimately prevail with Christ in my own resurrection from death to eternity with Him?

I can’t share that search here (it would be at least one article all by itself!).  But, finally, I came to a point of studying and reflecting in which I realized that it was all true – that Christ had really come, really died in my place as the prophets said He would, and really risen bodily from the dead.  I remember that moment like it just occurred: I was pacing in my kitchen, too excited by my realization to sit down, when I had an experience that still moves me to this day.

Out of the corner of my eye, or at least the corner of my mind’s eye, I had a flash of a presence that I instinctively knew was Christ.  And just as immediately and instinctively, I knew that Jesus had been there all along, and had never turned away from me; but that I had turned away from Him.  But there He was, arms opened wide, to welcome me back the moment I turned toward Him.  That realization brought forth a torrent of tears like I had never wept before, or since.

But after every “mountaintop experience,” if one lives long enough, and continues to travel far enough, there will always be valleys.

I remember thinking of the story of the Jews during the Exodus: after all the excitement of God bringing His people under Moses out of bondage in Egypt after displaying one mighty sign after another, the people defiled their new faith by worshiping a golden calf when Moses left them for a mere 40 days!  I used to think, “I would NEVER have done that.”  Now I know otherwise.

The second difficult event of my life occurred when my dog died.  He didn’t die easily; his kidneys and liver shut down from cancer, and he could neither eat nor drink without vomiting.  The night before I took him to the vet to be put down, I prayed and cried: “Can’t you heal him, Lord?  It’s such a little thing; it won’t make any difference to anyone but me.  Please, Lord?”

I had to put him down.  And I had to struggle with why God hadn’t healed him.

There’s an inherent tension in faith in God: on the one hand, we are told that God answers our prayers; on the other, we know that God is God, and we are His servants, rather than He ours.  If God jumps through every hoop I ask of Him in prayer, who is God?  And yet He is a God who answers our prayers.

I did not abandon my faith in God as a result of losing my very beloved dog; but I often felt that my prayer life was like an electric circuit with a faulty switch.  What did it really mean to count upon God?

Just over nine years later, I had to struggle with faith again, as my second Rottweiler lay on the verge of death.

He suffered for over three weeks, scarcely able to hold solid food down.  I never did have an answer as to what was going on in his body.

But I once again found myself struggling with the same angst, the same pain, that I had struggled with nine years before: where are you, God?  Why won’t you heal my dog, or at least end his suffering and let him fade away peacefully in his sleep?

Again, there was that attitude that tried to surface, to become bitter toward the God who would not give me this little thing; to turn away from Him and abandon Him the way He had abandoned me and my beloved dog.  Is it easier in such moments to give in and walk away, or is it easier to cling to a faith which can seem to be so dark and so distant?

And then, something came to me: a realization I had never had before.

We had just finished the book of Genesis in my church, with the lion’s share of the sermons devoted to the person of Joseph (Genesis 37-50).  What a story his was: he had been his father’s most beloved son, to the bitter envy of his older brothers.  When one day he told them of a dream that he had had, which clearly meant that his brothers would one day bow down before him, that had become the final straw.  The brothers decided to kill Joseph by throwing him into a pit and abandoning him to die, before ultimately choosing instead to sell him into slavery to a caravan headed for Egypt.  To make a long story short, Joseph went from a slave, to a trusted top slave, to a prisoner, to the second highest ranking man in all of Egypt.  And ultimately, his brothers DID bow down before him, just as he had dreamed so many years before.

And here comes the realization in the form of a question: had Joseph abandoned God, turned away from his faith, renounced God as useless, or simply stopped trusting in Him, would he have become that ruler second only to Pharaoh?

The answer that came immediately to my mind was, “No.  He wouldn’t have.”  Had Joseph turned away from God, he would have been one more bitter slave, one more angry prisoner.

But in spite of all the bitter events that occurred in the life of Joseph, he never turned away from God.  Somehow, even when bad turned to worse, even when he languished for years as a slave, and then a prisoner, he continued to cling to his faith.

And so ultimately, in a moment clearly part of God’s divine timing, God began to shower upon him one blessing after another.

Suddenly, I realized that faith in God meant an abiding decision to trust in His goodness beyond any particular circumstance, and beyond any event even though it last for years.

Jesus taught that if we have faith and do not doubt, we can move mountains (Matthew 21:21).  but what we must realize is that such faith is not the product of any single moment that can be eaten away with doubt the next; rather, such faith is that which takes us not only over the majestic mountain tops, but through the bitter valleys as well.  The kind of faith that truly moves mountains is the faith of Joseph, which is present whether in the rags of prison, or in the robes of Pharaoh.  The faith that moves mountains isn’t in what God will do for me right now; but in who God is from the alpha to the omega.

My dog got better.  He started holding down his food, and he is lying by my side as I type this.  Incredibly, the event of his recovery seemed tied almost precisely to the event of my newfound awareness about the nature of faith, and what it means to trust in God.

One other thing that brought me a moment of profound comfort during this time of anguish and reflection and triumph was when I realized that I would not trade my faith for anything; not for all the gold and silver and precious stones in the world.  And if I wouldn’t trade it for anything, then why would I ever throw it away?

Faith shines most brightly when the darkness is greatest.

Happy Easter!  Maranatha!

11 Responses to “Struggling Through Faith To Faith”

  1. hl Says:

    Thank you for sharing your story, Michael. Very moving and heartfelt.

    Suffering and loss tests our faith in the Lord like nothing else. I draw strength from the account in Matthew 11, of John the Baptist in prison who sends his disciples to Jesus to ask him if he is “the expected one” or should they look for another. Jesus tells those disciples to go tell John about the blind seeing, the lame walking and the other miracles He was performing and then he says, “blessed is he who does not take offense at Me.”
    John’s faith was so tested as he languished in that prison about to lose his head for righteousness sake that he questioned if Jesus was Messiah or had he somehow believed wrongly. This is after John by revelation had been shown that Jesus was the lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.
    I’m thankful for this true account of John’s struggle of faith and the choice he had to make about not getting offended at what Jesus allowed him to suffer.
    We are in good company. Your testimony of your struggle of faith is powerful and true.

    PS In your last paragraph I think you left out the word “not” between the words trade and faith.

  2. ARESAY Says:

    The mainstream media wouldn’t do it. So we are trying to get your important messages to the American people. This post is a suggested read at, http://aresay.blogspot.com/ 3

  3. Michael Eden Says:

    Thanks for the heads-up re: the omission. I made the correction.

    Faith is ultimately NOT a force, or a determination to believe something by sheer brute force of will. It is the commitment which we have come to hold as a result of our life experiences. In the case of God, “faith” is the decision to trust the God we have come to discover.

    My faith in Jesus Christ means more to me than anything in the world. And (thank you for helping me say it), I would not trade it for all the wealth or trappings of the world.

    For some reason beyond our ability to fully understand, God didn’t place a glowing cross in the sky for all to see. And as a result, we have to determine to trust in Him even when it is sometimes difficult to see Him.

    Ultimately, that faith that lasts through difficult times is the greatest and most wonderful. And therein may be the answer to why there ISN’T a glowing cross in the sky.

  4. Gitonga Says:

    I needed to hear this am at that point..where am really questioning a lot of things..why so many dogmas..why so many wars and deaths..why do i have to struggle in what I ought to do or what i should not do..what to do when you give in to your sinful nature (as you probably know some acts bring in more guilt than others), how to avoid living for people who you feel judge you by your actions..how to remain in the faith despite all the above…your article and story has given me hope..I continue to seek for answers but promise to remain in the bus of faith.

  5. Michael Eden Says:

    Gitonga,
    Thank you for your gracious comment.

    I strongly would encourage you to take on the devotional experiment. You are responding to the light God is providing right now. And the more you respond to the light God gives you, the more light He will give you. As Jesus put it, “Search, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened for you” (Matt 7:7).

    We have wars and deaths because human nature is totally depraved, meaning that sin and depravity have extended into every sphere of humanity (not that we are all as wicked as possible).

    Your words hearken a passage from Romans 7 to my mind. Here is Romans 7:21-25.

    So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord!

    It should NEVER be the judgment of men that we fear; but only the perfect divine judgment of God.

    Sin is a reality, and guilt is the result of sin. Jesus Christ came as the only antidote for sin. As we acknowledge our own fallenness and sin, and as we recognize Christ’s righteousness – which He perfectly lived in our behalf – and recognize that He died in our place to take the penalty for sin that we deserved, we are saved by our faith in Him. It’s such a simple message.

    There is no sin greater than God, or the power of God, Gitonga. Divine forgiveness and restoration is only a “phone call” away.

    The Creator of the universe loved you so much, Gitonga, that He came here to save you and make you His own.

    As a Christian, I recognize that I too have sin – and continue to struggle with sin and temptation to sin. But along with Job – who lived thousands of years ago before even Abraham was born – I say:

    I know that my Redeemer lives,
    and that in the end he will stand upon the earth.

    And after my skin has been destroyed,
    yet in my flesh I will see God;

    I myself will see him
    with my own eyes—I, and not another.
    How my heart yearns within me! (Job 19:25-27).

    My Redeemer is the Redeemer of Job – Jesus Christ, the Son of God who came to seek and to save that which was lost (Luke 19:10).

    I continue to struggle with sin, but because of the Holy Spirit living within me, I have a great Hope. And I know that the same Christ who conquered death and conquered sin will one day take me to the place that He has prepared for me in heaven.

    I pray for you, that you may find the answers – and the peace – that you seek, Gitonga.

  6. ammatt Says:

    I am 21 and sitting here on a beautiful summer night, searching google for “struggling with faith” and “religious retreats”. I was born and raised Catholic. Went to Catholic schools until college.
    I first felt a very strong relationship with God when I was a junior in high school. I had the most amazing teacher who really let us just believe. He would go to teach something and then let us refuse to believe it. He taught us to form our own opinions but to trust in God with whatever it is that we do believe.
    I then kept that strength for a good 2 years.
    I went away to college.. 4 hour drive from my home. I was with my best friend and met an amazing guy.
    But things happened and my best friend moved back home, and when that happened, I leaned on God a lot. I didn’t have my confidant anymore, she was forming a very productive life away from me, without me. So I tried to do the same, and I found myself hating it. I didn’t like me, at all. My boyfriend and I fell very in love, but at different times, by the time he had finally truly fallen for me I had already gotten over it, and realized it wasn’t meant to be. I live in a city not huge but very decent, and went to school in the country. Huge culture shock.
    Here my best friend was (truly my other half) at home, with people we grew up with, yet making new friends, doing well in school, going out, having fun, and creating her life… and I was somewhere else feeling very distant. I struggled a lot with school, and I (or we, my boyfriend and I), never went out. We’d sit in the dorm for hours on end, doing nothing. Literally nothing. I started having anxiety issues, and got on medication for that.
    I can to a point when i realized this was not the life I want for myself. He and I wanted different things for the future and to be honest I didn’t trust him, yet I put so much into our relationship and felt like I got nothing in return. It was time I fixed it, and changed things.
    I moved back home with my family and went to college here, not log after we broke up. I cried, I was upset but not for long. I knew it was best, and I honestly felt like a weight had been lifted off my shoulders.
    I, recently, in this past year, have got very caught up in my “new college life”. I love it, I really do, and I am soooo very blessed; but something is missing. And all I can think is my faith. I went through a lot of change, and I think I got very caught up in actually enjoying my classes, and doing well in school, and in meeting new people but hanging out with old friends.
    I think I have lost the balance between my life and my relationship with God. I don’t even know where to begin to regain the strength I once had in Him and I know no one can sit here and type something that will instantly fix anything. I need work and I know that.
    And I also think that in the back on my mind I have a huge OCD of something being mentally wrong with me, like some kind of chemical imbalance.
    Once I started my anxiety medication I instantly felt amazing, full of life and energy and happiness. But i secretly HATE that I needed medicine for it. And I have tried getting off it but I didn’t like the difference I felt in myself. So I came to terms with the fact that I need this medicine, and I do believe that one day I will not need it.
    But what scares me the most is that I feel something deep in my core, just isn’t right. I don’t know what it is. I go out still, and enjoy myself, but I also have my nights where I just sit at home and relax. I work pretty much full time, and I have a good life. I have never experienced the great pain of losing someone close to me, someone who I had a real deep relationship with. I have 2 amazing parents that have been married for over 30 years, an amazing older brother. I have the best friend in the world, she is more than I could ask for. I have all these people supporting me and loving me and encouraging me to follow my dreams, yet I feel lost and confused, and kind of empty.
    I don’t know if it is my faith I’m fading from, or if i just need to do something, to change something. Like move out, or get a new job. I just don’t know anymore. I felt like when I was away at school, without my best friend, and struggling with my boyfriend, I leaned on God a lot because I was so out of my comfort zone and was depressed. Then I came home and felt safe and secure, maybe I stopped leaning? I know he is there, I don’t know if he is just waiting for me to find him again, or it he wants me to change things, mix things up.
    I am very lost and very confused. And your article, the part where you talked about your most recent struggle, made me cry. It hit home and as freaked out as I would be by that, I want that.
    I don’t want to put on my fake smile around everyone I know because deep down I am hurting, I almost feel numb.
    I just needed to get this out there, let other people see it. Maybe to comfort me or give me advice or tell me I am crazy (ha). Anything I just started typing after i read the article.

  7. Michael Eden Says:

    Ammatt,
    Let me first say, in reading your words, that you come across as a sweet girl. On my reading, you were right to come home and go to a college where you were closer to your parents – who could better “be there” for you, and provide the love and support that no one can better provide than a loving mom and dad. And then I want to tell you that having a chemical imbalance in the brain – if you have one – is nothing to feel embarrassed or isolated about.

    You are NOT your brain, Ammatt; you are the kind of thing that HAS a brain. It’s part of your body; it isn’t what makes YOU. We’re made in God’s image, Ammatt; and God doesn’t have a brain. He is pure soul. We have physical bodies, and we need a brain for our soul to interact with our bodies.

    I say that to point out that the brain is an organ, like others. A materialist society has made it the sum-total of everything. But there is so much more to us. An organ of the body can have mechanical “issues.” My father developed type II diabetes and recently had to go on insulin because his pancreas was having a “pancreas chemistry” issue. If you need a chemical to help you regulate your brain chemistry, please take it and thank God for it.

    You might want to talk with a psychologist (maybe a DIFFERENT one) to ensure you need that chemical. My church has a retired psychologist on staff, just as one example as to where you might find that second opinion.

    A last thing I’ll say re: brain chemistry is that people can literally THINK their way sick. Negative thoughts, such as fear or anxiety (along with anger, hate, etc) can actually change our brain chemistry. And POSITIVE thinking can change our brain chemistry, too. You can also think your way healthy, although maybe you might need properly-diagnosed chemicals to help you at first.

    The first thing I want you to do – which you’ve already been doing in your comment – is to begin getting into the practice of thanking God for what He’s given you. I know, fear of what might happen, apprehension, anxiety, will come; but when you have an attitude of gratitude, it won’t come as much, or as strong.

    Do not be anxious, My dear one. That’s what Jesus would tell you. And you will find that the Word of God is a treasure to those whose hearts need calm. It is like fresh water in a desert. I want you to begin to get into a regular pattern of reading God’s Word every single day. I can literally promise you, you will be amazed at what that will do in your thought life.

    The last thing I will say to you for now, Ammatt, is that feelings can be friends or they can be enemies. When they are based on true, objective realities, they are great; but when they are based on things that aren’t true, they turn against you. You said, for example:

    I have all these people supporting me and loving me and encouraging me to follow my dreams, yet I feel lost and confused, and kind of empty.

    Trust in the good – and very real – things you have, that God has provided for you. Don’t trust in your fears and your worries. That attitude that seeks to thank God for the objective realities and be thankful for all that you have isn’t a “fake smile”; it is merely an attitude that looks for those things that we can be thankful for, and focusing on them instead of the negative.

    Open your heart to Jesus, and find a good Bible-believing church and plug yourself in and become involved. Open up to some trusted believers. You will find again and again that God provides for those who seek.

    Like I said, Ammatt, you have a sweet nature. If you were at my church, there would be all kinds of dear older Christian ladies who would love nothing more than to nurture and guide someone like you. And I’ll bet there are plenty of those ladies in a good church near you, too.

    Ammatt, I had a very bad day yesterday. My car “blew up,” with a lower radiator hose literally exploding. I didn’t realize it at the time, but by the time I got off the road, I had apparently damaged the engine head gasket. That’s either going to cost a lot of money, or I’ll need to look for another car.

    Thank the Lord I have another car in the meantime. It’s had some “issues” too, but it sure is nice to have!

    Now, I would be lying to tell you I haven’t had a “why me?” or had some anxious thoughts, or felt a little bitter or persecuted. But I’m also not lying when I tell you that my focus has been on trusting God, trusting His provision, believing that God had a good reason for allowing this to happen (Romans 8:28), and trusting that God loves me and will take care of me.

    To some extent, Ammatt, I have to choose the attitude I want to take. I can succumb to fear, apprehension, anxiety – or to the even more negative anger and blame and bitterness – OR I can choose that attitude of gratitude. Falling into negative emotions is rather like falling into a pit that we simply passively allow ourselves to fall into; choosing the attitude of gratitude is like doing the harder work of climbing out of that pit.

    There is a woman named Corrie Ten Boom. Her father was a devout Christian who helped hide Jews in Nazi-occupied Holland during WWII. They were hauled away to the death camps. Only Corrie survived the Nazi hate and brutality; her entire family had been murdered.

    Somehow, Ammatt, God brought this woman to a place where she could later say, “There is no pit so deep that God’s love is not deeper still.”

    What can you say but, “Wow. What a beautiful attitude. Imagine all the darkness she could have carried. But she gave it all to Christ, and took from Him His amazing grace.”

    It might seem impossible to acquire that attitude, Ammatt. And it IS, without Jesus Christ. But Jesus is a Lord of miracles; and the greatest miracle of all is what He can do with a heart like yours.

  8. Sarah Ellis Says:

    This was a really good read :)

  9. Michael Eden Says:

    Thank you, Sarah.

    Hope your journey is one of faith that grows stronger.

  10. ZWT Says:

    Thank you so much for your story of faith. I appreciate how you brought up D-Day, which seems so forgotten nowadays. What a great comparison!
    I have had my own struggle recently, for perhaps a year. To give a basic summary, I’ve been raised Christian (in multiple denominations) and have always been on fire for God. My family has been through many rough patches, and I have always managed to keep my faith strong. Several events happened that made my faith really spark like never before. But another rough patch happened a year ago, and it really hit my mother hard. Usually, I can stay steady, but at this one I broke. For once, I felt betrayed by God and was angry. I feel like one sentence put a mile between God and me. I felt very guilty and have apologized multiple times. I know He did not betray me, but something is missing. My mother got over it quickly, which adds to the guilt. I have since been struggling to regain what I had. Since then, more rough patches have happened, but also many great blessings. I can say truthfully that I am content, but I don’t like being content and not totally “plugged in” to God. I have faith, but I feel like it is “average.” I am trying to work through by reading scripture, but I am not feeling obvious changes. I get brief glimpses of the connection I had here and there, but I am still waiting to hit the “mother lode.” What do I do? I keep wondering what is between God and me, some impurity that has to go in order for there to be less separation. I feel guilty instead of inspired when thinking of others who have had worse and kept steady. Any words of wisdom?
    This may be trivial, but I felt like I had to post this for others to see and maybe get answers of their own.

  11. Michael Eden Says:

    ZWT,

    Nothing trivial about your post, your pain or your story.

    In many ways your story and my own are the same. And I believe that the ultimate end for our story will be the same (PARTICULARLY if your mother is praying for your faith as mine was!!!): God will bring you back; He will restore. It is what He does, and frankly what He most loves to do.

    Which is to say I pray that you will have “the moment” as I had that I described in the paragraph: “I knew that Jesus had been there all along, and had never turned away from me; but that I had turned away from Him. But there He was, arms opened wide, to welcome me back the moment I turned toward Him.”

    The backbone that allowed me to heal enough and see clearly enough to make that moment possible was apologetics: faith and reason are not incompatible, but rather mutually inform one another.

    The issue of pain itself (“Why does God let us suffer?”) has been the topic of much apologetic thought. Basically there are two avenues: the philosophical side and the existential side. The philosophical side examines whether “the problem of pain” makes God or the belief in God impossible. To lay it out, A good God wants to prevent evil; an omnipotent God has the power to prevent evil; yet evil exists. Therefore God cannot exist. Fortunately this apparent dilemma has been solved primarily through the work of Alvin Plantinga. The result of Plantinga’s work was a realization that God basically could not create finite free-willed beings who would not ever sin anymore than He could create a square circle.

    The “problem” that remains is existential: when I suffer it HURTS and makes me QUESTION. It’s part of human nature; it’s part of being both finite and free-willed.

    Christianity yields human beings with free will. Atheism most certainly does NOT, as the following demonstrates:

    “But it should be pointed out that consistent atheism, which represents itself to be the most rational and logical of all approaches to reality, is in actuality completely self defeating and incapable of logical defense. That is to say, if indeed all matter has combined by mere chance, unguided by any Higher Power of Transcendental Intelligence, then it necessarily follows that the molecules of the human brain are also the product of mere chance. In other words, we think the way we do simply because the atoms and molecules of our brain tissue happen to have combined in the way they have, totally without transcendental guidance or control. So then even the philosophies of men, their system of logic and all their approaches to reality are the result of mere fortuity. There is no absolute validity to any argument advanced by the atheist against the position of theism.

    On the basis of his won presuppositions, the atheist completely cancels himself out, for on his own premises his arguments are without any absolute validity. By his own confession he thinks the way he does simply because the atoms in his brain happen to combine the way they do. If this is so, he cannot honestly say that his view is any more valid than the contrary view of his opponent. His basic postulates are self contradictory and self defeating; for when he asserts that there are no absolutes, he thereby is asserting a very dogmatic absolute. Nor can he logically disprove the existence of God without resorting to a logic that depends on the existence of God for its validity. Apart from such a transcendent guarantor of the validity of logic, any attempts at logic or argumentation are simply manifestations of the behavior of the collocation of molecules that make up the thinker’s brain.”

    Part of being created in God’s image is that we can think and reason and reflect for ourselves. We’re not robotic meat puppets conditioned wholly by our DNA and our environments. But of course being finite means that we lack the “absolute” ability to truly comprehend reality and find God. We’re just not big enough or smart enough to see His hand in all things.

    And so we’re easily blinded by our pain and we are easily frustrated.

    Now let me add that the Bible (particularly the first chapters of Colossians and Ephesians) tells us that God had a plan for creation and for humanity. He knew that free willed humans and even ANGELS would ultimately choose sin. But He also knew that He had a plan that the results of which would be so beautiful and so awesome that even allowing sin to enter would ultimately not diminish it. In the fullness of time, Christ, in every way God and expressing all the fullness of God, assumed a human nature and came into the world to save the human race in a once-for-all act of taking the blame upon Himself and paying the penalty of death on our behalf. He created us in HIS image so that He could assume OUR image. Having taken on humanity, He could experience literal physical death; but being God in His nature, death could not hold Him in the grave. And in rising from the dead He made the ultimate defeat of evil and pain a GUARANTEE. One day we will be glorified with Jesus in brand new resurrection bodies and He will wipe every single tear from our eyes.

    Now there is one other thing, ZWT. Imagine if we were like the angels, and had no physical bodies that could experience pain and death. The thing is, we also could not experience genuine repentence because we could never experience the consequences of our sins. The angels – powerful as they are – are also finite free-willed creatures. They fell, and they are still fallen; there is no possible end for them but hell. Death and suffering and pain are God’s way to help the human race – as counterintuitive as that may sound.

    Death is the end. As a human being who can die, I have to face that, and THINK and REFLECT about that. And change in a way that I would never have to do if I could not die. Pain is similarly a megaphone of God: when I hurt, I ask questions: why am I hurting? Will my pain ever end? And I can begin to come to a place of repentence and transformation. Do you understand what I am trying to say here? If I just lived forever in my sin, it would be a greater tragedy.

    Ultimately, I know that I will never be “perfect” on this earth. I remain a sinner saved by only by the divine grace of Christ’s atoning death on my behalf. But because He conquered death for me, I too will ultimately conquer death. And one day (soon, I believe) God will raise me up to be with Himself in a glorious new body and – MORE – a glorified Christlike spirit. I will finally become all that God intended me to be, and what He intended for humanity. And I yearn for that.

    One last thing, ZWT, I have found prayer in a way that I hadn’t found even when I wrote this article. Every single evening, I take my dog for a long walk out in the desert. And I spend that time in prayer. And I have seen so many miracles, that I simply marvel.

    Ultimately, an eternity of rejoicing in the presence of our Creator awaits us.

    So my words of wisdom for you, ZWT, are to realize that your struggles are not unique to you; they are part of being human. And second to realize that Satan loves to inflict God’s people with paralyizing guilt, but that God ALWAYS wants us to seek Him in restored relationship. When you come to Him – even after you’ve blown it big time – you find again and again a God who doesn’t hold grudges. God like a loving Father merely wants you to be the best you you can be. He NEVER wants you to wallow in your pain and misery and failure; He wants you to be joyful being where you belong (with Him).

    My second word may sound a bit odd: but I think you need a good cry out in the woods. Go out into the wilderness, by which I mean go somewhere where you can be pretty certain that no one will happen by. Get in your car and drive half an hour if you need to. And just pour yourself out before God. You’ve got a lot of brokenness (again, welcome to the human race!), and you’re trying to hold all the pieces of yourself together. Go out and just let it all go. Your pain, your feelings of failure, your grief, your frustations, your dreams and aspirations, just consciously bring them up and then let them go. Put all your pain into a giant ball and just let that ball roll out of your soul. If you do that, you will have a cry like nothing you’ve ever experienced in your life. Cry it out of your system. And it will be one of the most healing things you’ve ever done. And when you’ve emptied yourself, God will rush in to fill you. I did that once.

    There’s one other word, ZWT, and that is that while we can be more Christlike, ultimately we will NEVER attain total Christlikeness until the coming day when Jesus Christ glorifies us. I have learned to yearn for that day. I didn’t use to; I kind of feared it. I feared it because I knew that I still had a lot of sins in my life, and I wanted to “be ready” when Jesus came. Now I realize that ultimately ONLY JESUS CAN FIX ME. And I now pray, “Come, Lord Jesus. Come soon. I need You, Lord.” And I have found that, like guilt, God doesn’t want us to dread His coming. Maranatha.

    Let me know how things go for you, ZWT. I will eagerly wait for your glorious report.

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