Posts Tagged ‘faith’

I’m reading a profound little book right now, called “Chaos and Grace” by Mark Galli, the editor of Christianity Today magazine.  Galli proposes that the American evangelical church is addicted to safety and control, and thus has a terrible time getting about the business of following Jesus.

Which reminds me of a scene in the 1997 sci-fi film, “Contact.” Jodie Foster’s character, Ellie Arroway, is chosen as the lone passenger for a sphere-shaped spacecraft that humanity had been instructed by extraterrestrials to build. The plans did not include a seat or a harness, so human engineers added those to keep the occupant from flying around inside the capsule. In flight through interstellar wormholes, Ellie is strapped into the seat, but the turbulence is so great it nearly knocks her unconscious. Finally, she does something counterintuitive. She releases the harness and floats gently into the air, while the seat finally breaks free and slams into a wall.

By releasing control and trusting in the greater intelligence that devised the ship and its method of travel, Ellie floated freely and safely as the capsule arrived at its destination. Had she trusted in her own concept of safety, she’d have been crushed.

Sometimes, it’s only in giving up the safety devices we know and cling to that we find true safety in the care of God who knows what’s best for us.

Galli writes (p. 154):

It’s not hard to see how quickly stewardship of our time becomes a means to control and order our lives, rather than an opportunity to begin each day asking, “Spirit of God, to where will you carry me today?” Most likely it will be to the usual places, where we’ll meet the usual assortment of people. Once in a while, he’ll call us to forsake the golden opportunity in order to send us to the desert. Other times he’ll magically transport us to a place or calling we never would have imagined possible. But even when he again carries us back to the same office and classroom, to the same people we meet every day, we will know this: that our lives are not our own, and that the Spirit has given us these people and this place to do God’s work.

“If that is not liberating, I don’t know what is. Scary, to be sure. Requiring more faith than we seem to have on most days. But imagine how freeing it would be to release the death grip we have on our lives and just let the gracious and loving Spirit of Jesus carries us where he would each day.”

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Sometimes I really relate to Lieutenant Dan from “Forrest Gump.” In this scene, the Gary Sinise character reaches his breaking point with disappointment, heartache and failure. In the face of a hurricane, and in a one-way conversation, Dan has it out with God.

Sometimes, faith just bottoms out.

“So many unanswered questions live within me afraid to uncover them — because of the blasphemy — If there be God — please forgive me — When I try to raise my thoughts to heaven — there is such convicting emptiness that those very thoughts return like sharp knives and hurt my very soul. I am told God loves me — and yet the reality of darkness and coldness and emptiness is so great that nothing touches my soul. Did I make a mistake in surrendering blindly to the Call … ?”

That was written by that great backslider, Mother Teresa, as she struggled with her work in Calcutta. Some of her journals and letters wound up in a 2007 book. I stumbled upon that specific entry online a few weeks ago. Unknowingly, I’d just written something similar in my own journal, during a particularly bad week as a dad:

“God, I feel like I am hanging onto my faith by my fingernails. I am so tired of unanswered prayers, destroyed hopes and … just heaviness. How much more are you going to let pile up on us? Often it seems like you have just checked out on our family. How can I honestly tell people that Christ is the answer they’re looking for, when I’m left feeling empty so often … like my prayers never get past the ceiling? Some days I wonder if my faith is even real. Is this how life is always going to be now? Do you even care? Please renew my strength, hope and faith. I don’t know why we’re in this storm that never seems to end, but please help. Show yourself faithful and worthy of my trust. Please.”

Philip Yancey, one of my journalistic heroes, writes that in a time of disillusionment, he went a year where the only prayers he could muster came out of a book of prayers. I can identify with that. Sometimes, I’ve got absolutely nothing.

I think just about any Christ follower with a brain has had days/weeks/months/years like that. I don’t mind wrestling with doubt – in the end it solidifies my belief and helps me separate truth from assumption. Those wrestling matches aren’t fun, though. Sometimes, waves of doubt swamp my intellect. I just don’t have it in me to be a “God said, I believe it and that settles it” kind of Christian. Surely I can possess a faith that includes room for doubt, and challenge, and intellectual sharpening.

David had that kind of faith. As I read through the Psalms – not just the happy ones that got turned into worship choruses – I see some dark, dark moments. Doubt. Anger. Despair. It’s all there.

I think of a quote by the great sports writer Red Smith: “There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.” That could just as easily be applied to real, heartfelt conversations with God.

Through the centuries, the Church has had a tough time being honest about doubt. It’s been treated as a sign of spiritual weakness, not to be openly discussed. As a result, far too many intelligent people walked away from the Church and never came back.

One of the really good things happening today among missional-minded churches (and others, too) is an openness to the fact that faith is a struggle sometimes. Some churches, including mine, have experimented with something we call Doubt Nights. Usually held in a bar or coffee house, they’re an opportunity for anyone to raise hard questions. “Did Adam and Eve really exist?” “How do I know the Bible is all true?” Or the even more honest, “Why does God seem so absent in my toughest times?”

I don’t have all those answers, and I don’t like hanging out with people who think they do. Because often, those are the people who have never endured any real trial. So we talk about those questions, offer guidance where we can, and acknowledge that even when the Bible finally makes sense, life most of the time does not.

God and I are on better terms again lately. Circumstances haven’t really changed, but writing that letter to him helped to distill my confusion and disappointment and, yes, anger. Hey, it’s not like he didn’t already know.

As Donald Miller wrote in “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years”: “When you stop expecting God to end all your troubles, you’d be surprised how much you like spending time with God.”