What happens when what you have believed about God begins to crumble?
In times of stress and dis-ease, human nature is to feel overwhelmed. You might be feeling that right now as we navigate a new reality with the coronavirus.
Or, consider when a loved one dies, an unexpected illness emerges, and you begin to question whether God is really a good God.
Or, you have your beliefs challenged at the university or you see the hunger, hurt, and violence in the world and the doubts you have about “the end times” or biblical infallibility are called into question.
What is your response?
When you’re overwhelmed, what do you do?
Perhaps you doubt. Perhaps you question. Or perhaps, you do nothing, frozen by inaction.
Everyone has doubts. To question and to wrestle with who you trust and what you believe does not mean you are unfaithful or an unbeliever. In fact, many who honestly wrestle with their faith, in the end, strengthen their faith.
You live in a chaotic and fragmented world. As you grapple with pandemics, partisan politics, social inequality, and cultural turmoil, your faith is not immune to the anxiety. Even the Church is going through its own crisis of faith. Again, what do you do?
Whether you are conscious of it or not, your understanding and practice of faith are shaped by your environment. Below are some of the cultural factors that help shape your faith.
Cultural Factors to Consider
- There was a time in history when your identity was defined in the context of family and community. But today, your desire, meaning, and value is self-defined. Because you are the builder and judge of your own truth, the truth has become relative. This form of individualism shapes your faith. It is subtle. It can be found in the words of your favorite worship songs, in the conditions of discipleship, and in the way you relate to the people around you. Because you are the center of your own story, your faith can be easily shaken.
- You live, survive, and thrive in a system-oriented around the consumption of goods and services. In fact, you are so immersed in this cultural system, you have developed anxiety of scarcity. You are never satisfied because there is never enough. Again, it is subtle. It is found in church programs, ministries, and Sunday worship. You pick and choose which products and services best meet your needs, desires, and preference. When those products and services are not offered, the church is not living up to your ideals and your faith is shaken.
- As individuals have become the center of their own stories, they have also become the center of their own faith. The shift is from being centered upon God’s goodness to be centered upon your own goodness. It is seen in individual purity, individual obedience, and individual salvation. Purity, obedience, and salvation are good, but when the goal of faith is your personal betterment, then the object of faith shifts from God to yourself. When you are in the center, you set your standard of individual purity and legalistic obedience upon others. When people don’t live up to your expectations, your faith is not only shaken but you blame others for your shaken faith.
My point here is not to call out the inconsistencies and hypocrisy of faith but is to name the current reality in which you are presently living your faith.
As the Lord said in the play “Green Pastures,” “Everything that is nailed down is a’comin’ loose!” So, what do you do?
Focus Your Faith on Jesus
One simple answer is, focus your faith upon Jesus.
I am assuming you know Jesus, so let’s examine faith and particularly Christian faith.
John Hendrick, in his book Opening The Door of Faith, writes, “Christian faith is a centered, personal, relational response involving trust and obedience.” Using his definition, Christian faith is:
A centered faith
- According to scripture, the object of Christian faith is the living God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth whom we call the Christ, Messiah, Son of the Living God. It is a particular faith. The adjective “Christian” is taken seriously.
- So, the Christian faith is neither a generic faith nor faith in general. You don’t have faith in faith. You have faith in Jesus. Neither is the object of Christian faith a philosophy of life about which you speculate, nor a system of ethical ideals about which you argue, nor a set of doctrinal propositions to which you must give mental assent.
- The Christian faith is centered upon the living God revealed in Jesus.
A personal faith
- Faith is centered on a living person – Jesus. Jesus is a living person because of the resurrection. Resurrection is not merely an event that happened two thousand years ago, which you celebrate every Easter. Resurrection means that Jesus Christ is alive now, today.
- Christian faith is also personal because it requires a personal response from each human being. Although you can come alongside someone, love them, encourage them, and support them, you cannot have faith for them.
- Because Christian faith is centered in the person of Jesus the Christ, it is a personal faith but not a private faith. It is not centered upon you and your preferences, it is centered upon God, the gospel, and the Christ the gospel announces.
A relational faith
- It makes possible a right relationship with God, with the people around you, with yourself, and with creation. It is the grace of God that provides the basis for a relationship.
- By faith, you respond to God’s grace. It is by faith that you love your neighbor. It is by faith you become who God created you to be. By faith, you are related to and care for creation.
- By faith, you are brought into a relationship with God and with the people around you. You cannot be properly related to God and improperly related to your neighbor. You cannot claim to love God while you do not love your neighbor.
- By faith, you are brought into a relationship with yourself. You cannot become who God created you to be when you are not in a relationship with God and neighbor. It is in and through your relationship with the people around you that you become more who God intended.
- It is by faith that you become one with God, one with your neighbor, one with yourself, and one with creation. When you are in a relationship with God, your neighbor, and yourself, you can no longer be content to treat God’s creation selfishly. It is this relationship that helps transform the consumer mentality that leads to greed and the exploitation of creation.
A response to God’s grace
- God has acted on your behalf in Jesus. By God’s grace, you respond to God’s action by becoming a follower of Jesus. Your response is not based on what you feel or what you have done.
- Your response is based upon what God feels toward you and has done on your behalf. So, the foundation of your faith is not so much your commitment to God but God’s commitment to you. You respond to God’s commitment with your whole self, body, mind, soul, spirit, sensibility, and will. Your response involves your whole self as a human being.
Trust and Obedience
- Trust defines the relational and personal aspects of your faith. Your very existence and identity are made up of a network of trusts that you hold. There is a definite sense in which you are who and what you trust. You tend to treasure what you trust and trust what you treasure.
- The only appropriate response to the living God revealed in Jesus of Nazareth is ultimate trust. To trust God is to commit yourself totally to God, to rely on God, and to allow yourself to be shaped by God.
- Ultimate trust leads to obedience. The response becomes the responsibility and you are faced with the ethical dimension of faith. When God becomes your ultimate trust, you align all other trusts accordingly. To align your trust is to align your life at its center.
- Your response of trust and obedience as you follow Jesus into your neighborhood, your community, and your city. Your response of trust and obedience has you love your neighbor and participate, by God’s grace, in the transformation of the structures, systems, and relationships of the world.
What do you do when what you believe about God begins to crumble? You focus or refocus upon the object of your faith, Jesus Christ.
Your Next Steps
You remember who you are
- You are a beloved child of God. God has chosen you, loves you, and given you a name. Because your faith is centered upon the person of Jesus, when “everything that is nailed down starts comin’ loose,” you don’t.
You remember whose you are
- You belong to God and nothing can separate you from God’s love that you know in Jesus. When you are at one with God, your neighbor, and yourself, and everything around you is at its worst, you are at your best.
You remember why you are
- You are created by God to make the world, your community, your neighborhood who God created it to be. As a result, you love as you have been loved. Your neighborhood and community will know that you are a Jesus follower by the way you love those around you.
When you understand your Christian faith, as a centered, personal, and relational response involving trust and obedience, your faith becomes contagious. In fact, it becomes so contagious and powerful that it spreads from person to person.
So, regardless of who you are or what you have done, regardless of your situation or circumstances, regardless of how tough life gets or how much you might doubt, God loves you and nothing can separate you from God’s love as experienced in and through Jesus Christ.
Focus your faith on Jesus. He is God’s way of letting you know that when everything around you seems to be coming apart, you are loved, and you have a place. You are a beloved Child of God and nothing can change that reality.