The Fight Against Unbelief

Introduction: Post Purpose

Writing (for me ) requires both introspection and timing. I’m writing this post for the individual who struggles against unbelief in his or her journey of faith with God. I want to encourage you by exposing a dangerous “mis”belief (faith is easy) and consider how trials come to faithful followers of Christ. This post asserts that true faith and walking with God involves facing your unbelief, doubts, and uncertainties. Thankfully God graciously provides time of consolation as well as trials!

Deconstruction and abandoning God

A topic trending on Youtube and other social media forms is the deconstruction of a person’s faith. These videos typically feature a person who once considered themselves to be Christians. After studying multiple deconstruction stories to examine the circumstances and reasons for this decision of unbelief, I want to illuminate several common features:

  1. the individual experienced a significant loss that they couldn’t accept and reconcile to what he/she believed about God wrong theological understanding of God’s Nature
  2. someone used religion to manipulate, and/or deceive them-spiritual abuse,
  3. unable to reconcile historical or scientific facts to God’s Word theistic worldview v. materialistic view
  4. became a believer at a young age, was involved in church but didn’t question the truths of God or His nature until later in life when facing crisis crisis of faith,
  5. and finally, a sense of God’s silence and abandonment when facing trials and difficult life situations God’s Perceived Absence.

The people giving these accounts were originally certain of his/her faith. They testified that they had regularly attended church, lived in a manner honoring God, and read the Bible daily. They came from various conservative evangelical denominations. But when relationships faltered, careers/jobs collapsed, a brother died from cancer, they found it easier to accept atheism than to continue to believe. They describe being happy and finding peace in no longer believing. Why did this happen?

Trusting God Is Difficult : There is no “easy” true faith

God’s Word presents several general truths about faith and walking with God:

  1. God transforms those who encounter His Presence. Consider how God changes the lives of Noah, Abraham, Moses, David, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Peter, and Saul! They weren’t the same after encountering God. God changes us when we experience Him! No change, then we haven’t truly encountered God. God’s call is difficult to live out. The great “heroes” of faith had questions and doubts too.
  2. Walking with God involves faith–specifically trusting His revealed truth(s) even when His truths or promises go against human reasoning. For example, Abraham and Sarah were both aware of the impossibility of an heir in their old age (according to human means). Moses had to trust that God would deliver the Hebrews from the most powerful nation in the region. Faith isn’t only about logic or reason–it’s about trust and relationship with God especially when faith doesn’t make logical sense. Hebrews Chapter 11 gives plenty of examples here!
  3. Walking with God brings about questions, trials, and difficulties. Can you find any example of a person in the Old or New Testament who had a smooth, easy journey?
  4. When a person responds in faith/trust and obeys God life often becomes more difficult from a human perspective. Please carefully consider Hebrews 11. Jesus (Gospel accounts) is clear that as He was despised so would His followers. Following God costs!

The following article provides some helpful insights into feeling God’s absence and how that this is actually God’s presence!

The Emmaus Encounter: A Glimpse at How Jesus Responds

Luke 24:13-31

Our experiences and beliefs impact how we view God. The disciples on the road to Emmaus were disappointed and perplexed. They were longing for God’s Kingdom to come. They had seen Christ’s miracles and walked with him. Then the Messiah had been brutally murdered. All hopes for God’s coming kingdom seemed dead to them. Then they had heard that the tomb was empty and burial linens were found inside.

Things didn’t make sense for them. We too will face times when things don’t make sense. Until our carefully planned dreams and lofty ideas about life come crashing down, we don’t understand what these disciples experienced. They had left jobs and dedicated their lives to following the Messiah who is dead and seemingly missing! It’s obvious from their conversation with the stranger that they don’t comprehend what God is doing.

Luke indicates that “they were kept” from recognizing Jesus. Luke uses the Greek verb krateo which means “force, strength” and “great strength or dominion/demonstrated power.” This tells us that God uses a great strength to me (not) epiginosko (perceive, recognize) Jesus by their eyes. Jesus is cloaked from recognition as He asks them what it is they are talking about. The text indicates that “they stood still looking sad.” He stopped them with his question.

Cleopas responds to the question by asking Jesus if he was the “only one visiting Jerusalem” who isn’t aware of what has happened. Imagine the irony of this statement! Cleopas is speaking to the central character and hero of all that happened completely unaware!

Point 1: our thoughts about God can get confused and distorted when we can’t feel His presence or understand the whys of life! Does God perceive all of our thoughts about Him even when we keep it to ourselves? Disappointment with God “clouds” our perception of Him. That’s why that we can’t walk by sight (perception) but have to walk by faith! And our faith needs to be informed by God’s Word properly interpreted. Incorrect belief(s) about God leads to serious problems.

Jesus then asks him “what things?” Verses 20-24 retell what the disciples have experienced. In verse 25, Jesus confronts their “foolish” and “slow of heart to believe” all that “the prophets spoke.” Jesus gives them a proper interpretation of Scripture beginning with “Moses and from all the Prophets.” The disciples didn’t understand the necessity of the Messiah suffering (vr 26). It wasn’t a lack of knowledge but an improper interpretation.

They had bought into the Messiah militant concept–that Messiah would crush Romans and return Davidic (heir of King David) political rule to Israel. They desired God’s Kingdom to come and so should we! But we need to understand that things will not be right until Christ returns. No political party, philosophy, or social improvement plan can solve our human sin condition! God had bigger plans than routing the Romans!

Point 2: Jesus engages and teaches. He provides a “correct” interpretation for them. Jesus doesn’t abandon them. He walks with them and explains. God provides Holy Spirit, His Word, and other believers to encourage and teach us. When facing perplexing and difficult situations, are you seeking God in His Word? Are you making assumptions about Him because of what you have experienced in life? How do you know God? What is your source of information about Him?

We can’t accurately base our beliefs about God’s nature from our life experiences. Considering the deconstructed faith accounts, this is one of the most critical mistakes. Life is grossly unfair and terrible things happen to people that we can’t understand or explain. Often we don’t know why that God allows things to happen and are wrong in our assumptions. Job reminds us that God doesn’t explain Himself! Nor should we try to explain things that we don’t understand. That’s where Job’s friends went astray and misrepresented God’s actions.

God doesn’t promise anywhere in His Word that we won’t suffer or experience hardship! Careers and relationships end. Dreams die. People will mock, betray, and slander us. Loved ones will die and leave us grieving. A faith that is built on hoping for (or demanding) an easy life will not stand the storms of life. Nor is such faith presented anywhere in God’s Word.

Point 3: What if God is walking closer to us than we realize? Have you invited Christ to abide with you? The two disciples don’t recognize Jesus until they invite Him to dinner with them! The literal Greek translation includes the words “constrained” and “abide.” They urged Him to stay with them. Jesus “reclines” with them and takes the bread, blesses it, and breaks the bread apart giving it to them.

Point 4: Jesus is recognized in daily activity of relationship. The breaking of bread is a form of communion wherein people share a meal. Consider the Last Supper and what Jesus reveals about Himself at this meal! Was it an accident that they recognized Him at this point? Their eyes are then opened [literally translated] “to open up completely.” They then “know” or “find out” Him and He disappears. Remember that Luke [and all Gospel authors] includes scenes, events, and conversations for a purpose. We primarily commune with God through Bible reading, prayer, as well as personal/communal worship.

Point 5: After encountering Jesus they told others

After experiencing Jesus the two disciples immediately return to Jerusalem and gave testimony. Verse 36 indicates that Jesus makes His appearance as they are telling what happened. Should we keep Jesus to ourselves? When He moves in our lives and draws us to Himself this is an opportunity to witness to others. Who can you encourage?

Excellent summary of this entire event below:

Responding to the deconstruction of others’ faith

Before condemning or preaching at/to others, I believe that we should actively listen! Listen for clues to what this person is really saying. Most people talk about deconstructing their faith in stages. This is crucial to consider! This is typically a process not a one time decision. Unfortunately, judgmental and hypocritical responses from Christians make this worse. A kind ear and hug can go a long way for a hurting person! We don’t know who may be observing us and how we respond to our trials or care for others.

Pray for these individuals and invest time in loving him/her. Love them as they are not as you want them to be! Don’t try to explain the “unexplainable” whys of life. If they ask you, share how you have faced difficulties and trials in your journey. Sometimes people need to be reminded that it’s okay to have questions and even doubts about God. This is an opportunity to listen and for someone to voice their thoughts without judgment.

It’s honorable to be authentic in not having an answer to someone’s question! For example, we don’t really know why that God allows a young child to suffer with cancer. Telling people that God does this for His glory or that God has some special plan for this family misrepresents God. Be cautious in using Romans 8:28 and other verses with hurting people. Ever faced a painful trial? How do you feel when someone says: this is for the best because God has something greater? These sayings and others like it minimize the person’s experience and doesn’t recognize or empathize with the hurt. Perhaps the best way to handle this is to be present in other’s lives actively listening and praying for and with them.

Personal Account on this topic:

An fellow student sought me out to tell me that he couldn’t “pretend” to follow Christ any longer. He couldn’t be good enough for Jesus. He was choosing to live a life that included behaviors that he knew wouldn’t please God. He was done trying to be good enough. He would rather enjoy sin than pretend to love God.

He didn’t ask for a theology lesson, he wanted me to listen. This allowed me to respond to him with grace and truth after he asked me what I thought. Listen first then speak if requested! I told him that he was closer to Christ than he realized. He was aware that he was lost and that’s the first step in coming to Christ. He was done pretending. That’s when God’s grace appears.

The prodigal son returns home but it’s the older brother who remains lost! Let’s remember that it’s not our knowledge about God that attracts people. It’s God’s truth, grace, love, mercy, and kindness present in our lives and actions that shines forth!

May God encourage and strengthen your faith as you face the trials of life,

For His glory and honor, I write.

Lee Stanfill

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Just a pilgrim walking each day with Jesus and hoping to encourage others along the path.

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