I recently had the opportunity to meet Mike, an amazing man who has been struggling with his faith over the past year or so. He grew up in Christian America, going to Christian churches that from the way he explained it, seem both relevant and Bible believing. He recently started going to my old church in the US and came on a mission trip with them to Thailand. What impressed me about this man was his honesty with his struggles. He didn’t try to hide the fact that he doubts God, but rather openly confessed it and was sincere in seeking out help. He desires to have faith, but right now it isn’t there for him. I’m sure a lot of Christians today have similar struggles, but never openly admit it because either they think it will exclude them from their Christian community or they think it means that there is something wrong with them spiritually.
As I sat down with Mike to chat, the thing I realized was that many of his issues with Christianity really weren’t Biblical issues, but rather cultural ones. It seemed to me that a lot of his doubts stem from this idea that Christianity is experiential in nature. He mentioned that when he first became a Christian, he felt connected to God and experienced His presence more often, but now God seems distant. Today he asks other Christians about their experiences with God and really envies what they have yet he wonders why God isn’t there for him in a similar way. He prays for God to draw near, but nothing ever happens.
Another issue is the seemingly contradictory nature of God’s word. Mike used the example of trying to find a soul mate. He had asked one Christian brother for advice and was pointed to Proverbs 31. The advice was to seek a woman like that. When asking another brother, he was pointed to Genesis and told how Adam didn’t seek a wife, but sought God’s will instead. Once you focus on God’s will, then He will bless you with a helpmate. To seek or not to seek? How can God work both ways? If the Bible is unclear, what are we to do when we need advice about our everyday life concerns?
Mike’s first issue of experientialism needs to be addressed head on. There is a misnomer in the American Church that God shows himself to us through experiences. While it is possible to have experiences, this just isn’t the case for everyone and isn’t what we should ground our faith in. Experiences rely on subjective information and can be misleading. Paul tells us in his epistle to the church in Rome that “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the word of Christ.” (Romans 10:17 – ESV) It is in Christ’s words that we need to ground our faith in. This is the method God uses to give salvific faith to people throughout the world. This means that we need to open up our Bibles and look to God’s word for a foundation for our faith. Scripture is objective and reliable. Subjective experiences are what they are. At times they can be helpful, but they are not sufficient for true faith. The Bible is the most powerful tool we have to bringing faith to ourselves and to an unbelieving world.
Mike’s second issue, which concerns the contradictory nature of scripture, is really a hermeneutical issue. How do we appropriately read our Bibles? What are the different books written about and for what purposes? What is the context? Is the passage we are reading prescriptive or descriptive? I’ve heard it said before that the Bible can be compared to the driver’s manual of an automobile. When we humans run into trouble, just open up to the right section and figure out a solution. Is this a good analogy? Is scripture a bunch of life tips to help us be successful at living and to fix our problems? Yes and no. The Bible does offer us good advice time and again, but this good advice isn’t the purpose of God’s word. The driver’s manual comparison is insufficient. Each book of the Bible has a different reason why it was written. Figuring these purposes or themes out should be step one before we take a section of scripture and start declaring truth from it. But more than that, the combination as a whole has an overarching leitmotif that needs to be considered. Jesus said that all these books were written about him. (Luke 24:27) Keeping Jesus’ interpretation of scripture in mind, we can see that this overarching theme is intertwined throughout all the books of scripture. It is God revealing to man who He is and how He is saving us from our sins through His son Jesus. Jesus’ death and resurrection is the focal point. So, while Proverbs 31 (a wisdom book) can be properly used to help us look for quality characteristics in a wife, we can also see Christ within its pages. Our story from Genesis however is really a descriptive story in nature and shouldn’t be read as prescriptive. To say that Adam only focused on God’s will and didn’t seek a wife so we should do likewise is not being honest with the nature of the text and its purpose.
I think Mike’s two issues fit together nicely. Both have to do with scripture. If we understand that faith comes from hearing God’s word and that in order to hear God’s word properly, we need good hermeneutical principles, then we know where to go when we are struggling to believe in God. We go to His word. We should not look to the subjective, but rather to the objective. God has chosen to reveal Himself outside of us through His word. If we have doubts, we can find Him there. Mark shares a story with us about a man who looked to find healing for his demon-possessed son. He lacked faith in Jesus, but confessed, “I believe; help my unbelief!” (Mark 8:24 –ESV) Jesus helped his unbelief. He healed the man’s son. If we are being honest with ourselves, this is our prayer as well. Our faith isn’t perfect. We need Jesus to help us with our doubts. So my prayer for Mike is that God will grant him understanding and faith through his word.