Now and then, everyone needs a faith crisis.
Without them, our faith remains undeveloped, leaving us like perpetual spiritual toddlers. With them, we grow up into the maturity God calls us toward.
Now and then, everyone needs a faith crisis.
Here is how faith crises work. We carry around with us a mental picture of God, a cognitive understanding of who God is and what God does. Obviously our understandings are flawed and incomplete, yet we human being types need working models of God in order to relate to God. We are relational beings who need to know others, including God. This is how we relate with God…through relationship.
Faith crises come when our understanding of God cannot explain our experience. It’s like we draw a circle around God, telling ourselves that God’s activity is what God does within this circle, within our understanding of God. This gives us guidance for relating to God. We believe we “know” God and can relate with God.
But then something happens. An experience, event, thought, or something else happens which has to do with God or life as we know it, but does not fit within this God-circle. Our perception of who God is and what God does cannot accommodate this experience. Our life experience is outside the circle. This creates a faith crisis for us.
Those who are clergy will remember plenty of faith crises in their Clinical Pastoral Education experience. I encountered many situations in the hospital where I served which were beyond my understanding of God. They were outside the circle, forcing me to re-evaluate my theology and spirituality. Some fellow students just numbed-out; putting their heads down, moving through it without much thinking at all. Most engaged the struggle, allowing their theology and faith to expand.
A few years ago, our doctor reminded us of the need for a good faith crisis now and then. Our middle daughter struggled with illness from age six to thirteen. Finding a diagnosis was very difficult, leading to much stress, concern, and prayer. Part way into that difficult journey, Melanie (my wife) was in a consultation with the pediatrician. This doctor is a faithful caring Christian person who integrates his faith with his practice. We appreciated his consistent care with our daughter. But this consultation was not so helpful.
As Melanie described our great concern as parents, wondering how serious this illness was and what we could do to help, the doctor made this statement. “God is either testing you as her parents or is testing me as her doctor.”
Reflecting on this doctor’s statement, we can see how a person’s working theology informs one’s interpretation of life experience. This doctor sees most everything which happens as God’s will. Thus, he believes God gave our innocent nine-year old daughter a serious illness in order to teach us (her parents) a lesson.
Now, I’m certain that we have many lessons to learn. I’m certain we are flawed and fail often. Yet, I think our level of sin is about the same as most people we know. Why would God go out of God’s way to do such a cruel thing to get us straightened out? Is our sin so agregious that striking a nine-year old child with serious illness is warranted? And, even before that, what kind of God would make a child so miserable in order to teach her parents a lesson? Does God use people this way? Is this how a loving heavenly parent behaves? Does this understanding of God resonate the picture of God revealed by Jesus in the New Testament? Would you worship this kind of deity?
And then, to believe that perhaps God is testing him as a doctor by bringing our sick child to him for treatment….well, we can fix that right away. We can fire him as our doctor, then God won’t need to strike our child who will then test his physician skills. We can find another physician who doesn’t need testing, and then poof, our child will be well. Let God improve this doctor’s skills some other way than making our child sick.
Sometimes, when we are on the other side of faith crises, we can be thankful for the growth in our understandings of God. This experience made us glad we had come to some semblance of peace with theodicy (the presence of pain in a world along with a loving God). I was never so proud of Melanie as when she had the presence of mind to reply to our doctor, “That doesn’t fit my understanding of who God is.” The doctor quickly moved on to another subject.
So, when a faith crisis comes along, perhaps it’s not such a bad thing. I’m grateful for those numerous faith crises earlier wherein we had to “work out our salvation” and refine our understandings of God. They readied us for living with the reality of a sick child and continuing to be in relationship with God. I wouldn’t wish a faith crisis on anyone, since they tend toward the painful. And, I suspect I will encounter more faith crises before this journey is done. But I’m also grateful for the growth which results from engaging life and God.
So, dare we say it?
Everyone needs a faith crisis, now and then.