Rant Alert: Struggling With Faith and Belief

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The last six months have been very interesting for me, in a slightly scary and life-changing sort of way. I’ve been asking myself a lot of questions that, over the course of the last 16 years, I’ve not really allowed myself to seriously entertain. They’ve been questions about my faith and what I truly believe.

I’ve been a professed Christian since I was sixteen years old, participated in ministry of some form from that very first moment, spent over three years of college with a focus on theology, and have been a licensed pastor for the past seven years. I am, by nature, a very analytical person, so these questions of faith and belief are not new questions that I’ve never thought of before. However, when you’ve spent a great deal of time in the church, it doesn’t matter what denomination, the collective belief of those around you and the information you’re indoctrinated with tends to drown out a lot of these questions with faith-based responses. It doesn’t wipe the questions away, it just makes it a bit easier to write them off or push them into the background. I know because I found myself doing the very same thing when these questions were asked of me:

Q: “If God wants everyone to believe in Him, then why doesn’t He just do ___?”
A: “Well, He wants us to have free will and for us to freely choose Him so He doesn’t want to have to convince us by doing ___.”
or “Because God already gave us evidence of Him, now He wants us to have faith.”
or “Because He’s God, and there’s some things we just don’t understand. We just have to trust Him and know that He’s in control and everything works out according to His will.”
or any number of other canned responses. The question doesn’t really matter, as some combination of the above tends to do a fun little “these aren’t the droids you’re looking for” faith-based jedi mind trick where you shrug and walk away not thinking too much about it because He’s God and you want to be a good Christian and not doubt Him. It’s about having faith, right?

This isn’t the first crisis of faith I’ve ever struggled with. I’ve had a lot of rough times in the last decade or so, and whenever things get rough it’s natural to question. It’s natural to look up and ask “Why? Why is this happening? Why aren’t you fixing it?” But there was always certain lines I wouldn’t allow myself to cross in my head because it was too scary. It was scary because no matter how bad things were getting my faith acted as a security blanket. I always had some hope that things were going to be okay, that God was there and He wouldn’t let things get too bad to the point where I couldn’t handle it. If I started picking away at that foundation I was afraid I just wouldn’t be able to handle what I found- either that I’d been wrong about everything, or that God would be disappointed in me because my faith was weak and I doubted Him. It was easier to just ignore the doubts and convince myself that I wasn’t ignoring the doubts, I just had faith. I wasn’t ignoring the fact that God wasn’t answering, I had faith. Then when something good would happen I’d praise God and give glory to Him and proclaim my prayers answered and hallelujah!

Not this time.

This time I crossed that line I’d never let myself cross. I started asking all those hard questions and wouldn’t allow myself to faith mind-trick them away. I started asking God these questions directly, waiting for a response. Any kind of response. I started going back and thinking about all the stuff I learned during my time studying theology and since, asking those questions I had then and not allowing myself to cop out with flimsy excuses. I started to pull a Descartes and tear down everything I believed, and I’m in the process of rebuilding those beliefs. Only this time I don’t want to “faith away” answers to questions, especially the difficult ones, because there’s just a lot of things that don’t add up for me. Here’s a few examples:

Q: If God wants the world to believe in Him, that He still exists, why doesn’t He continue to move in outright power that no one could deny? He expects us to just blindly believe in the testimony of people who lived thousands of years ago based on fragmented documents we happened to find?

Q: By that same token, why allow His missionaries to be martyred? Wouldn’t protecting those people in a supernatural way go further to show that God is real and he loves and protects His followers? Wouldn’t that be a much stronger witness for God?
Q: Why doesn’t God actively work to dispel all the in-fighting between groups that all claim to believe in him? Specifically extremist Islam, Judaism and Christianity? If we’re using the Bible as a basis of belief, God was pretty adament about people believing in Him, only Him, and went to great lengths to show who He supported. So why not move in a more outright and powerful way even among His own people? Why allow all the fighting, death, and misery- all in His name? Free will, blah blah blah. Well, God wasn’t concerned with free will when He hardened Pharaoh’s heart & unleashed the plagues on Egypt because Pharaoh wouldn’t let the Isrealites go, all according to the Bible. Jesus didn’t have a problem performing miracles to back up His claims. The early church did that kind of thing too. Why not so outright anymore when, because of technology, almost the entire world would be able to see?

Q: Many denominations and believers accept the entire Bible as TRUTH, some even to the point of saying that every single word is God-breathed and inspired and to question it is a sin. But what about the inconsistencies? (Did David kill Goliath or did his servant? Both accounts are in different books of the Old Testament- 1st Kings and Chronicles- for example.) What about the historical inaccuracies, especially when looking at the Old Testament. For example- the story of Jericho. The Israelites march around the wall of Jericho and when they shout the wall falls, right? Well, archeology doesn’t match up with that account. In fact there’s more proof that the fall of Jericho had to do with a class uprising, and that Israelites were already in Jericho as lower-class citizens and were a part of that uprising. That’s just one small example. In fact, how the Bible came to be the Bible we now know is a huge area of concern for me and always has been. We place all our faith into a book that was patched together by various fragments of books that we’ve found, and then it was voted on by multiple councils, all with different agendas- yet we’re supposed to just take it on faith that the Bible is the inerrant Word of God and we’re not to question it at all?

To use the popular phrase: seems legit.

I want to be clear, I don’t blame God or Christianity or the church for my problems and doubts. I’m not on a crusade to prove that God isn’t real and the church is crap, but I don’t want to continue to blindly believe things just because that’s what the majority believes or because it’s how I’ve been taught. I don’t want to be willfully ignorant.  I don’t want to be afraid of what people will think of me because I’m asking these questions. I think it’s especially important in times like the ones we’re currently living through, where entire groups of people are being hurt, physically, emotionally, and mentally, because of who they are- often in the name of religion. I don’t care what the Bible says, if Jesus was who He said He was, I don’t see Him ever condoning the way that a lot of professed believers have been treating homosexuals, for example. It’s detestable and not at all the example that Jesus set in the Bible that they profess to believe in with all their heart. We’re supposed to act out of love, not hate; and there’s nothing loving about the attitude and actions I’ve been seeing from the self-professed men and women of God.

Anyway, that’s where I’m at, and I wrote this because I know there are a lot of other people out there struggling with the same thing. You may have questions you’ve always been scared to seriously ask. You may have doubts that you’re afraid to examine. I’m here to tell you that I’ve been doing those things and I’m still alive. I haven’t been struck down by lightning. I haven’t had God show up and tell me how displeased He is with me. It’s okay. I honestly believe God gave us our brain and our ability to reason because He wants us to use it, not just blindly follow like sheep.

If God is who He says He is, then He’ll understand.

J.R. Broadwater is the author of the non-fiction book Down with the Thickness: Viewing the World From a Fat Guy’s Perspective, the sci-fi detective novel You Only Die Twice, the fantasy novel The Chosen: Rebirthing Part 1 & 2, and the superhero tale Just Super, all available now in digital and paperback formats. Sample chapters and more information about these books can be found here. Kindle editions on sale for a limited time for $0.99 as a part of the Independence Day Sale! Be sure to take advantage!

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13 Comments

Filed under Rant Alert

13 responses to “Rant Alert: Struggling With Faith and Belief

  1. Mark Drane

    Thanks for sharing Randy. I struggle with some the exact same questions you do. It is refreshing and encouraging to hear you be honest about what is really going on in your mind. We all have these questions, most of us are too afraid to speak them out of fear of what others might think, or out of fear of hurting our loved ones who look to us be the spiritual leader. I think it is is healthy to articulate our questions, concerns, and feelings. If we can’t be honest with ourselves, how can we be true to God. I don’t understand most of the Bible, yet I have been a believer for over 40 yrs. For me…….it is not just the words Jesus spoke…….I feel God’s presence the most when I look deeply into eyes of very small children. Peace, please look me sometime……would love to go deeper in the search for meaning. Sincerely, Mark Drane

  2. J.R.

    Thanks Mark. I really appreciate you taking the time to say that. Growing up I always looked up to you as a spiritual leader, and you and Linda were like a second set of parents for me. I’m hoping to visit Memphis in August and I’d love to get together with you guys again and catch up.

  3. This was an exceptional post, if anything for its honesty alone. In today’s age, I think that shows real personal strength.

    Normally when I drop in to religious thought pages for a quick word I don’t like to be real pushy either way. I’ll be frank that I personally can’t tout the term “Christian” any longer (though I was raised and pretty strong with it like you), but even still I’ve never had any interest convincing people away from their beliefs (unless they’re highly intolerant of course!). But I think your self-honesty here warrants some out of a kind of respect from me if you want.

    So here’s a stranger’s advice if you’ll hear it: the cat you’re letting out of the bag right now is a damn big, scury, sharply clawed cat hah. You know this of course, but as someone who’s gone down this road and forced himself to stare into a finely polished mirror the whole time, I’ll say it can be “worse” than you’d expect. That self-honesty is both a blessing and a curse. For me, I tried desperately to play the apologetic in my faith, but the more honest I was, the more it got whittled away. And unfortunately I’m of the opinion that for anyone truly truly honest, they’ll inevitably end up reaching a lot of the same conclusions. It’s made me so much better and more purposeful in some ways, but it’s also left me confused and with a more troubled psyche in others (as well as the removal of one of my biggest “safety blankets” so to speak). So there’s the stranger’s advice.

    That may sound like useless advice, but even in my irreligiousness I can admit to religion’s vast benefit and would encourage others to stick to it and are even welcome to any self-delusion therein so long as its ethical and makes them a better person and the world a better place.

    The questions you posed are good ones. I think there are some more “troublesome” ones out there you’ll inevitably run into with serious questioning, but if it’s any optimism I’ll cede that I did find answers to the ones you put here that still satisfied my religious intellect.

    Anyways, sorry for the droning. Wish you well!

    • J.R.

      I appreciate you commenting and sharing your own experiences. I, too, have asked the more troublesome of the questions you’ve referred to, I just didn’t want to open that particular can of worms in this article. I’m not through it yet. I’m still struggling and I’m not sure where I’ll come out on the other side or what I’ll look like when I do, but it’s something I have to see through, because I can’t go back to willful ignorance anymore. Regardless, I do appreciate hearing from others who have taken similar journeys. I wish you well in return, and feel free to comment any time!

      • Well let me throw some optimistic reasoning out there then: to me, it sounds like a lot of those troublesome questions are stemming from treating the Bible directly as God’s word. Have you thought about dropping that notion? I dont mean to be cavalier, but it frees up the authority and legitimacy of God to be based on more present, accessible, and (id argue) sensible things. If you look at the Bible as a book written by man about God, I think a lot of the inconsistencies vanish quickly, and also of course are not important. The violent, selfish, inconsiderate, and homphobic aspects of God’s past also then seem more clearly to be a result of Israel’s previous lack of understanding and somewhat a sense of manifest destiny. You’re also more free to be concerned with who Jesus was (and for you, more importantly, IS) than the correct interpretation of text. You lose a safety blanket, but to me, even if I went back to Christianity, the bible would still have to be kept in its proper place: the nightstand or bookshelf, not the worshipping pedestal.

      • J.R.

        It’s certainly something I’ve been considering the past few months. I don’t think it requires throwing everything out, so to speak. I think it requires, as you implied, a new way of looking at it. Specifically, I think you have to take the Old and New Testaments individually and judge them on their own merits. The New Testament can be mostly corroborated by other historical sources. I think as a Testament of who Jesus and the early church were it still works in that capacity, especially the Gospel accounts. When it comes to the “letters” you just have to remember who was writing. Especially with Paul. For all his changes after getting knocked off his ass (figuratively and literally) he’s still a classically trained Pharisee and those beliefs and ways of thinking still come through often in what he says, albeit colored with the new glasses of Christianity.

        The Old Testament is mythology. I think that’s the most accurate way to describe it. Much of it may be loosely based in factual historical events, but it’s very obviously been embellished and/or influenced by other cultures as well, and certainly shouldn’t be taken literally as completely factual historical accounts.

  4. Indeed, you don’t have to throw it all out, but the shift of spiritual authority away from the bible and onto god (sounds ridiculous, but hey you know the former is the pragmatic status of many) can go a long way.

    Anyways, if you get too stuck on anything maybe I have a workaround hah.

    • J.R.

      Yes, it can be really concerning how many people treat the Bible as God.

      Ha! Thanks!

      • Matt Barnes

        “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast.” Isaiah 26:3 NIV

        Your mind is the seedbed for your attitudes, beliefs, and behavior.

        My thoughts and comments today are about “a resolute mind.”

        The mind is not an easy thing to control, and never easy to get settled once and for all. Just when you think you have, you wrestle with second thoughts. James describes, “A double minded man, unstable in all he does.” James 1:5-8 NIV. Unless steadfast, thoughts can be inexplicably whimsical, easily reversing themselves with growing confusion and uncertainty. When that happens, peace of mind is elusive.

        Here’s where the real issue lies, “You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3 NIV. Read again the closing, qualifying condition in that verse, “because he trusts in You!” An unchanging trust in God steadies and strengthens a steadfast mind. I have observed that a person does not really choose what they believe. You choose who you believe and that ultimately shapes what you believe. Foster a resolute mind to believe God and His Word, every time, all the time. Choose each day to believe God – what He says and what He is doing – trusting His wisdom, His righteous character, His eternal Word, and His faithful works.

        Until those are non-negotiable in your life, everything else remains open for discussion. “For as [a man] thinks in his heart, so is he . . Meditate on these things . . which you learned . . and the God of peace will be with you.” Proverbs 23:7 NKJV/Philippians 4:7-8 NKJV. You will hear contradicting, opposing opinions from the surrounding culture. You will feel peer pressure to recalibrate your thinking, “just a little bit.” Read Psalm 1:1-3 NKJV. Circumstances and appearances will tempt you to reconsider your position of trust and obedience.

        Be steadfast in your mind. Resolving the trust issue simplifies every other area of daily life. A steadfast mind makes life simpler and choices saner. Make no mistake about it; there is a battle for your mind. Every political commentary and editorial, every politician and special interest, TV program and musical lyric, every movie script and advertising appeal, and every fad and fashion that comes along is persuasive – in subtle or blatant ways. Your mind is the seedbed for your attitudes, beliefs, and behavior. Every voice and influence gaining access into your thoughts is selling something – much of it challenging or even contradicting “the mind of Christ” within you. Read 1 Corinthians 2:12-16 NIV.

        Paul provided counsel for how you win the battle for the mind and keep that victory, “The weapons we use in our fight are not the world’s weapons but God’s powerful weapons, which we use to destroy strongholds. We destroy false arguments; we pull down every proud obstacle that is raised against the knowledge of God; we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ.” 2 Corinthians 10:4-5 TEV.

        The secret of mental, moral, and spiritual victory lies in those words. Determine that every thought will be “made to obey Christ.” The mind is at peace when the heart is steadfast in God. Jesus said, “I am leaving you with a gift – peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give isn’t like the peace the world gives. So don’t be troubled or afraid.“ John 14:27-28 NLT.

        My prayer for you today is to have a heart and mind that is at perfect rest in God.

      • J.R.

        Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment.

  5. Matt Barnes

    J.R,
    I hurt for the painful journey you are going through right now, but am not sure anyone would be helping you by trying to talk you out of semi-conclusions just now. The only encouragement I would offer is that you keep some foundational beliefs of God’s Word as a place to which you can “come home” when questions seem to have no good answer.

    I sense that something in your life is not working – ministry – marriage struggling – health or money problems that aren’t changing- or moral struggles. Something you feel God will not/has not helped you with.

    When I am unsure of something(s), I keep a stronger grip on what I am sure about. You can travel about anywhere if you keep grounded and not forget your way back home.
    You seem to have more questions than answers right now, more doubts than beliefs. That’s a tough place to walk. And sounds like you insist on walking out your own path and finding your own answers. If you hold onto God’s love – God’s unchanging love for you and your devotion to loving and serving Jesus – you can come out of this journey on a brighter side.
    I would suggest some Godly counsel and prayer with someone you trust and can be vulnerable with.

    Sometimes prodigals, which I do not believe you yet are, have to find their way to the far country and back home to Father. I feel you are more a wonderer than a wanderer at present. Father will be waiting with outstretched arms and I certainly do NOT want to be the elder brother, who had all the wrong answers and attitude! But, if you were my pastor, I would not feel very well shepherded right now. What is your ministry/leadership responsibilities right now?

    Who has not had intellectual questions? Got gave us a brain to use but also a heart to trust. The Word of God is not approached for intellectual verification alone. It is not a history textbook. It is a revelation of the heart, nature, purpose and providence of God. It is a love letter, not a doctoral treatise. I believe that you can’t really choose what you believe; you choose who you believe and that determines what you believe. I hope your journey brings you to find you can trust God and your own heart and faith.

    (On a secular level and not much proof of anything except to illustrate the principle. Listen to both CNN, or worse yet MSNBC, and listen to Fox news. What should you believe? All believe what they believe. You have to choose who you will trust; that helps you choose what you will believe.)

    M.B

    • J.R.

      Mr. Barnes,
      Once again I thank you for your response and I appreciate the words of wisdom and encouragement you’ve offered here. As you’ve said, I don’t see myself as prodigal yet, though by certain standards I’m sure there are others who would disagree. I still hold onto the foundation of my faith. I do not doubt the existence of God, or even necessarily His love. That is the foundation, that no matter how far I may walk, I still can return to. My doubts stem from not knowing who I can trust, beyond God. I doubt the sources for much of our information about God and who He is, and how we’ve all been taught, regardless of denomination. I seek answers from my Creator alone, and it is a very personal journey and not one that anyone else can really answer for me. Perhaps He’ll reveal those answers, or at least give me a peace about some things (and in some areas He has), perhaps not. In way it’s a renewing of that relationship with God, redefining it. For years I’ve not really felt that my relationship with God was one between a Father and son, but more of a working relationship between a Boss and employee. I held steadfast to doctrines and beliefs because that was what was expected of me in my position as a spiritual leader. There were certain questions and areas of thought that I wouldn’t allow myself to go for those same reasons. I seek to rectify that now.

      As to your question, I have no spiritual responsibilities as of right now. I lost my job as a youth pastor/director just over a year ago, and have been unable to find employment since regardless of my work experience or education. So now, it seems, is the perfect time for me and God to hash these things out. For the first time in years I’m no one’s pastor or spiritual leader, which frees me to seek out the answers to the questions I have without fear of leading others down a wrong path or causing them to stumble in their own faith.

  6. Rebecca

    It’s Christmas Day. I found this page after a discussion with my agnostic husband. I was raised in the church. God seemed to “bless” me with an exceptionally analytical mind. I’ve been careening down this path towards unbelief for a few years now, asking those hard questions, trying to let go of the faith safety blanket. He gave us a thinking brain for a reason. I hold onto a thread of belief. This has taken me down dark roads. And many terrible things have happened over the last few years that add to the questions. Thank you for your honesty. My deeply spiritual mother has been the only “Believer” I’ve been able to be honest with about the depths of this struggle. I don’t know where I’d be without her. But even then, I need my own footing for when she’s gone. I hope you’ve found answers.

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