Dangerous Faith

fist in skyHow big is our God?

Big enough to deal with floods? With cancer? Big enough to deal with abuse – or addiction?  Big enough to deal with child soldiers and genocide? With divorce and bereavement and childlessness and suicide and grief and loneliness and singleness and anarchy and democracy? Big enough to deal with Jimmy Saville?  Big enough to deal with regret and shame and anger and sorrow and bitterness?

And how loving is our God?  When He looks at us – at me and at you – does He care?  Does it matter to Him if I miss my bus? If I cut my wrists?  If I’m lonely or sad or lost or confused?

Sometimes these questions are just whispers.  When life is going well and church is part of the rhythm of the week and we’re settled and comfortable and cosy and Christianity is a nice thing, like a cup of sweet tea or slippers after the commute. Then, they’re hardly there at all.

But when the light goes out or the brakes fail…when there’s a stranger at the door or the phone rings in the middle of the night…when life breaks apart or splits at the seams

That’s when we can’t ignore them.  That’s when everything depends on the answers.

I’ve been reminded of this by an interview in the Sunday Times with Kate Saunders.  She writes;

‘Once upon a time, I had a beautiful son; his name was Felix and he was 19 years old.  He was handsome and charming and funny and I wish you could have known him.  I loved him more than I have ever loved anyone or anything, on earth or heaven, but I couldn’t keep him.  Early one morning, last July, my darling boy killed himself’.

What do you say to a mother in this position?  If there are answers, they aren’t easy ones – and comfortable religion is of no use either. She continues;

‘‘I’ve had it with praying.  I’ve had it with love and joy and resurrection and chocolate and bunnies.  The Easter message is all about joy and joy doesn’t live here any more…If God exists, I’m not sure that I like him and I don’t think he likes me.…On Felix’s last night I prayed for him – and look at the reply I got… I’ve been a churchgoer all my life but since Felix died… it is a small step to thinking the whole thing is a pointless charade”

She ends with a question

“… so I ask: what can today’s church do for a formerly religious woman whom grief has turned into a selfish, atheistical witch? What’ve you got for me?”

Here’s the incredible witness of Rick Warren responding to his son’s suicide just last weekend.

But what would you say?



9 thoughts on “Dangerous Faith

  1. Dear Emma, I just wrote this on my blog:


    Some of it may be relevant. When talking about the choices which could be made – I really did feel I was at a crossroads at one point. I consciously could choose to go back towards anorexia, self-harm, despair – I am not saying that it is always a straightforward choice, but there is a choice that can be made at some level. Do we choose to believe that there is a God who is bigger than anything this world throws at us? Do we choose to believe that God’s thoughts are higher than our thoughts and His ways than our ways (cf Isaiah). Do we choose to remember that eternity is what counts, and that our ‘light and momentary afflictions are not worthy of comparison to the weight of glory that will be revealed in us’ – the words of Paul who by that point had faced severe persecutions, shipwreck, beatings to the point of being dragged outside of a city and left for dead, imprisonments, his own health problems etc….

    I hope and pray that you are able to resolve some of these challenging issues in your own heart, and to know peace that passes understanding.


  2. I felt like looking in a mirror while I read this lady’s words. I never considered myself a churchgoer, I always thought I am in a real relationship with God. But this slowly changed. In the last few years slowly I arrived to that point where I said to myself and God: ‘it’s pointless. I am tired of difficulties, grief, pain and struggles while I see people getting all they want from life.’ Something died in my heart. The hope that God is righteous.

    I don’t know what I would say to this lady. Maybe something like: ‘one day it will be easier, but never will be easy. You will be different from every other person for the rest of your life. You are stronger than you can imagine even you can’t feel it or see it. There will be roses on your path and sometimes you will find it. Don’t blame yourself. Let God find you. I can’t figure it out how He can find you, but this is His problem, don’t carry any guilt or burden.’

    At least I still have got one thing: honesty.

  3. I just want to preface this with an apology: I have no credibility in the form of experience, really, and I probably wrote too much considering that. I just wanted to express some reflections I’ve had reading bits of the Bible thinking about these questions. I hope that doesn’t offend anyone and sorry if it does.

    I don’t know what answer I would give, but I do think it’s striking that in the book of Job, many of the explanations or responses we might be tempted to make are shown to be wrong, or at best hollow. I find it one of the most raw books of the Bible – it seems so alien and elemental, yet resonates so much with our experience of battling through these questions: ‘Even today my complaint is bitter: his hand is heavy in spite of my groaning. If only I knew where to find him…I would state my case before him and fill my mouth with arguments…’ (23:1-4).

    And I wonder how comforting I find the Lord’s answer in chapter 38 and following: it’s not like He gives a step-by-step cause-and-effect account of Job’s suffering – he doesn’t even seem to acknowledge how challenging the situation might have been for the man whom the Lord himself has described as ‘blameless and upright’. Instead, the Lord’s answer is a demonstration of his infinite wisdom, knowledge and power. It’s not the kind of compassionate answer I would feel appropriate to give to someone who has had everything taken away from them. But there’s something in it. Something so challenging that it actually might make sense – it’s not something you can dismiss as a ‘prepared line’ or as a desperate defence. It is humbling. And I guess it is only in that humility, as we admit that we don’t have all the answers, that we can start to trust that God does. Why God doesn’t give us all the answers crystal clear now sometimes frustrates me beyond belief, but if I let that frustration turn to humility, my heart might just let God in.

    Then there is also one certainty that we can claim when everything else falls apart: that God himself became the suffering servant, Jesus, who was the perfectly ‘blameless and upright’ one. And in fact God knows what the absurdity of suffering feels like, being killed on false charges. This is the fascinating thing about the crucifixion for me: from a human perspective it is the most absurd and pitiable end to a life – Jesus doesn’t even try to justify himself in the face of false accusations, he knows he could command a powerful army of angels to save him, but he lets himself be mocked and killed. Yet at the very same time, this suffering, these choices made in the most radical humility imaginable, actually make sense from a divine perspective. Not only do they demonstrate an unswerving commitment from God to enter fully into the human condition, but even more importantly, Jesus’ death transforms suffering. By suffering, He has made a final end to suffering. Jesus went first, making a way for us to receive that form of ‘double blessing’ which perhaps the end of Job’s life foreshadows: the resurrection life which is free from suffering (Revelation 21).

    So yes, there’s great perseverance required, and that can sound pretty tough: I don’t have the capacity for perseverance at all really. But thankfully there is one Man who did, and He has gone before us: his Spirit still lives in us, to take us through the fire under the shadow of the Father’s wings.

  4. I did cry and I would sit and cry with this lady and with Rick Warren. Offer no answers, just love them & be there with them in the overriding sadness. It’s not much. But it’s real, it’s tangible. It’s not turning away in embarrassement.
    At the moment through mental health issues I can’t attend Church. Church just causes me more pain, it’s an institution for happy people. (I havent attended for 18 months) The Church has no real answers to the deep core pain, that some of us feel.
    At the moment I think I would find more of a home in a Mental Institution than in the Institution of Church. Because in an Mental asylum they understand and treat broken people, they don’t ignore internal pain, they treat it. They don’t leave you on the margins, forgotten, written off & alone. They embrace you & help you.
    If you can show me Jesus in the pain of Mental Illness. Then please do it. Not in a sticky plaster way, but in a life changing way.

  5. Maria, I think you make some good points and I found your reflections really helpful. Personally I think God’s answer to Job is helpful only because it comes from God. It is the encounter with God that makes the difference, to see that God is there and God is in charge. In the difficulties I have faced I have not got all the answers I would have liked but I have met with God and it is being able to be honest with God (he can take it!) and experiencing his presence that has comforted me and helped me move on.
    In answer to the original question about what the church can offer to this lady, I would say unconditional love and patience and acceptance and permission to be real and not to have to hide difficult feelings. I think sometimes we can feel like we have to have all the answers and worry that we don’t, but being there and supporting her and demonstrating the love of a God that holds on to us even when we can’t hold on to him might be the most helpful thing.

  6. Thanks so much for these answers – so much wisdom.
    Kondwani – this is a very powerful post: thank you for sharing it.
    Kinga – I so appreciate your honesty, even though it’s never easy.
    Maria – such a helpful comment. and especially how, even when everything falls apart, God himself is the Suffering Servant.
    FHL – I’m sorry your experience of care has been so hurtful; there’s so much for us as a church to learn..but please don’t give up on community: you’re a blessing, even in your brokenness.
    Carly – I agree: it’s not so much having the right words or answers, but being there with others and pointing them back to God that makes a difference.

  7. FHL,
    It does hurt when the body of Christ turns away when faced with real pain. There is often denial of real hurts among the Church. We are to weep with those who weep. People are messy, even believers.

    I myself have a hard time with many Christians. The truth is, and this is sad, I have often had friendlier and more sympathetic interactions with non-Christians who were REAL, than with members of the Church who wore MASKS.

    As believers we sometimes have troubles being Jesus to those in pain. It is our own sin that shames and embarrasses us, and our own pride that stands in the way. We are afraid to be vulnerable because it is not safe and we may get hurt, so we protect ourselves from the pain we fear may come from being used by God. The choice is before us and like Peter we deny Christ. That is, we deny Him the surrendering of our will; we have a choice and we choose ourselves over Him.

    The sad thing is I know I have been grievously guilty of this myself. But it has been through my own broken-ness that I have come to a place where I am free to weep with others. Until I am broken, I cannot be transformed into something useful to God. Until I am willing to face my own pain, I cannot bear that of others. If I can’t honestly face my own sin, then I must put on a mask of self protection. It is pride that paralyzes Christ’s body in doing His work.

    It is okay to be hurt. I have avoided church for 18 years because of masks. The truth was I did not recognize my own need for repentance. I am now realizing I cannot grow without community, and my ability to be Jesus to others is greatly hindered by my own fear and pride that has kept me out of fellowship. This is going to require repentance from me (turning away from the direction I’m going and actively pursuing Christ).

    We broken people seem fragile because we hurt, and we weep. But this is the process of death and rebirth. If we let it, it can lead us on the life long (yes I said LIFE LONG) process of sanctification. As we repent from our sinful coping (despair, self soothing, self protection, etc) then Jesus can heal the hurts that sent us into these failures to trust and believe God really is who he says he is. But we have to see our coping for what it is: a self erected barrier between us and pain, between us and hope, between us and the love and promises of God. If we have the courage to do this, then we will be, in classic God like paradox, strong in our weakness.

    This is what the ENTIRE church needs. Those who are hurt are actually starting on a God glorifying journey, provided they have the courage to take the first steps of self examination and repentance.

  8. Chris, thank you for your honesty and all you shared. It is very powerful. And I agree with it all. And you’ve given me a lot to think through. I appreciate that, greatly. I don’t want to be ‘out’ of Church, I’m just not sure I’m brave enough to walk back in, in my current state of pain & brokenness. It may be the very place I need to be, but I find even the thought both overwhelming and terrifying. This from someone who has been to Church ever since I was born – I’m now so broken, no mask available and Church terrifies me. The expectations seem to high & all I can do is hurt & cry. I can’t stand & sing out in worship, I can’t listen to the preach without crying all through it. It’s hard to talk to people when all you can do is cry. All you feel is shame & failure. You’re not like all of them. You’re broken & you stick out, you look weak, you can hardly stand. Repentance from pride is what is needed. But, also God’s strength to carry you through, because you haven’t got any strength yourself. I hope I’ll make it back to Church, it’s where my family is & it breaks my heart each week when they go without me. But, I just can’t find the strength to go, just as I am. Please Heavenly Father, help all of us in this position, hear our repentance & ourcrying out & give us Christ’s strength, for without Him we can do nothing.

  9. Thanks all of you for your comments. Goodness me, I can relate to how ‘false’ a lot of people in church can seem. But is it also because they feel, like you, that others wouldn’t understand their pain? Or that their pain is somehow more minor or trivial somehow? I look around me, and see many people who are broken in one way or another. There are the childless. There are the widows. There are those with ill or disabled children. There are those without work. There are the lonely. There are unhappy marriages. There are work pressures. There are acute and chronic illnesses. But on a Sunday morning, sometimes all you see are plastic smiles, and ‘I’m fine’ kind of conversation. I have found that through my pain I can identify with others more, be more compassionate (I hope!) and use what God has done/ is doing in me to bring comfort to others.

    I feel sad when I know people who are leaving the church for these kind of reasons. I guess we must remember that churches are full of sinful, fallen people just like us. They often don’t mean to hurt or be dismissive, but are just inept, perhaps wrapped up in their own lives, perhaps not sure what to say or do. But won’t heaven be wonderful when cf 1 Cor 13, we fully know, even as we are fully known.

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