doubt & faith: God, you out there?

i don’t think we could talk about doubt & faith and miss one of the most critical reasons that it is tricky for people to connect with God in a real and intimate way:  it is extremely confusing why such cruddy things happen in this world while God seems to “stand by and watch.”  it comes up over and over again and isn’t something that can be solved with “everything happens for a reason” and “God has a plan” and “God works all things together for good for those who love him and are called according to his purpose.”

two saturday eves ago at the refuge my friends mike & paul facilitated a conversation around this video “you out there?” from reycle your faith.

i believe at our core is a tension that we need to respect and recognize and not just push aside–there is a lot of bad $*!&!^@( that happens in this world.    kids get horribly abused.  people we love die.  whole cities get wiped out by floods. houses burn down. jobs get lost.  mental illness wreaks havoc.  horrid injustices are being carried out against innocent & good & beautiful creations of God.   if we start listing them and meditating on them and focusing on them and letting the reality of them get too far under our skin it is quite true that it can overwhelm us and cause us to doubt why we would even believe in the first place that God is good, that God cares, that God seeks after people, that God protects, that God is in control.

i am not even going to touch the “God is in control” one; my thoughts about that have radically shifted over the years, and i will be bold and say that when i hear people say things like “God must know what he is doing” it makes me into a nutty person. tell that to the little girl who was sexually abused from the time she was 3.  i think we just need to be more honest that there are certain things that we just can’t reconcile unless we apply really, really bad theology.  and because we are human beings who want to make sense of what cannot be made sense of, we grasp at things that “comfort” in one sense but can also great harm to people’s faith in another.

the promise of faith is that God is with us, will not leave us, will not forsake us. i do not think faith is rational, but i also don’t think it’s irrational; it lives in between these things, like a paradox.  to make everything cause and effect, with God as the supreme micro-manager, is dangerous ground.  it can end up blaming the victim and tears down the faith of the afflicted.  to believe that God will make you whatever you want if you just have enough faith is magical thinking and not what God promises, either.  the mystery and reality of God cannot be contained in our own feeble attempts to give reasons for everything.  yet God loves us, God is with us.  i believe in every part of me that this is true even when i can’t put proper words to it.

i do not believe God is up there controlling who does what & making things happen to teach us something. i do not understand why certain things happen and certain things don’t. but i will rest firmly on the reality of Genesis 3 & the notion that we live in a broken, crazy, messed up world & trying to get our heads around the ins and outs of it isn’t the idea.  the idea to me is maybe more like asking ourselves these questions:

how do we become part of God’s redemption in the midst of such a mess? will we accept our lack of ability to reconcile what we so desperately want to make sense of in our own lives, and in the lives of others?  will we taste a bit of hope & be able to pass it on to someone else? will we let go of what we want and accept the goodness in what we have? will we respect that this world is hard and bitter and often cruel but that Jesus is alive and well in the darkest of places in ways that our little minds and hearts often can’t even begin to understand?  will we strain to see the light through the pitch black? will we respect that others often can’t see it and it’s not our job to tell them they are supposed to but instead just quietly & tangibly love them in their darkness?  can we let others help us when we are in the same boat & can’t see the forest through the trees? will we beckon our ears & hearts & minds to the ways God is present that we might not easily notice?

lately i have been crying out to God in deep and sometimes scary ways.  when you are around a lot of pain day in and day out it’s pretty rough sometimes.   God, you out there? where are you?  show up, why don’t you? and then i hear of someone going over to be with a friend in an hour of dire need; i see the texts and phone calls and emails that are being passed between fellow strugglers.  i see friends going to recovery meetings together.  i see food being brought to fill empty cupboards.  i see hugs. i see tears.  i see honest anger at God.  i see people saying “yeah, it sucks sometimes, but i still believe”, i see people taking their next breath and staying in when ever part of them wants to flee.  i see glimpses of hope. i see little small wacky miracles that don’t seem more than little kindnesses here and there but actually have the power to sustain life.

yeah, i can’t make sense of why certain things happen and why certain things don’t.  why one friend finds a partner and another lives their life alone.  why one child dies and another goes to college.  why one has mental illness and another doesn’t.  why a child is abused and no one does a damn thing about it.  why one couple makes it and another ends up in a nasty divorce.  why a tsunami comes in one town & not another.  oh the list could go on and on and on but i don’t think we’d get any further.  let’s just be more honest.  we can’t make sense of it.

instead, may we just try in our own simple & rough & unedited ways to live more honestly, to wrestle with God but respect that maybe we’ve been taught some things about his control & character that don’t quite cut it like they used to, and to live in the tension of what we do not know and stay focused on what we do:  Love & Hope & Kindness in dark places will always prevail.

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

19 Comments

  • Wow!! This was interesting. I have been thru so much in my life that I feel when I come to God like a child everything seems to be clearer to me.
    The letting go and let God seems easier.
    Also, the scripture where it says about taking care of all the beautiful birds and animals around us and how much more He cares about our life. Everything seems to melt away.
    God is so good all the time and we just need to take it one day at a time.

    Reply
  • The issues you touch on in this blog post are some of the issues that started festering in my spirit and driving me a little crazy causing me to earnestly challange and rethink a lot of the feel good…”God is Good all the time…and all the time…God is Good” bumper-sticker theology that I’d name and claim, along with my church congregation, week after week.
    Eventually though…trying to apply that casual rhetoric to particular scenarios like you mentioned ( vicious sexual abuse and violence against women and children, crimes of war and the effects of extreme poverty in third world countries…etc.) eventually became more and more difficult.

    I remember just last year, agonizing over the deaths of 2 boys ages 8 and 10 ( the same ages as my two youngest girls) who were bludgeoned to death in a neighborhood park in Phoenix, in broad daylight by a mentally disturbed man…just days before Christmas. I remember trying to work it out in my head…I also remember a close friend commenting that she “believed it happened so that God could be glorified thru any salvation experiences that might come out of people rethinking their mortality”. My response was couldn’t God find a less tragic way to bring illuminate Himself? Like maybe sending a rescuer at just the right moment…saving the boys from a terrifying and brutal death…while apprehending the sick man and finding him the help he needed??? I don’t know. It just seems easy ( and callouse) to say that kind of stuff when we aren’t in the middle of the horror.

    While I can certainly see, feel and attribute love, goodness, beauty and righteousness to God…there are definately situations and scenarios that seem irreconcilable with that…I admit, it’s a tremendous struggle for me many days to hold on to the idea and truth that God is with us and God loves us…

    As always, I appreciate you tackeling these ‘hard’ issues.

    Reply
  • At times I find peace in the acceptance of tension and ambiguity, of not knowing. These times I find faith.
    But other times I rage at everything unjust and unfair.

    Reply
  • Hi, Kathy,

    Thanks so much for bringing light to this. I know I believe, but I haven’t been able to figure out what to say to friends who are very angry with God for the horrible tings that happen around and to them. It’s come up a lot recently, with the work we’ve been doing. I think you’re showing me a glimmer of what it looks like to talk about it. I hope.

    Angela

    Reply
  • Thank you Kathy for being real and honest with very hard and difficult things that we as people face everyday…Pain, suffering, doubt, fear, anger, hopelessness, yet faith, love hope, kindness, creativity,…courage, strength…God, good and evil. To reconcile these opposites so we think is and will always be confusing and hard…but we shall not stop trying. Maybe to look at though, differently…”Because of free will, though it makes evil possible, is also the only thing that makes possible any love or goodness or joy worth having.” (C.S. Lewis) Does it make it easier? no,…does it make it go away?…no, can it change the way i think and act?….

    I love the questions that you pose to spark thoughts…

    Just some thoughts…thank you Kathy!

    Reply
  • I remember doing a funeral service when I was a pastor. I had done dozens of them prior to this one, but I finally had to address the oft repeated cliche, “God has a reason for everything.” I basically told everyone I thought that was a load of crap…easy to say when it’s not your son, dad, mom, etc. who is laying here, dead. The bottom line for me was two beautiful teenage sisters who died together in an automobile accident. God had a reason for that? If so, God has little respect and value for life, is a sadist or worse. This is like saying God CAUSED this tragic and senseless death to make a point. Look their dad in the eyes and tell him that. I dare you.

    No. The fact is that the bumper sticker is right: Shit happens. To everyone, no matter what they believe or how much they think God likes them. How we live through the shit, once it’s hit the fan and splattered itself all over our lives, is the difference that God makes in the tragedy. It rains on the just and the unjust alike. God IS good (all the time), but he doesn’t kill people to make a point to the lucky survivors. He is good enough to help those of us who survive learn how to live with the pain…and beyond it. He who didn’t spare his own son…

    Reply
  • Randy…I loved reading your perspective. Thanks so much for putting it out there!

    Reply
  • You bring up a great point Randy. What would you do if you looked over and Jesus was at the stop light next to you and when he pulled away he had that “Shit Happens” bumper sticker on his car.

    Can you still worship a God like that? Yes.

    Someone told me the other day that the underlying issue with doubt and faith is about suffering. I can’t believe that. I’m OK with him believing it, but as for me….my heart can’t bend like that anymore.

    There is something deeper going on and sometimes I get a little whiff of it. Sometimes pain is like a huge wind that comes and blows that little faint smell of goodness away. Other times Goodness comes like a hurricane and messes up my hair and knocks me down.

    I like that shit just happens, I like that I don’t have a theology that can explain that, I like that in spite of a lot of doubt; I know that in the end Love will always win.

    I like that God is out there, in more places than I ever imagined.

    Reply
  • very good as usual.

    I remember when I took the first steps out of my cliche faith and was really digging into what I really believed about God for real…. and was confronted by a friend in a horrible ugly situation and she was asking for me to tell her something ‘positive’ and I realized that all the things I used to be able to say…. I just couldn’t spit out…. because I didn’t truly fully know what was going to happen and I was afraid of filling her with false hope or promising her something that wouldn’t come true. I remember crying out to God (inside) God give me something. what is ONE promise I can tell her that for sure for sure will absolutely be right that she can cling to. And that was it… that He DOES love us beyond what we’ll ever be able to figure out… and that He will not leave/forsake us. “always always, the savior never fails. when all hope is gone, His promise remains – He knows our pain and He will be with us” He is right there in the midst of the turmoil and He won’t desert. It won’t get so bad that He will ever bail. He will be there always with compassion and love. 🙂 amazing!

    Reply
  • Kathy- love how you tackle paradoxical issues in life and cause us to ponder in a reflective, meditative way. I struggle with reconciling the 2 notions of is God all good and is God all powerful. I have seen a few discussions where it looks like it has to be one or the other. I think with freewill and freedom they both are true though. All the horrible incidents you mentioned, God does not will that to happen for some way to glorify Himself, but He Himself went through it and suffered the worst death imaginable because He loves us as His creation that much. What you shared is so true, we can’t make sense of it or understand it so often, but we can understand a God so incredible He became us so He would experience everything we have and have His loving action be a true symbol and hope for us no matter how down we get.

    Reply
  • Maybe my faith is finally gone. I read all this, and I’m having a hard time buying it. Sorry, I like all the perspectives and the discussion. For me though, I don’t only question why God isn’t there during the bad times, but also during the good. He seems to make no distinction about whether we’re in peril or joy, it just so happens that joy is easier to assign to a God who is perfectly good. I can’t shake the feeling that he’s perfectly indifferent. Ugh.

    Reply
  • Kathy~ Thank you.

    Joy~
    Thank you for thinking of me & for paying this post forward.

    Reply
  • Dear Kathy Again!! Wow!! You touched my heart in a big way my friend!!

    I was recently struggling with this aswell!!And basicly i have no answer. I have been through rough times myself!! And i wished that people just cared and listend when i was angry!! I thought about it lately why do i need to be listen at? Because i saw that no-one did!! I couldn’t grieve because of that!!I couldn’t put things in perspectief. So it kept me in the darkness for a long time!! Untill some friends start to listen an loving me even though they could’nt give me a answer. Which i didn’t want at that time, because life sucked for me and God too. I was just angry!!

    People mean well but sometimes we are angry or sad!! People always want to give answers and sometimes their are no answers but to love, to touch, to hug, scream and cry about it even though they are angry or don’t understand what is going on!! Anyway recently i was reading Job and i felt so encouraged by him, because of him being human about his situation. That really helped me to see that is it is okey to be angry and also not understand why things happen. He still believed in God after all the stuff that happen to him. But could also show his doubts and anger to God!!

    Thanks my friend for a be honest again!! It is a great help to me.
    Elsx

    Reply
  • I like what Els has to say, “people always want to give answers and sometimes their are no answers but to love, to touch, to hug, scream and cry about it.”

    What is it with christians needing to have the right answer? Is there a pressure to point suffering souls in the right direction? Pressure to not “miss an opportunity” to lead someone closer to Christ? B/c if someone did miss that opportunity, then would Jesus be upset? Is that what Jesus has become… someone who gets mad at us when fail to lead someone to a more correct theology? Is that what matters in the church today… how correct my doctrine is? If I’ve finally overcome the stubbornness of my heart and mind to accept that yes, “God is in control.” What do I win when I get to that place? Does Jesus love me more? Do I get more happiness? Do I bring more life to others when I finally believe that everything happens for a reason?

    If a correct theology is what Jesus requires of his child, then i’m out, find me a new teacher. But I’m pretty sure that’s not what he wanted. I have to believe that what Els wants is what Jesus asks of me, and is also what brings life to the suffering, and what brought me life in my suffering…someone to sit and cry and wipe my tears and hold me tight and offer me their heart and support, for as long as it took until I was able to smile again. Be with us until we can smile Jesus. Tell us we’re beautiful. Tell us we’re worth it. And when we can smile, we’ll go out and sit with others until they can too.

    Reply
  • Catch me on a good night, most nights, I can see sooo much hope despite circumstances. I have seen redemption and beauty up close, and have seen how presence makes a world of difference.

    Tonight, however, I was struck with story after story in group; a 5 year old trying to make sense of her dad’s murder; a 7 year old processing her mom’s suicide; a 3 year old asking me if she was going to die of cancer too?!?! So many more questions than answers. 🙁

    I am not really sure why tonight was harder than most, but, I truly needed to remind myself that my “love, hope, and kindness” is enough for today.

    Reply
  • Hi Kathy, in a tragic moment in my life, my youngest brother died 3 feet from the insulin syringe that could have saved his life. I know he had faith and was likely on some deep level uttering a life or death prayer. It was a time when God was on mute. I cried, I prayed, I screamed questions…nothing. No answers, It was the darkest season in my life. It lasted months. But even in this void, this black abyss I came closer to God, but not because of any resolution. Like Job, I could only declare God is God. That in the immensity of all that is creation, and in the infinite reality that makes up God, we hold a speck of dust, like a piece of an infinite puzzle. My faith concludes that there is a God that holds ” it ” all together, which is different than ” controlling ” it. But, I find it’s often in these tragic seasons of life it’s not the ” God Out There “. But the ” God in and Around Here ” that speaks. Through the love, the compassion, the grace of friends, and community. I think it becomes the voice of ” God with Us. ” Thanks for this post, stirred up some bad memories, but also some beautiful, and wonderful truths.

    Reply
  • thank you all for taking the time to share a piece of your heart & journey. i apologize for the late response, but please know that i hold your comments tenderly & am thankful that you take time to let me know what these thoughts stir up in you.

    maggie – thanks for taking time to stop by and comment. i am so glad you feel that peace and simplicity. it is a gift.

    joy – oh i always love to hear from you & yes, when i hear that kind of response it just makes me feel quite ill, actually. it is all so much to wrestle with, no easy answers & i just so appreciate your honesty and courage to let go of so much of what had the appearance of safety.

    mary – yeah, they both exist don’t they…the letting go & the rage sometimes.

    angela – glad these thoughts stirred up some goodness in you. no doubt, the easy trite answers are the last thing our friends need.

    jack – thanks for reading & taking time to comment. yeah, we were recently talking about c.s. lewis’ book “the problem of pain” (i think that’s what it’s called?) at our house of refuge. he has such fab ways of speaking some of these dilemmas out loud. hope to catch up one of these days.

    randy – oh how i love you. every time i hear from you i can’t help but smile and be glad that you are in our lives from afar. you tell it like it is, it is crap, these trite things that we say to make sense of something senseless. yep, shit happens. and God is still God and the whole darn thing is often mysterious and weird.

    john – your comments always make me laugh out loud and hit the nail on the head. my favorite line: ” I like that shit just happens, I like that I don’t have a theology that can explain that, I like that in spite of a lot of doubt; I know that in the end Love will always win. I like that God is out there, in more places than I ever imagined.” amen.

    randi – i, too, remember when the trite responses just wouldn’t cut it anymore. i’m so glad. they don’t help, they just do harm and falsely make us feel better & others feel worse. it’s good to learn more honest responses.

    robert – always great to hear from you & yes, talk about a paradox! the ultimate paradox, really.

    jacob – oh i appreciate your honesty. thanks for just telling it like it is, what’s really going on inside. you’re not alone in the feeling, that’s for sure. these are the moments i long for easy magical answers and know that there are none…

    rae – thank you for taking time to let me know you read. it always means a lot…

    els – oh your heart always roars out of your comments. thanks for sharing & i think giving up the need to give answers is one of the most important things we can learn from. loving. holding. listening. hanging in. presence. that’s enough. xoxoxo from afar.

    jason – great hearing from you and telling it like it is. i agree with you & els, so much damage done trying to give answers. it seems that never much damage gets done with just presence, does it?

    stacy – there it is, up close and personal, real life, real tragedy. sorry for the pain but so glad you are there to listen, to love, to be present in the midst of such a mess with absolutely no answers.

    ron – thank you so much for taking time to share a piece of your heart. sorry for such a deep and painful loss…oh, these are those moments that no words will do, that’s for sure. i love what you said here: “But, I find it’s often in these tragic seasons of life it’s not the ” God Out There “. But the ” God in and Around Here ” that speaks. Through the love, the compassion, the grace of friends, and community. I think it becomes the voice of ” God with Us. ” beautiful. absolutely beautiful.

    Reply
  • Yes that’s waht i meant Kathy!! PRESENCE!!

    Thank you Jason for your comment tooo!!

    Reply
  • My Saying is:Opinions are like a pair of socks. Everybody has a drawer fullof them ,at times they have holes,at other times they stinks and at the right times they should either be changed or thrown out :).
    So here is my humble opinion. I do NOT believe that faith is just BELIEVING.This idea was instituded in the churches to pacify people,and exhonorate God.True faith starts with a belief, but it becomes effectual only when the right effort is added to your belief.
    Of course I must add that I base my opinion on what I see in the sciptures. If you were to look in chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews at verse 6 you will find that He rewards not just for believing,but He rewards for Dilingently seeking him,take for instance Noah,he had according to the sciptures never seen rain,but he ACTED on Gods direction to build an ark and thus saved not only his family,but preserved the whole human race,and am sure if you look at all the miracles reported in the sciptures you will find that God always rewarded belief that was coupled to action.
    So then what about the millions of people starving all over the world?Should we indict God? We could, only if he had placed us on a planet that could not produce enogh food to sustain us,but instead we have people starving because of many,reasons such as poor choises,(lack of foresight of the people in question),greed,wars etc… but what about droughts and other natural events such as termed”acts of God”?If you look in the book of Job you will find that Job suffered from such calamities including poor health that were brought on him by Satan!Than why doesn’t God just zap Satan into oblivion like any good Hollywood director would? May be that in order to have light we must have dark,and so to have good we must have evil.of course this line of thinking could go on forever,let it suffice to say that the principles that GOD has set in motion can not be cheated,annulled or in anyway circumvented even by GOD.
    SOOOOOOOO what about me here and now?I am suffering and am questioning why am I going thru this….(you fill in the blanks)? First off the first thing to deal with is human free agency!That simply means that God will not interfere in our choises,but He expects us to govern our own selves.
    Second we suffer because of other people’s actions.
    But the worst part is; we reap what we sow,and this my friends is the bitterest pill to swallow.
    My advice (mostly to myself here,in my hour of need) is to find God’s will for my own life,and then to be able to cheerfully accept it,fully knowing that it still might bring me grief.
    The point that I am pondering is this :could it be that God doe not want us to be too comfortable in this expirience we call life,so we look forward to the next one?
    Please let me know

    Reply

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *