Resting under the dark grayish blue hues of makeup that is the dawn of the sky’s face on a Sunday morning, I listened to the placating voice of Leslie Mills in Yanni’s “Before the Night Ends” while my stoic, broken gaze was raptured by the song’s emotion. Truthfully, my faith is hurting; I have been feeling distant from God, yet His gift to me through this perfectly beautified pain resonates in way I cannot avoid or deny.
There are moments, stints in Christianity alike the inevitably “natural” cycle of life—where intermittent adversity strikes spontaneously and painfully. A time arrives when faith seems like the wrong choice, when Christ Himself seems like a lost fictional character in a fairy tale reserved strictly for the absent-minded folk looking for an escape rather than a solution. How long does this phase last? More importantly, is this just a phase, or a reality within the life of faith? I would like to explore these thoughts here.
ABJECT DOUBT AND MINDLESS RESISTANCE
What strikes me is this specific facet of hardship in Christianity; namely, the facet of doubt becoming so abject as to seem more real than belief itself. Not so much regarding the level or scale of faith required of the believer to retain spiritual composure in the face of adversity, but rather the weight-filled capacity one is required to open/free up in sacrificing the “old self” in order to fully embrace the “new self” and “pick up our cross to follow Him.” In other words, what I’m facing is the violent, mindless resistance of my old self desiring its place back in my life. But my eyes have been opened: I cannot “un-see” my faith. I have been embraced by His essence and enraptured by His truth—I cannot un-know what I now know anymore than I cannot take off my humanity and become a centipede.
THE MIRAGE THAT IS LIFE
Within this thought is the honest truth and opinion that Christianity is not “easy,” depending on the perspective of the believer. But, I would sternly argue how faith in Jesus as Lord is not an invitation to an easier life; this is as naive as believing dessert is healthy because it looks and sounds delicious. Christianity can look shiny and clean at times, and that is not a facade—but that is not the full picture: It is but one angle from a single mind within a multifarious crowd of individuals, each at different intervals of the same adventure led by the same leader. “Cleanness” is but an attribute of orderliness and fair-play, one which would profess Christianity does not shed blood nor experience pain, and this is as fallacious as life itself acting as a mere biological mirage in the form of keratinocytes/epidermis (or skin), electrical wiring, hormones, and thought patterns. This is, after all, the surface value human experience as we know it; one we can deny or believe, resist or accept, but which exists nonetheless as our mental skeleton of life, positioning us between existence and what comes afterwards.
After almost 10 years of investigating faith and Jesus, a stark truth stands out: Faith generally appeals to the hearts of those who see nothing else to turn to in our cosmically darkened labyrinth of existence, and also to those who realize they have altogether seen too much and fear turning in any other direction other than the grace of God through Jesus Christ.
A JEALOUS GOD, AND A NEW ‘SKIN’
Listening to “Before the Night Ends” brought me to a calm and stolid state of mind. I slowed down enough to realize my position in my faith and my thoughts of Christianity at this point in time: In the air, vacillating between the desire to scream at the sky (as if God is there and not inside me through the Holy Spirit) and my incessant need (and inability to admit otherwise) for His love and presence—despite my rebellion to pursue Him more adamantly. I make God jealous by desiring anything other than Him before desiring Him. The adversity of the Christian (the psychological portion of the “Christian ‘mess,'” if you will) is the level of aversive doubt we must face and fight with faith. Our faith, of course, is only as strong as the amount of ourselves we’re willing to “let die” in order to gain the “new epidermis”; namely the new spiritual skin of faith—armor from above in the form of a belief more pertinacious than any tangible iron we could strap over our chest.
THE CALM BEFORE THE STORM
As I listened, the words and flow of the song reminded me of a stark image of the Christian faith: Christianity has moments when we are called to either fight or rest (among other, smaller roles within these two); the fight could be evangelism, prayer, or simply obedience in the face of rebellion. Rest could be meditation, surrender of thought or concern, singing praises, or even physical rejuvenation. At some point, however, there will always come the opposite (fight or rest), and this striking point hit me like a wrecking ball while in my car. This song, having pulled me into the trance of relaxation, had me realize I was resting in the posture of gaining back some strength—but for what? To fight again. We are not called to permanently rest on this earth.
Those who claim they will rest when they’re dead do not understand the balance of work and play, nor the purpose and importance of human relationships/community/family. Those who do not understand there is a time for ‘fast’ and a time for ‘slow’ are unwise and “like a leaf in the wind,” trapped between indulgence and desire. When Christ said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest,” (Matthew 11:28) He was inviting us not to get carried away with the exhaustion of constantly living in action (“fight” mode). His invitation was not only Him saying, “I have the power to give you the rest you seek,” it was actually initiating the thought that we need to seek rest from our adversities/battles. There is a time to fight and a time to rest; a time to suffer and a time to heal—Jesus knew this. There is a calm before the storm, and Jesus saw the storms coming.
AN IMPERSONAL GOD – ‘FATE INCARNATE’
Another point which jarred me off balance recently during a visit with family (unbelievers) is how easy it is to live life believing we are here on earth to just get along, cooperate, make a living, and one day die peacefully. This seemed easy to believe while I was with them, but this notion strikes me as not only naive, but completely God-less. We don’t need belief in God to believe life should be more fair, more cooperative, more complacent, or more peaceful. We don’t need belief in God (nor even acknowledgement of Him) in order to bite into the food in our hands because we can still do that without realizing it’s by His love and grace that we have the ability to move at all. But if we impersonalize God and turn Him into a “force” without morality or emotion, He becomes Karma or Fate Incarnate, moving only as a manifestation of Nature (Pantheism); a character in the book of humanity written by humanity from the opinion and limited observation of humans. The emphasis here is to be placed between that which humans make of God when we are inspired by God, and what humans make of a ‘force’ when they are only inspired by thought and perception.
DIGESTING THE EXTREMES
For unbelievers, the God of the Bible is too fantastical and histrionic; dramatized with fire pillars, red seas, and a resurrection. But forbid the idea that God could become personal or intimate, lest He become someone we realize we actually have the choice to deny or receive. How can God become so personal as to have a relationship with a human being, and how could He be “born” through a virgin? These questions pass through us, first burning through our brains and down to our hearts where we subconsciously hold hostage the seemingly preposterous idea that we would rather have a personal God—if only the ideology behind such a belief made more sense than the way it is described/presented in a 2,000 year-old book of parables, metaphors, and far-fetched ideas (dragons in an unforeseen world ((Revelations)), a talking snake ((Genesis)), Heaven/Hell).
We then push this notion down from our hearts to our stomachs where we hope we will digest the confusion and forget we were ever bothered by such a conundrum. But eventually, because of Who created our minds and hearts to begin with, these thoughts will return and we will be invited once more to explicate who we are and why we are here. We can either live in the loop of a downwards spiral trajectory (digesting and giving away all hope of a purposeful life), or we can take the time to understand what appears to be a mystery, in turn, finding our Creator in the process and allowing Him to speak over the chaos that is our hearts in this world.
A MESS WITHIN THE STORM OF FAITH
We are given only two options, and this makes us frustrated and resentful. If there is such a God, why doesn’t He just make it all simpler? we ask. We have two choices, not ten thousand or ten million. The choice is between yes and no; it could not get simpler than this unless He literally told us what to say. The truth is, we know what He would love for us to choose, but we still need to make that decision. This decision, of course, will only begin with our yes or no—the rest of our lives will be a ripple effect of that answer, living by faith instead of self-dependency, boldness instead of fear; hope instead of mystery. Jesus Christ is the “Good News,” and even though Christianity is a big mess, it’s a mess because we’re in a storm.
Looking at this from the big picture, we might say that life itself is the “big picture” form of the ‘fight,’ and that when we die we will be at ‘rest.’ In this sense, the storm is messy, but even in the storm, Jesus does give us rest; we get time to do a little clean-up to feel rejuvenated and energized, and that’s when we’re called back into the storm. This is all Christianity—the good and the not-so-comfortable. We weren’t called to just live in the backseat while Jesus drives the car: He will stop, intermittently, call for us to fight a battle by His side, and He will help us win—even if we are injured. He knows the injuries are only testimonies to His goodness and sovereignty in that He will not only heal us, He will make us new.
WE ARE NEVER WITHOUT JESUS
If you’re like me, and you find yourself doubting your faith or questioning Jesus at times, recall the truth that we’re in a storm, and that this storm was given to us because it will bring us closer to God when we are obedient in pursuing His presence even while it appears to be distant. Jesus is never far, He is closer than a brother (Proverbs 18:24). He will not forsake us or abandon us (Deuteronomy 31:6). If you feel like He’s forgotten you, I encourage you to share that with Him openly and anticipate His response. I would encourage you to pray with a believer who will agree with you in prayer. God will send you an answer, and He will not leave you to fall into disbelief; He will lead you to remember that only He is God, and that you are deeply loved. Be lifted high, readers. In Jesus name!
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