In the Dark: Processing Doubt With Faith

BEAUTIFIED PAIN

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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Unveiled By Grace: The Blessing Of A Beating Heart

THE BLESSING OF A BEATING HEART

Earlier last week as I laid on my bed, the position I was in enabled me to feel the rhythm of my heart. As I became relaxed and still, I paid special attention to the movements, visualizing the organ as it circulated blood flow through its valves. Feeling these pulsations in my chest brought me to peace as I fell in awe and wonder of God: Do we slow down enough to appreciate that which we have no control over, but which have such significant roles in our lives? Feeling my heartbeat reminded me I am not in control of anything other than my choices. And by the grace of God, even those are influenced by the power of the Holy Spirit through faith in Jesus, that I can see what I would otherwise remain blind to without. What is it we cannot see without the grace of the Holy Spirit?

BLIND TO GRACE

The truth is that the answer to this question would be fruitless to those having not first received God’s grace. But receiving God’s grace undoubtedly answers the question on its own. In other words, to have received God’s grace is to be humbled enough keep it; to not have God’s grace is to be blind to the treasure of knowing we need it.

I would like to spend this article appreciating God’s grace and looking more deeply into the experience of recognizing the beauty of what isn’t ours to give ourselves.

RECEIVING GRACE

Honestly, grace was, more or less, a weightless spiritual term for me before recently. While it held its place in the spiritual conversation, the character of grace did not live up to its name. Little did I understand until recently that it was because I had not received grace more fully (deep in the spirit); rather, I had only taken notice of grace on the surface. To know of grace as a religious term is to have knowledge of a word without its context or purpose; to receive grace is to feel the Holy Spirit influence and reshape our heart by the humility of knowing the control (of thought, choice, and action) we have is painfully flawed and in need of divine correction. If we have not received grace, we will not desire correction; we may view ourselves as a work in progress at best, giving ourselves the credit of believing we know how to fix what is broken. The problem is we believe we can correct ourselves in our current state of understanding of what it means to correct, when in fact it is our skewed understanding of “correctness” that brought us to our flawed state to begin with. 

DIRECTIONS TO A MEANINGLESS DESTINATION

Grace instigates a change on the inside. God reframes our understanding of what it means to receive what He gives us as an outpouring of His love, rather than knowing of His gift like directions to a place we’ll never travel to. What kind of difference would it make to know how to get somewhere we’re not interested in going? It wouldn’t. What difference would grace make then if we could not see our current state? Grace pulls away the veil and reveals with the light of Christ the dark space inside that is our blindness. We cannot remove a veil we cannot even see is obscuring our view

OUR TRUE NATURE REVEALED

Grace remaps our perspective. Say a friend tells you that you have something in your nose. This may draw different reactions, namely relief and surprise; surprise because you might not have expected such a comment, and relief to discover there was something to remove. Grace is similar, but obviously to a much greater and more fundamental degree—it is the revelation of Christ’s character. When our sinful way of living is revealed, we are likely to be surprised by just how off-putting our lifestyle really is, but we are relieved to know there is a much better way. First, we must understand what a healthy lifestyle looks like by comparing it to what is unhealthy, and ultimately desiring what is more healthy. Grace is the unveiling hand, revealing where we’ve chosen for the worse. 

INTERNAL EXCAVATION AND REBIRTH

Grace can be believed, but still not received. There is a difference. A received grace can be found in the fruit of a person’s actions, after the true nature of grace has been divulged to them. When we receive grace, there is a deep, internal shift—not merely permutation; there is no reordering or rearrangement of our spirits—there is an entire excavation of our original mentality to make space for a new spirituality; our old, dead spirit for our new, reborn spirit. Grace complements the process and reality of rebirth, where we surrender our old, “sinful self” for our new spirit in Christ. What is amazing is that with grace, we desire this excavation; the renovating of our very interior walls into our reborn spirit, where our new eyes can now “see” ourselves before and after Christ. We then begin to understand the end of Christ’s means through His death and resurrection, and we are witnesses to our own transformation.

CHRISTIAN “BRAIN-WASHING”

Some people fear or suspect this “excavation process” (my personal choice of words) to be what some might call the brain-washing effects of Christianity. Let me be clear—this is not brain-washing because there is no manipulation or deception: The Truth of the Spirit of Christ speaks for itself. We cannot stop grace from interacting with our spirits anymore than we can stop water from being wet—because this is merely the natural, organic communication between grace and our spirit inside. Grace does not need manipulation to have a sincere impact; grace’s intrinsic form evinces our most inner self by wiping the manipulation and deception of sin from our eyes; no facades, no defenses, no excuses, no masks—only the truth.

The reality of grace is that while it is a perspective change, the shift is triggered by the change of our view of the self (which is initiated by grace). In other words, when we see ourselves differently—spiritually-speaking—our new spiritual view changes how we see the world around us as well. This is as immutable as fire is hot: To see oneself differently is to perceive one’s world differently. A doctor cannot be a clown and a child cannot be geriatric; a doctor cannot accept his identity to be a clown lest he forfeit the nature of his responsibility anymore than a child could not accept him or herself to have diabetes or arthritis while youthful and galvanized. Likewise, once we understand what our true nature is by the power of God’s grace, there is no returning to our previous identity (life without God) because to return would be to merely pretend (like the doctor or the child) not to see what cannot be unseen, wearing a front in the name of self-denial. These useless, vacuous pretenses would far more likely be brainwashing our minds than the genuine, revealing nature of grace in our hearts. 

BIOLOGICAL REASONING AND DECEPTION

In this way, grace is not manipulation anymore than experiencing love firsthand renders us speechless. The experience of grace is not a trick or deception anymore than realizing what it feels like to love and be loved is “otherworldly.” We know we cannot amply explain love beyond chemicals and hormones (with strict regard to the biological argument), but we “know” our experiences are authentic, sentimental, and more precious than any other. This is our truth. Once we have experienced this love, or have come to understand it through the love of Jesus, we would not attempt to use logic to explain it away just because we cannot explicate the process further beyond our understanding of explicit biological reasoning. In other words, simply because we cannot explain love without using clichés when trying to break the argument away from science, this doesn’t stop humans from believing that their experiences are all the more real than much any other experience.

Likewise, we would not explain away grace as manipulation if we knew, from the spirit, the freedom of knowing (growing in awareness) our sinful identity is promoted by the deception of the enemy, and how having our eyes opened to the Truth of Jesus Christ is the most significant and essential reality to be encompassed by (reborn identity) and invited into. 

LIBERATED BY A LACK OF CONTROL

When I felt my heart beating while lying down, I acknowledged to myself that at any moment, my heart could simply stop. Not due to health problems or the position I was lying in, but because God allows each new breath to come, and He could stop allowing it at any time. This realization is grace itself in action, reminding me how beautiful it is not to be in control of everything, including the very breath enabling me to continue living and making decisions and realizations—all of which impact the people around me. We are given so much control, and yet to truly see our lives from the bigger picture (what I like to call the “bird’s eye view”), we realize that the control we have is so little—and yet, this truth is extremely liberating when we receive grace and realize how much more abusive of our control we would be without it.

FREEDOM BY OMISSION

When we can admit and acknowledge this abuse, we turn inwards with humility and gratitude that God gives us the grace to choose Him, again and again, and to not so stubbornly beg and plead for more control. Grace enables us to see the havoc and chaos which would destroy our identities without Him who extends the gift, and in seeing this Truth, we are not manipulated, but set free from the lie that so much control is actually better than surrendering to a personal, loving, unconditional, selfless, infinitely powerful and omniscient God—a God creating each new moment (allowing every heartbeat) for us to remember once again why we serve with humble eagerness. May our eyes be opened to this Truth, and may we all be filled with peace, hope, joy, and freedom in the omission of more chaotic control as we follow a God whose sole intention is to give us the best life we could possibly live. 

I pray this would be our new perspective, mentality, and source of relief. In Jesus name.

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Relieved