Once every box under ‘God’ was ticked. But not now for some. How best to respond?

Those of us with 50 years of faith under our belts, and as stalwarts in the church, are assumed to have it all nailed in the ‘belief’ department. Done and dusted. Every question and issue sorted.

For many now old enough to be retired, that may be true. But not for all. And certainly not for me.

This can be unsettling for those of us who are finding our faith now has blurred edges. It can be even more unsettling for fellow Christians who struggle to come to terms with those rethinking some of the black and white convictions of our ‘oh so certain’ heritage.

They are the ones who have reached their after-work years with a faith that’s safe, secure and certain. But for some, as our bodies have changed with passing years, so has our perspective on the God who made us.

This might be for one or more of the following reasons –

  • The ‘promises’ of the past having never been fulfilled. In my case the assurance of revival round the next corner and our church stream being at its heart and in a leading role.
  • People they have served alongside in church now being hostile rather than supportive when God and ‘truth’ seem elusive. Or experiencing a church torn apart with internal strife while the leaders pretended it wasn’t happening.
  • The pain from spending time with a good friend whose marriage failed because of the unfaithfulness of their church leader abandoning her for a younger woman.
  • Seeing what the church has to say about same sex relationships – and how those involved are treated – doesn’t seem to chime with the lives of gracious and prayerful gay people close to them. Or with the words and actions of Jesus.
  • The more they look in depth at the Bible, the less God seems to be one who is ready to roast all who get it wrong about him. And are beginning to see God as far more welcoming and abundantly loving than they’d first been taught.

Much of the above is true of me. As I’ve discovered it’s also true of many others – whose deepening faith is now accompanied by some doubts, uncertainties and things they want and need to keep thinking about.

Within months of coming to faith in my Brethren Assembly I had everything settled. In place was a clear assurance of what was ‘sound’ and what was not; who was ‘in’ and who wouldn’t make the grade.

The years that followed have shown me how little I really know compared with God’s greater plans. In fact, some of those I would have said firmly were ‘out’ have contributed greatly to my spiritual growth.

With all that in mind, let me suggest 5 things for those working through the blurred edges of their faith. And then 5 for those who enjoy certainty and are more than a little concerned over those who don’t.

Five things for those with a blurred edge faith.

If you are revisiting those things that once seemed so absolute, I’d encourage you to keep the following in mind.

1. Focus on the things you can be sure about

Despite questioning many areas of what I have been taught, I’ve always been sure of two things: that God loves me, and that his amazing grace is always there for me.

In the same way, I’d encourage you to identify what you are sure of – seeing each certainty as a brick in a wall of faith to be built upon. You may only have one or two but that’s a starting point. Think of the friends who would stand with you no matter what – add them to the wall as more bricks.

2. Know it’s okay to question and doubt

I’ve yet to meet an honest Christian who has not wondered whether prayer was all in our minds, or thought some Bible passages are cruel, appear contradictory or are simply unbelievable.

But park those things until you can find someone safe to talk with or you have time to ponder them further. And be confident that God is not troubled over our doubts and doesn’t demand that we have our spiritual lives totally sorted. As a friend once said to me, ‘Build on the good bits.”

After all, even the first disciples of Jesus didn’t have it all sorted. Matthew’s Gospel tells us at the final resurrection appearance of Jesus ‘When they saw him, they worshipped him; but some doubted’.

If it’s okay for those who went on to be world-changers to doubt, then surely it has to be so for us.

3. Try not to get cynical

This is a tough one, especially when you see huge inconsistencies in other people’s lives. We look across the Atlantic with bewilderment at how some Christians live in ways that seem starkly inconsistent with Jesus’ teaching – and it happens closer to home too.

But we are only responsible for ourselves and the choices WE make. Finding room for negative thoughts and cynicism is ultimately destructive and takes us no further along our spiritual journey.

4. Find others to travel with you

Don’t walk alone in your time of questioning. There are always others willing to walk with you. Just reassure them that you’re not attacking anything they hold dear or looking to them to answer your questions. You simply want a trusting friend to walk with you while you work things through.

5. Have realistic expectations

We have grown up conditioned to think everything about our faith should be cut and dried. And it’s some of those ‘certainties’ that are now under question. The reality is you won’t answer every question and that’s fine. It does not diminish your relationship with God.

Five things if you have it all nailed.

If you have all the boxes ticked and think those who haven’t are letting the side down, please –

1. Trust our integrity.

All that’s happening is we are committed to taking our faith seriously. And are making ourselves vulnerable by disclosing doubts and seeking to process them. That is an expression of honesty which deserves to be respected, even if you don’t understand it or even if you feel threatened by it.

2. Understand our pain.

The pain becomes more acute for those who have had an ‘untroubled’ Christian faith for many years. This is because we have lived with the expectations – of ourselves and others – that ‘knowing who we have believed in’ should mean we have certainties about everything else.

Dealing with doubts, and processing spiritual issues, takes time and needs freedom from outside pressure. Please give us space and time, while playing whatever part you can.

3. Don’t try to resolve our issues.

Please be sure we’ve already had our fill of instant answers, exhortations to ‘have more faith’, and being given a barrage of Bible verses, opinions and platitudes. Indeed, some of these have contributed to where we are and continue to be a total turn-off.

Feel free to pray for us, please. Listen with your ears and with your spirit. Make no assumptions and say nothing unless and until asked.

4. Don’t judge us

As you contemplate where we are spiritually, please don’t dismiss us as ‘backsliders’, being light on the Bible, or having sin that’s not been dealt with. Or for any other reason. Rather, please accept us as fellow travellers wanting to follow Jesus as closely as you do – but with some honest doubts about some of your certainties.

5. Be kind

This is the most important thing of all. The person with doubts and uncertainties – still a humble follower of Jesus – is bruised and vulnerable. Because of this, what they need most is kindness. And, as Jesus said –

‘Anyone who gives one of my most humble followers a cup of cool water, just because that person is my follower, will be rewarded.’

Doubts and uncertainties are part of the Christian life. And that’s fine as it in no way damages our relationship with God. What’s needed is for those in the happy position of being (fairly) sorted to walk with the pilgrims who are finding the terrain a little rocky.

Paul Dicken

What is your experience of fuzzy-edged faith – either yours or someone else’s? Please share it here or on the AfterWorkNet Facebook community Thank you .

Paul Dicken is a passionately Welsh social justice warrior, left-wing, historic transport geek, radio ham, unlicensed historian, lover of hiraeth (nostalgia), information junkie and happy grandpa to ‘four wonderful kids’.

The word retirement is not even in the Bible. What is taught in scripture is transition. There is nothing that says you work most of your life and then get to be selfish for the next 20 years

Rick Warren, PurposeDrivenLife