Is it a sign of weakness to question one’s faith? Or, alternatively, might it be a sign that we are blessed; that we are presented with an opportunity to reflect on our faith so that we may strengthen our relationship with God?
The Apostle Paul encouraged Christians to periodically “Check up on yourselves. Are you really Christians? Do you pass the test? Do you feel Christ’s presence and power within you? Or are you just pretending to be Christians when actually you aren’t at all?…” (2 Corinthians 13:5)
Whatever the reason, God knows that we may periodically struggle in our relationship with Him. He understands that it is in our nature to question. He also knows that it is beneficial for us to periodically assess whether we are nurturing Christ’s presence within us or are only going through the motions of being Christians without really interacting with our Lord. He knows these things because He created us with the capacity to doubt, to reflect, and to make choices. But mercifully, God also created us with the capacity to believe and trust in God even when we cannot see Him, when we cannot prove His existence, when we are spiritually stuck, when we cannot understand what He wants from us, or when we don’t know why things happen the way they do.
God created us in a way that allows us to have a loving relationship with Him if we want it — by trusting in Christ. We need only ask Him, and we can have the meaningful relationship He offers everyone – a personal relationship with God the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: One God; one spiritual relationship. We have only to ask Him, and He will give us the gift of faith. “Because of his kindness, you have been saved through trusting Christ. And even trusting is not of yourselves; it too is a gift from God.”(Ephesians 2:8)
But this doesn’t mean it always comes easy. For some people, building or maintaining a relationship with God is harder. It can require a lot of commitment, tenacity, and perseverance. Sometimes it requires downright stubbornness on our part not to give up.
How we respond when bad things happen, when we don’t understand God’s purposes, or when our prayers aren’t answered in the manner we had hoped, can tell us a lot about where we are in our spiritual journey and in our relationship with God. It can signal to us the strength of our faith. Our reactions in the face of life’s trials can give us insights into our love for God – our trust in Christ. They can warn us when we are giving our heart to, or putting our faith in, someone or something other than God – like ourselves, our money, our possessions, a false god, or a false messenger. They can serve us by disclosing those areas in our spiritual well-being that require prayer, reflection, study, or action on our part. They can encourage us to commune with God when we haven’t, and they can teach us not to take our relationship with Christ for granted. Our relationship with Christ is a gift to be nurtured and built upon, not an entitlement to be neglected.
Fortunately for us, God is loving, merciful and filled with grace. He’s generous and giving in ways we might not understand. God offers us a relationship with Him through Jesus, without which we would succumb to spiritual and physical death. A relationship that allows us to bridge the valley of death that lies between those who trust in Jesus and those who do not. A relationship with our Heavenly Father that is only possible because of His love, mercy, sacrifice, and forgiveness. A relationship with our Heavenly Father that we cannot buy or earn through our own merit or good works, but that we must invite into our lives.
God gives us His love freely. A meaningful relationship with God, through Jesus, is ours for asking. If we love God and follow Jesus, then no matter who we are or what we have done, we will not be turned away. Nothing will come between us and our Lord.
“Ask and you will be given what you ask for. Seek, and you will find. Knock, and the door will be opened. For everyone who asks, receives. Anyone who seeks, finds. If only you will knock, the door will open.”(Matthew 7:7-8)
The choice to love God and follow Jesus is ours and ours alone. God knows that we need Him, but He knows also that we may not recognize our need, nor want Him in our lives. God desires we love Him willingly – or not at all. There is no glory to God in emotional coercion or spiritual slavery. God gives us what we need to know Him. He asks that we turn our thoughts and hearts towards Him by trusting Jesus. He lovingly waits for us to turn away from those worldly things that compete for His love and would destroy us. However, how we use the precious time He gives us is up to us. If we squander the opportunity to know Him, if we don’t seek Him and offer ourselves to Him, that too is on us.
Perhaps God uses life’s trials or challenges to our faith to strengthen our relationship with Him. Or perhaps they are one of the many ways we may be called to witness our faith in Christ. When viewed from that perspective, life trials and challenges to our faith may be blessings. We may not recognize them as “blessings” at the time, but that doesn’t detract from their contributions to our spiritual growth and well-being:
“Humble men are very fortunate!’ (Jesus) told them, ‘for the Kingdom of Heaven is given to them. Those who mourn are fortunate! for they shall be comforted. The meek and lowly are fortunate! for the whole wide world belongs to them.”(Matthew 5:3-5)
“When you are reviled and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers – wonderful! Be happy about it! Be very glad! for a tremendous reward awaits you up in heaven. And remember the ancient prophets were persecuted too.” (Matthew 5:11-12)
If we don’t find Jesus when or where we seek Him, the Bible tells us to keep seeking until we find Him. God promises us that He can be found, but He doesn’t promise it will be easy. Likewise, if our heart remains hardened against God when we pray for it to soften, we must keep praying and it will eventually soften. If our prayers to God seem not to be heard, we must keep praying and listening – mindful that sometimes God’s answers are not recognized or what we desire, but they are always what we need.
If ever our faith is tested or we become lost in a spiritual quagmire, it’s important that we turn to God and pray for help in Jesus’ name. Spiritual matters are not something we can – or are meant to — address alone. When we pray to God in Jesus’ name, we are not alone and we will not be abandoned. We can persevere.
Tested faith can strengthen our faith in God and cause it to grow.
Untested faith may not be very strong, or it may not even be faith at all.
Only when our faith is tested, are we provided an opportunity to honestly expose our faith for what it is – allowing us an opportunity to ask for God’s help to overcome any weaknesses we’ve identified. We should never feel that trials or challenges to our faith reflect God’s lack of love for us. To the contrary, God’s love for us is a “constant” that we can rely upon during good times as well as bad. Even when we may not love Him as much as we should, we are loved.
“Who then can ever keep Christ’s love from us? When we have trouble or calamity, when we are hunted down or destroyed, is it because he doesn’t love us anymore? And if we are hungry or penniless or in danger or threatened with death, has God deserted us? No, for the Scriptures tell us that for his sake we must be ready to face death at every moment of the day – we are like sheep awaiting slaughter; but despite all this, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ who loved us enough to die for us. For I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from his love. Death can’t and life can’t. The angels won’t, and all the powers of hell itself cannot keep God’s love away. Our fears for today, our worries about tomorrow, or where we are – high above the sky, or in the deepest ocean – nothing will ever be able to separate us from the love of God demonstrated by our Lord Jesus Christ when he died for us.” (Romans 8:35-39)
Photo by Zacarias Pereira Da Mata