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My Faith and Doubt

March 29, 2009

On his blog, Fallen and Flawed, Demian Farnworth described the most dramatic event in his life.  He then asked others to describe theirs.  I have two events that are related to my faith and since my faith is what I hope defines me I would classify them as extremely important, if not dramatic, events in my life.

I came to love God at an early age. My faith in God was unwavering until I went to college.  In 1974 I went to a Christian college and majored in Political Science.  The experience was extraordinary.  I continue to look back on those four years as some of the best of my life.  I had wonderful Christian professors who took a personal interest in me.  I also had classmates that I still consider to be some of my closest friends. 

During my junior year I took a course entitled “Contemporary Christian Issues”.  In the course of discussing these issues, the validity of scripture came into question. It was the first time I had heard anyone in leadership in the Church question the truth of the stories I had been taught from my youth. I began to look at Creation, the great flood, and the story of Jonah from a critical point of view.  At the time, I didn’t spend too much time mulling these issues over in mind, but the doubts were planted.

During the summer between my junior and senior year I had the privilegeDr. Francis Schaeffer of traveling with a singing and drama group with other students from Christian colleges from my denomination.  In preparation for the summer, the leader of this group had us view a series of videos created by Francis Schaeffer called, “How Then Should We Live“.  I remember it being very difficult to follow Schaeffer, but it was clear that he was proposing a much deeper commitment to Christ then I had experienced. Schaeffer suggested a faith that produced a radical obedience to the lordship of Jesus Christ.  I had been a committed Christian for many years but I was pretty happy with the direction of where my life was heading and Schaeffer’s thoughts were a little unsettling.

Sometime during my senior year the doubts that were planted the year before began to surface.  I began to wonder about the validity of the Genesis account of Creation. Did it really happen in 7 days?  Was Jonah really swallowed by a whale? Was the flood a worldwide event as suggested in Genesis or was it just a local tragedy? When these questions arose, I kept pushing them back in my mind.  I couldn’t imagine where these thoughts were coming from and I didn’t know what to do with them.  Each time I thrust them back in my conscience, I ensured that they would stay around. I also think that during the summer of 1977 that God had called me to a greater commitment to Him, one that would demand a deeper level of obedience. I wasn’t ready to follow where He wanted to lead.  This was the first time I can consciously remember saying “no” to God. 

I stayed in this state of doubting for about five years.  I got married, began my career as a teacher, and got involved in a local church, all while questioning the very existence of God.

I held my thoughts and doubts to myself.  I didn’t even tell my husband or parents. In fact, I had decided that if I did come to the conclusion that God wasn’t real, I wouldn’t tell anyone.  I would just continue to go to Church and pretend I believed because I knew my lack of faith in God would crush my parents. 

On a trip to my parent’s home, I decided to confess my doubts to my parent’s pastor, Rev. Mark Goodwin.  He had also been my pastor during my senior year in high school and while I was attending college.  I went to the parsonage and told Mark of my doubts.  I told him that at times I would shake my fist at God and tell Him I didn’t even know that He was there.  This seemed ironic to me. I was speaking to someone that I didn’t even believe existed.  I didn’t know how Mark would react, but I knew I needed to confess to someone and seek advice.  I will never forget his reaction.  He very calmly told me that God could handle my questions.  He said that I needed to search for truth and that God would be there while I searched.  By pushing the questions from my conscience, I was actually doing exactly what Satan wanted me to do.  I couldn’t move on until those questions were resolved. Mere ChristianityMy inaction to resolve the questions was pushing me further and further from the truth and from God.  Mark suggested several books to read, one being C.S. Lewis’ Mere Christianity.

I felt so relieved.  I had not only confessed my doubts, but also found that my questioning was actually normal.  I began my quest for the truth by reading Mere Christianity.  It was exactly what I needed.  I needed to know that an intelligent man who was an atheist set out to disprove Christianity and actually ended up accepting Jesus as his personal Lord and Savior because the historical proof of Christ’s existence was so over-whelming. 

This transition from my parent’s belief in God to developing my own faith was the first dramatic event in my life.

I have never questioned God’s existence since that moment. I decided that I didn’t know about the Creation, the flood, or Jonah, and that it didn’t matter.  I knew that God had created the world, but I wasn’t sure how or when.  This attitude resulted in my spending most of my time in the New Testament.  I sub-consciously decided that the Old Testament was not as important as the New Testament so I spent very little time studying it.  I also was busy raising three small children and working full-time so in reality I spent very little time studying God’s Word in-depth. 

As I look back on this period of my Christian faith, I realize that the doubts that I had about the stories in Genesis limited my belief in a God who was powerful enough to do the things that seemed so unbelievable.  My lack of faith actually limited my Christian walk.  I seemed to struggle with the same sins.  I took very little risks for God.  I lived a “safe” Christian life, but one with very little adventure. My weak faith had a real impact on my life.  I think my experience is very common today.  There are many Christians who go to Church every Sunday but really have no victory over long-held habits. They don’t see God doing miraculous things because they have little or no faith.  They may even attend Church every Sunday and secretly disbelieve in the existence of God, just like I did during my 20s.

My mother began to attend a Kay Arthur Precept Bible study many years ago.  She tried to get me to attend, but I thought I was too busy.  I attended small group Bible studies at my church and even taught Bible studies to the teenagers at our church for over six years but these studies only skimmed the surface.  It was more of a “drive-by” study. I read the words, but they made no difference in my daily living. I became dissatisfied with my Christian walk. I desperately wanted God to transform my mind and conform my will to His but wasn’t sure how to make that happen.

 In the fall of 2003 I decided that I needed a structured way to study the Bible.  I decided to join the Precept Bible study that my mother attended.  At first I found the study to be intimidating.  I had never spent that much time studying my Bible.  The study involved using reference tools to study the Greek and Hebrew meanings of words. I was unfamiliar with Strong’s Concordance and at first fumbled through the process.  As the semester proceeded, however, I found myself being drawn to the study.  I found the in-depth method of studying God’s word fascinating.  His Word was so consistent.  The concepts that Peter was writing about were also written about in other books of the Bible. I found that the Bible didn’t contradict itself.  I left many of the Tuesday night sessions, re-playing Kay’s lectures in my mind.  God was beginning to use His Word to transform me.  I began to notice I thought about others differently.  I caught myself wanting to gossip and being able to stop before the words formed on my lips. God began using His Word to revive me.  He was changing me, conforming my will to His.

After about a year of participating in the Bible study, my leader chose to study Genesis.  God had been preparing me to face some of the questions that formed in my mind over 25 years ago.  I started most of my study times with a prayer for God to guard my heart.  I knew that these passages were what started my doubt in my 20s but this time I was approaching the scripture in a whole new frame of mind. 

We spent 16 weeks covering the first 11 chapters of Genesis. As I studied, I kept my mind open to the possibility that we shouldn’t accept these passages literally but after prayerful consideration and long hours of study, I came to the decision to accept God’s Word as written.  

My inability to accept this before limited my ability to believe in the vastness of God. God told Noah to build this huge barge that could hold approximately 520 railroad boxcars full of animals…and “Noah did according to all that the Lord had commanded him.” (Genesis 7:5.)  Imagine the ridicule and questions he must have faced but he “did according to all that the Lord had commanded him.” 

This re-embracing of my childlike faith of Scripture is the second dramatic event in my life. I want it to be said of me, “She walked with God and found favor in His eyes“, but look at what that means–complete obedience even at the risk of doing something that appears to be silly and risky, but what an adventure!  My prayer since this event has been that I have the kind of faith that would lead me to say, “I’ll build an Ark that can hold 520 railroad boxcars full of animals so that we can go through this cataclysmic flood for a year when it hasn’t ever rained!”  

This renewing of my faith in the validity of scripture made me ready to make that greater commitment that God called me to in the summer of 1977.  I am now asking, “God, how then should I live AND give me faith to obey!” 

 
 

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. March 30, 2009 4:58 AM

    Thank you so much for sharing this, Jennifer. I definitely agree it is so important for everyone to share their questions, their doubts, and their journey of faith. All too often, I think people can perceive “church experiences” and interactions as unauthentic where people are faking it, and not being “real” grappling with big questions.

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