Part four in a four-part series. Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here. Read Part 3 here.
Most of us are familiar with the story of Peter denying Christ. Peter swore ““Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And he meant it. Yet, a few days later, Peter, “the rock,” crumbled in the face of a few questions. My friends who grew up in the church and lost their faith remind me of Peter. Years ago, they were asked, “Would you ever lose your faith?” and they boldly declared, “Never!” Yet, like Peter, their faith eroded and collapsed under pressure.
Godly, strong, and good people who grow up in the church can deny their Lord under the pressure of just a few questions. How can this be? Slow-grown cracks and erosions in the rock of faith make it cave under the weight of questions—even questions as light as a feather. Let me direct your attention to a few of the things that can cause these erosions so that you can recognize the marks if they begin to appear your life.
A Child’s Understanding of Faith Under the Pressure of Adult Questions:
When we are children, the world is explained to us at the level of which we can understand. For example, a kindergartener is told by his mother that the world is a circle. In fourth grade, that child is told that the world is a sphere. In sixth grade, he is taught that world is some sort of oblong elliptical body. Imagine if that kindergartener sees a globe in the classroom. He asks the teacher what it is and the teacher tells him that it is the world. His jaw drops and he thinks, “I have been lied to! The world isn’t a circle after all! I can’t trust anything my mother says! It is all a lie!” Should this kindergartener panic and lose all faith in his mother? No! Such an idea is laughable. Yet something like this happens all the time in the church. A person is taught a simplified version of a complex Christian doctrine, they come across a question about it, and when they find that things weren’t quite as they understood it to be, they panic. Like the kindergartener, they think “It’s a lie! I can’t be a Christian anymore!” The questions we ask about our faith are not reasons to panic, they are opportunities for the growth and maturation.
Have you ever heard the idea that man has a longing for God? One way that longing manifests is with our desire for knowledge. Consider the “whys” that have become philosophy, theology, art, and science. Follow the “whys” to the very end and where does it take you? You find yourself at the ground of being itself, at God. The chasing after why is a chasing after God. Enter into those “whys” with all your heart because, in them, the Lord calls your soul to him.
We all have expectations for those we love and it is natural to be upset when those expectations aren’t met. There have been times that I have been guilty of expecting my mother to do something as I would do it. When she does it her way, I become irritated, and often it isn’t until later that I realize that my expectations were unrealistic—if not ridiculous. Consciously or not, we also have expectations for God. Sometimes we expect that God will answer our prayer in a certain way, we expect that God will take away our suffering, we expect that if we are good then God will reward us, and we expect that we should feel God’s presence or see something miraculous happen. An important question to ask is, “Where did you get these expectations?” Is that really what Christianity teaches or is that something that you subconsciously absorbed from your culture, your Netflix, your friends, your parents, your church, or your pastor? When you find yourself frustrated that God isn’t acting as you think he should take a step back and honestly reflect upon your expectations.
Things We Don’t Like and Don’t Understand:
One expectation you can hold with near certainty is that there will always be things in Christianity that you don’t like and there will always be things that you don’t understand. For example, I don’t like and I definitely don’t understand the idea of hell. I could panic and think, “Oh, no! What if I don’t think that non-Christians go to hell? What if I don’t think there is an eternal place of torture? What if I don’t think anyone will be in hell? Does that mean I can’t be a Christian anymore? Do I have to abandon all my faith?” NO! I can be a Christian who struggles with the idea of hell and doesn’t know what to think about it. I don’t have to panic and become an atheist or agnostic. My belief in Christ is not in my understanding of certain doctrines. Therefore, I am free to live with uncertainty and join with the man who cries to Christ, “Lord, I believe. Help my unbelief.”
Overfamiliarity and Horses:
In Everlasting Man, G.K. Chesterton uses horses to illustrate the idea of becoming so familiar with something that you actually become blind to it:
[Consider the beauty and wonder of a great horse. Picture it in its glory and you begin to understand why the artists placed the legendary kings on horseback, why the writers made the horse the symbol of the heroic and why the ancient Greek philosophers set winged-horses among the gods. Imagine the wonder at the first moment a man sat on the back of such a marvelous beast. That awe and respect is the right response to the horse. Now, consider a boy who grew up surrounded by horses—his father rode a horse, his grandfather rode a horse and everyone around him loved horses. But, suppose he gets into a dull mood in which he can no longer feel wonder when he sees a horse. To him, a man riding a horse means nothing more than a man sitting on a chair. Perhaps horses have been talked about too much or talked about in the wrong way; perhaps it was then difficult to care for horses without the horrible risk of being horsy. Anyhow, he has got into a condition when he cares no more for a horse than for his chores. His grandfather’s stories of horses seem to him as dull and dusty as the album with old pictures. Such a person has not really become enlightened about the album; on the contrary, he has only become blind with the dust. But when he has reached that degree of blindness, he will not be able to look at a horse or a horseman at all until he has seen the whole thing as a thing entirely unfamiliar and almost unearthly.]
Now consider a boy who grew up in the church—his father was a Christian, his grandfather was a Christian and his friends were Christians. But, suppose he gets into a dull mood in which he can no longer feel wonder at the Christian story. He sees nothing but normal in the image of Christ on the cross. Perhaps Christianity has been talked about too much or talked about in the wrong way; perhaps it became difficult to care for anything Christian without the horrible risk of being like one of those fussy old church ladies. Anyhow, he has got into a condition when he cares no more for Christian doctrine than for his most tedious homework assignment. His father’s Godly wisdom seems as dull and dusty as an old untouched, King James hymnal and he has become blind with the dust. [Blighted with a sort of hereditary boredom with he knows not what, and already weary of hearing what he has never heard. He does not judge Christianity calmly; he does not judge it as he would judge atheism or agnosticism.] He will not be able to look at a Christ or a Christianity at all until he has seen the whole thing as a thing entirely unfamiliar and almost unearthly.
It is said that the church is filled with hurting people. While it is true that hurt can bring people to the church, hurt also drives people from it. Have you ever been really hurt by a Christian? My hunch is that the answer to that question is “Yes.” Perhaps you were betrayed by a friend who you thought you could trust. Perhaps the person who is your mentor fell into an affair. Perhaps your spiritual leader lost their faith. Perhaps you worked for the Church and felt burnt-out, exhausted, overstretched and taken advantage of. Perhaps you felt guilty for sinning and inflicted emotional pain on yourself. When you find arguments against Christianity more compelling than they usually are, when you welcome doubts for the sake of having doubts, when you feel too lazy to resolve your questions, when you look for arguments as one might look for excuses, then be wary. Be cognizant that you may be looking to rationalize the reaction to your hurt instead of dealing with the hurt itself.
Examine yourself and lookout for the signs of erosions: a child’s understanding under the pressure of adult questions, false expectations, things you don’t like and don’t understand, overfamiliarity, rationalization and of course, horses. May the rock of your faith stand firm and be solid enough to bear the weight of many questions.
 Matthew 26:35 NIV
This series was written by Ariel Dempsey, who is currently pursuing her Masters of Science & Religion at Oxford University. She has also a degree in medicine and studied apologetics at Oxford.
© 2017, Never The Same