I read with sadness last week that Joshua Harris, author of I Kissed Dating Goodbye, had renounced his Christianity. Today, I read that songwriter for Hillsong Marty Sampson had made a similar announcement. I even have people close to me right now that are struggling with the same issue of faith.
I know there are many Christians questioning how someone could renounce their faith, but I must say that I understand. Although I never gave up on God, I was close. And, even as I chose to stay in the faith, I’ve been condemned by many times by so-called Christians. Every word of condemnation makes me wonder what the world must think of us.
I won’t even pretend to know what Harris and Sampson have suffered that has brought them to this place of leaving the faith. I have heard a few rumbles about spiritual abuse suffered at the hands of some members of the faith. I know Harris recanted his beliefs originally set forth in his book I Kissed Dating Goodbye. And I know his marriage has recently fallen apart.
But that’s all I know. I don’t know any specifics—and I don’t need to know them. It’s not important to what I have to say to Harris or Sampson—or to anyone else who is struggling with their faith.
I came close to walking away from the faith myself. I had been a pastor’s wife, the faithful follower of Christ fully committed to God and my church. I had done my best to walk in obedience to Christ all my life.
And the reward I received? A husband who chose to leave the covenant of marriage and turn to another woman. Oh, I offered forgiveness and tried to save my marriage, but he chose to continue his relationship with her. Ultimately, our marriage ended.
In the midst of the pain as I struggled to make sense of my beliefs about God and reconcile them with the pain I was experiencing, I contemplated walking away from God. I simply couldn’t see how a good God could reward my faithfulness with this pain. I couldn’t comprehend how He could call me to marry this man who had completely devastated me.
If God was good, why was I in so much pain? If God loved me, why would He allow this level of betrayal in my life? If God cared about me, why was He allowing every aspect of my life to crumble?
My picture of God simply didn’t match what I was experiencing in life.
I say all of this to say I understand how these men—how you—could walk away. I understand the struggles to reconcile the God of the Bible with the reality of this life. I understand how the pain we experience here on earth can make us questions everything we’ve ever known…everything we’ve ever believed.
And so, here I offer a few thoughts on the things I am praying for Harris and Sampson—and the army of other believers who are in a similar place where they find themselves contemplating whether they should renounce their faith.
I pray God would show you true faith. I sometimes wonder how different our faith would be if we lived in a country where Christians are oppressed. The longer I live this life, the more I realize just how twisted our Americanized view of faith can be. So often we hear—and even buy into—a healthy, wealthy, wise type faith without even realizing it. What if we lived in a country where Christianity was illegal? How would we reconcile what we believe about God with the oppression we would face?
My life was pretty easy until my marriage fell apart. Oh, I knew Jesus had said we would face trials in this life (John 16:33). I knew James had encouraged us to count it joy when we faced trials of many kinds (James 1:2). But that was for all of those other marginal Christians. I wish I could have learned the many lessons I have learned over the last decade in some other way. To be honest, I learned so much more about God in the pain than I ever did in the blessings. I was changed in so many ways as I walked through the pain and devastation. I never want to go back to who I was before the trials of this life.
In the midst of the pain, God showed me the true condition of my heart (Deuteronomy 8:2) even as He carefully walked me through the fire. He showed me a much clearer vision of true Christianity, of loving the marginalized, of extending grace in all circumstances. My judgmental spirit was revealed, and my heart was broken by the reality of who I was.
Maybe you are struggling to find true faith, to reconcile the teachings of scripture with the pain people experience in this life. Maybe you are challenging your long-held beliefs and reaching out to love the marginalized. I pray as you question your long-held beliefs you find true faith and not an Americanized version.
I pray God pursues you relentlessly. I remember when I chose to walk away from God. Never in my life had I felt God run after me the way He did in that period. I suddenly understood that He truly does leave the 99 faithful sheep to find the ONE that has wandered away (Matthew 18:12). Wow. I still remember His voice calling me, quietly, patiently, lovingly, back to Him. He was persistent. He was relentless. He loved me so much He wouldn’t let me go.
I pray you have the same experience. I pray even as you walk away, you realize He will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5). I pray as you turn your back on Him you find He is always faithful even when we are faithless (2 Timothy 2:13). I pray you are overwhelmed with the depth of His love for you.
I pray this journey of doubt solidifies your faith. For the last ten years, I’ve hoped my kids would have a crisis of belief. I know it sounds strange, but it’s true. I don’t know that I ever doubted my faith until my life fell apart. I had preached the truth of God but had never had to put it to the test.
Guess what? In the end, my crisis of belief made my faith so much stronger! I saw God’s faithfulness over and over as I wandered through the wilderness. I saw His provisions when I was at the end of my rope. Walking through the trials of this life truly refined my faith and made it stronger than ever.
And that’s what I pray for Harris, Sampson, and everyone else who is walking through doubts with their faith. I pray God uses this time to meet you right where you are, to show you His faithfulness. I pray as you wrestle with God as Jacob did you are forever changed and take your faith as your own in ways you never thought possible.
I pray you know you are not alone. There are so many of us who have walked through significant doubts with our faith. There’s an army that often doesn’t want to be associated with Christians who are judgmental and condemning. And I think God would join us in turning from those people.
But I want to be like Jacob. Jacob spent years searching for the God of his ancestors, but it wasn’t until he found himself wrestling with God that his faith became his own (Genesis 32). It was this wrestling match that changed his name, changed his heart, and changed his life. It was this wrestling match that opened the doors to a personal relationship with God—rather than clinging to the faith of his ancestors. It was this experience with God that created an intimacy with God he had never known before.
And I pray you realize you aren’t the only ones struggling with God. Jacob was there, and it changed him forever. I’ve been there, and I was forever changed. And I believe God will do the same for you. Surrender to the struggle and let God have His way. It’s in the pain that He does His best work.