This post originally appeared in 2016
I’m going to begin this post operating under a fairly big assumption; you fall into one of three fairly broad categories. 1. You are really struggling right now with the idea that maybe what you have professed to believe for so long is simply a result of who raised you and, had someone else raised you, you’d very likely believe something entirely different, 2. You were raised by parents who exemplify a faith that you greatly desire but it just isn’t being realized in your life, or 3. You were raised by non-Christian, non-believing parents; you see value in Christianity and you’re struggling to go deeper in your faith as you’re uncomfortable with the idea of feeling like there is a part of your life to which your family (in particular your parents) cannot relate. Now, I suppose there is a fourth category which is related to having a friend in one of these top three categories and you are hoping for some helpful insight.
Before we go any further let me give you a quick out on finishing this post. If you’re looking to be convinced, you’re out of luck. If you can be comfortable with that, let’s move forward and let me add one final thought on struggling to put you at ease. I’m glad you’re struggling and we’ll address “why” in the coming paragraphs.
Just as I assigned three categories above, I’d like to break the spectrum of parental belief into three broad postures. Notice, I called it a spectrum. It isn’t perfectly cut and dry and there aren’t three little boxes that make a perfect fit for any single individual or set of parents. Furthermore, while you may have more than one parent, it is also likely that there is one point on that spectrum of belief that is held by the one parent whose faith reigned supreme in your young mind as you were growing up. It is the benchmark by which you examine your own faith. The postures may overlap a little as the faith may be teetering between two postures. To help you develop a mental picture of the spectrum, you could consider this as a number line with the numbers 1, 5, and 9.9. (We’ll reserve 10 for Jesus) I’ll start with the faith posture representing the number 1 and end with the faith posture representing number 9.9.
Non-Christian, non-believer. The people in this posture are in a range from complete atheist to unaffiliated agnostic. There are varying views on Christianity from this posture ranging from complete disdain of everything Christian to respectful admiration of the belief system. The uniting factor is that Christianity is not a part of their lives and they aren’t making any sort of attempts to make it a part of their lives.
Professed Christians. This may be the broadest range of postures and certainly the most complicated of the three postures. People within this posture tend to lean toward one of the other two postures giving it the broad scope. The main motivating factor in this group is salvation. Regardless of where the person is on the spectrum, they value the good book. The Bible is a guide to better living. It is a pillar of moral code. There is a great deal of hope regarding blessings amongst this group. So long as they do the right things, they’ll be blessed for it. Those who have seen a lot of material reward in their lives lean toward posture 9.9 and those who perceive that they keep winding up on the short end of the stick, or who use reason and logic as a way to understand the material rewards they have received, tend to lean toward posture 1. Church is often viewed as a great support group and a place to gather with fellow believers. They’re happy the kids will learn how to treat others well. They know they, and their kids, will hear a positive message which may or may not be inspirational, but positive none-the-less. Those who lean toward posture 9.9 hope for a great worship time. Those who lean toward posture 1 hope for great fellowship. There is one range in this group that has nothing to do with which way they lean: attendance. Attendance can range from, every Sunday this is what you do, to, we may or may not make it to church on any given Sunday. Overall, when you hear the term Christian religion, this is the posture you probably think about.
Faithful, Joyous, Fearless and Free, Christ Followers. This is the posture that I hope everyone strives for. The light of Christ bursts forth from these people. Even when they’re sad, they manage to exude joy. These people have low points, and their lows can be very low, but regardless of how bad things get, they always have hope. These people know how to wrestle with God. These people somehow go boldly before God, yet reverently humble themselves in His presence. They just have a closeness with God that you somehow see, yet you cannot comprehend. Their relationship with God is intimate, but they aren’t flippant in their regard toward God. They speak of God and reveal things about God in a way that is natural for them, but you know that if you said the same things, though you basically believe them, you’d feel like a poser as the words left your mouth.
I’m Glad You’re Struggling
I proclaimed it earlier and I meant it. I’m glad you are struggling. Struggle is an indicator that you aren’t in posture 1 in your own life. Yes, you may be close, but you aren’t there. There is a big difference between having doubts about faith and saying, “I don’t believe in God anymore.” You may see your struggle as a crisis of faith, but the struggle is a sign of life.
I was asked by several fellow classmates when I was in college, “Have you ever rejected all your beliefs and re-examined them?” In other words, they wanted to know if I ever went to the point where I chose to doubt everything. It was a fair question in an academic setting… well… sort of. In actuality, many of those who thought I needed to reject all my beliefs and re-examine them started out as non-believers in the first place. I never bothered to ask them, “Have you ever chosen to believe everything I believe and examined those beliefs through the structure of faith?” Albeit a clever counterpoint, it would have been a ludicrous question for me to ask, as it is ultimately an impossibility for them to do so. Long story short, I didn’t need to reject my beliefs to examine them. Their doubt was all the doubt that I needed to cause me to question, wrestle, struggle, and basically measure myself against the benchmark my parents had set.
From Religion and Ritual to Relationship
Have you ever considered the idea that the way your faith is being questioned is not actually from voices outside the faith, but is actually a questioning from a sovereign Creator who wishes to grow you and reveal greater truths? While you are fighting to stay afloat and keep your head above the surface, God desires to draw you into the depths of who He is. As He calls you closer, He is ready and infinitely capable of addressing all obstacles in your way.
The first obstacle that needs to be cleared is the understanding you have of the spectrum and the postures. Essentially, and I know I sorta tricked you into using the spectrum, but it really doesn’t exist. There is belief and disbelief. There is surrender and lack of surrender. You accept that Jesus is your Lord, or you reject His Lordship. The reason it is important to have this understanding is so that you can begin to let go of the “list” and “qualifications” on how to be a “good Christian.”
The second obstacle that needs clearing is the question or questions you have about your faith as it relates to your parents. In order to clear them, we need to ask them. Now, having denied the existence of the spectrum, I’m still going to use it because the real question(s) at the heart of all your questions is/are a result of the perceived posture benchmarks your parents modeled for you as you were being raised and where you believe yourself to be in relation to the mark they set.
If you were raised by posture 1, your question is, “If what I believe is true, does that mean my parents are on their way to hell?”
If you were raised by posture 5, the three questions that keep you up at night are, “Is God necessary?”, “Is the Bible actually true?”, and “Am I going to hell for wondering my first two questions?” You may frame the first question in different ways, but that’s the heart of what you’re asking.
If you were raised by posture 9.9, the main question you have is, “God, why have You rejected me?” You preface that question or follow it up with, “I’ve done all these things and yet, I just don’t have the evidence of fruit in my life that I see from my parents.”
The answers that you concoct in your mind regarding these questions are potentially paralyzing. And all of these questions are rooted in a ritualistic leveraging of God. You’re ultimately seeing Christianity as a religion, rather than a relationship. What you see as valuable in Christianity are the things God is going to do for you. Your treasure is salvation and whatever else you hope God is going to bless you with. If you pray hard enough, or believe big enough, God is going to come through with a house, or a car, or the money you need, or keep those you love safe, or…whatever. He’s your religion (prayer and good works) operated vending machine.
Let me encourage you to do this. Keep seeking. But stop seeking fruit and stop seeking works. We celebrate “doing” in our culture and in the church. But God never expects works before relationship. Being with Him precedes “doing” stuff with Him. Seek Him. Seek a relationship with Him. Seek communion.
I know this is obvious, but the Bible is broken into two parts, the Old Testament, and the New Testament. Chances are good that you’ve learned about Jesus in the New Testament. The name Jesus isn’t in the Old Testament, but He’s there. Go searching for Him. He is the treasure your soul is searching for. Just like any friendship, the closest friendships are those where a lot of time is spent together. You and Jesus are going to do a lot of stuff together and He’s going to bless your socks off in ways you never expected, but first, just be with Him. A desire for understanding is your soul crying out for greater intimacy… so seek Him. Seek communion.
When you perceive your questions as coming from the outside voices of peers, friends, social media, etc. they become worries that keep you up at night. When you perceive your questions as coming from a sovereign Creator, you can rest well in knowing that you have a chance to explore the depths of His greatness and leave the religion behind in exchange for intimate relationship and an every growing faith. As you seek communion, let me leave you with one final thought. It isn’t mine. It’s His…
“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matt. 6:33
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