Faith requires hard questions
Ever found yourself in a season where you seem to have more questions than answers?
You're not alone, and no, you're not crazy.
We've all been there, and we will all be there again.
Maybe you've found yourself in circumstances that just don't make any sense. Maybe it's the death of a relationship, the death of a loved one or dear friend, the death of a dream, a career change, a dead-end job, a wayward spouse or child that hasn't returned, you're following a call that you were certain came from God, bills that lack necessary provision, a scary diagnosis, an addiction that you can't seem to beat, wounds on your soul that still hurt...
And yet prayers seem to bounce off the ceiling.
Answers are nowhere to be found.
I have often found myself reading through the Scriptures and studying the life of Gideon. In Judges 6 we find a fascinating account of one of God's great men of faith - but we find him in a pretty unexpected place. Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress - usually not a place where you do stuff like that. You thresh wheat above ground so the wind can help remove the chaff.
He was hiding. He was afraid, and his mind was full of hard questions.
Read this exchange from Judges 6:11-12
11 The angel of the Lord came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the Lord appeared to Gideon, he said, “The Lord is with you, mighty warrior.”
"Mighty warrior?!? Who me? You must have the wrong guy!" Oh if I could have been there for that exchange and watched the look on Gideon's face! You might think that hearing something like that would change how Gideon went about his business, but instead we discover the hard questions he's been wrestling with in that winepress.
13 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but if the Lord is with us, why has all this happened to us? Where are all his wonders that our ancestors told us about when they said, ‘Did not the Lord bring us up out of Egypt?’ But now the Lord has abandoned us and given us into the hand of Midian.”
14 The Lord turned to him and said, “Go in the strength you have and save Israel out of Midian’s hand. Am I not sending you?”
15 “Pardon me, my lord,” Gideon replied, “but how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.”
16 The Lord answered, “I will be with you..."
Most of the hard questions we all ask God are usually variations of those three questions.
God I thought you cared...
God I thought you loved me...
God if you love me, why did you let this happen?
God I thought your plans for me were good...
God I thought you said you would provide for my needs...
God how can we make it?
God what do I do?
God do you even hear me?
God where are you?
We have to ask the hard questions... I think we owe it to ourselves. Asking them doesn't make you weak, they remind us that we are weak... but we aren't alone.
Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 12:9-10
9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. 10 For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
I love the promise that God says He will meet us *in* our weaknesses. His power is perfected in our weaknesses. (So why do we run from the places God promised to meet us?? Now THAT is a good question... that's another blog for another day!)
So how do we navigate those seasons of hard questions? Here are some things that I've learned and that help me when I find myself in one of those seasons:
- Don't be afraid of asking hard questions:
We rarely grow beyond the questions we refuse to ask (of ourselves and of God). I can't tell you how many people I've sat across from that have told me "I thought we were supposed to ask God questions like that." Where did we learn that?? You mean to tell me the God who made you and knows you better than you know yourself - you mean you can't ask Him hard questions? (As though He doesn't know what we're really thinking anyway!) You want to do a fascinating study through the Scriptures? Go look for all the places where God's great men and women asked Him really hard questions. Mind-numbing. It will change how you view a lot of the characters from the Bible.
- Don't ask those hard questions alone:
Paul tells us in Romans 12 that we are transformed by the renewing of our minds - which is a process. That process of renewal is often uncomfortable, painful, and yet so very necessary to our maturity. Sometimes the only way we learn that our thinking needs renewing is when we share with others how we're really thinking and feeling - and trust a few wise friends to lovingly speak into the ways we're thinking. Some of the most powerful experiences I've ever witnessed have happened when someone chose to be vulnerable and share what's really going on. I think we're all longing for a deeper connection with those we're doing life with, and few things provide that connection like someone feeling the freedom to ask those hard questions out loud.
- Just because you don't have answers doesn't mean answers don't exist, it just means you don't have them... yet.
How often have I found myself at a crossroads and was faced with not only hard questions, but hard decisions - and at the time felt like I was walking blind. Looking back I can see where God was working, and those moments now carry a bit more clarity, but at the time everything felt so uncertain. Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians 5:7 that we walk by faith and not by sight. We don't walk by feelings or answers, we walk by faith. Take a step of faith, and then take another step. Trust God. You're not alone.
- Remember that feelings often preach a false gospel:
Hard questions are often precipitated by intense feelings. I feel alone, I feel abandoned, I feel like no one cares, etc. Just because I'm feeling something, that doesn't make it true. Our feelings aren't good or bad, they aren't even right or wrong - they simply tell us something about what's going on inside of us. It's so important to know what you're feeling, and have a plan on what to do when those intense feelings show back up uninvited. Have some truth ready to go the next time you're feelings start preaching a false gospel. Don't make permanent decisions based on temporary feelings.
- The best answers are often the ones we don't want to hear:
We have to learn to be okay with the answers that God DOES give us... God's answer to Gideon's (and yours and mine) most raw questions? I will be with you. Why isn't that answer sufficient for the hard questions that I ask? Why isn't that answer sufficient for the hard questions you ask? We do we keep wrestling and searching as though a better answer existed? It's mind numbing to realize that God's best answer for Gideon's most vulnerable, gritty, difficult questions was the promise of presence.
He promised to be with Gideon.
He promised to be with me.
He promised to be with you.
- God is not obligated to give us answers:
I hate typing that as much as you probably hate reading it. Why do we assume God owes us answers? It's sobering how often I've been mad at God for answers I never found. If we aren't careful, we'll stay paralyzed in life waiting for an answer that we may never find this side of Heaven. I think if God let us see the answers to some of our painful questions, we wouldn't even understand them. God's ways are higher than mine. I hate the pride I have to continually swallow as I think about that.
There's something about learning to ask those hard questions that teaches us how to walk with others when they ask their hard questions. Let's give our friends the permission, space, and time to ask those hard questions. Let's encourage them to go to God with those hard questions. Let's not serve up a plate of hollow, trite, Christian-ese when someone asks us those hard questions. One of the greatest gifts we can give our friends is the gift of being heard.
When people feel heard, they feel loved.
When people feel loved they feel like they belong.
When people feel like they belong they will find the freedom and safety to wrestle with the hard questions that faith often requires.
God is with you.
Today's not the day to give up.