By: Dena Davidson
When my husband Cheyne and I went in for pre-marital counseling, we had no idea what was about to hit us. I was naive and thought it would be fun. Talking about your relationship is fun, right?
Wrong. Little did I realize, our counselor’s whole goal was to make us fight. I remember the first counseling appointment that didn’t end so well. I remember the painful, awkward silence as Cheyne and I sat there and realized that there was a problem and no solution in sight.
I remember being frustrated with our counselor. Why was he zeroing in on the 1% of our relationship that was tough, instead of helping us build on the 99% that was great?
Many moments since then, I’ve realized what a genius he was and how important those sessions were.
When it comes to our faith we’re tempted to focus on the 99% that’s going great. We ignore, even suppress, the 1%. Those questions that pop up when we read the Old Testament. The way we feel when another shooting happens. Our fear when an intelligent person starts to explain why they can’t believe in Christianity.
We ignore the 1% believing that’s the good thing to do. The problem is, people don’t get divorces over the 99%. And people don’t lose their faith over the 99%. It’s about that 1%.
Inside each person is the seed of a problem that could lead us to abandon our faith. Those seeds get activated when we go through tragedy or when we see something we want that God won’t let us have. They get activated when we no longer have a small group and find ourselves skipping church on the weekend.
Inside the Church, we’re often shocked when people walk away from God just like we’re shocked when a couple abruptly ends their marriage. But the seeds were always there. It’s that 1%.
Do you know your 1%? What tough questions do you have about your faith? What confuses you? What offends you? What sections of Scripture would you remove if given the option? Are there any major doctrines you’d love to revise?
Our marriage counselor knew he couldn’t save us from problems, but he could teach us to fight through them. Like every relationship, we have a choice with God. We can ignore the problem areas, refuse to have the hard conversations, and just hope that when tough times hit our relationship will make it. Or, we can have the conversations now and search for a solution.
How do we do this? How do we face the tough questions we have about our faith? Here’s my best advice.
1. Acknowledge the Question.
Get honest. Get very, very honest with God and each other. Most Christians I meet have a tough question about God. But they ignore it. They seem to believe that avoiding the question is the way to please God.
But no relationship thrives in dishonesty. Sometimes we’re so full of faith that our questions don’t bother us. If this is your season, great! Don’t create problems in your relationship with God. But if you’re avoiding asking God the tough questions because you think it’s inappropriate, I invite you to rethink this.
Consider the Psalms. Isaiah. Lamentations. Habakuk. The authors of these books knew God well. They had a deep and honest relationship with the Lord and these books are full of tough questions. These believers understood that God is omniscient—he knows what you think better than you. He’s aware of every corner of your mind. Stop trying to hide your questions. Allow God to search you and show you what questions you have.
Great communication is the key to every relationship and your relationship with God is no different. All good conversations begin with questions.
2. Don’t be a brat.
God can take your anger, God can take your sorrow. God can deal with the less admirable aspects of your personality. If you’re choosing between honesty and politeness, choose honesty. That’s certainly what David did in the Psalms. But at some point, you need to own your responsibility to approach this conversation with an open mind and open heart.
Don’t be a brat. A brat wants their way and doesn’t care about anyone else in the world. A brat asks all the right questions and doesn’t want to hear the answers. God loves brats just like he loves tax collectors and if that’s where you’re at, he will meet you there. But it’s hard to have a good conversation with a brat.
How do you avoid being a brat when asking God the tough questions? Start by saying “God, I feel like a brat. Help me to have an open mind and an open heart to have this conversation with you.” Pray that prayer as many times as you need to pray it. Don’t muster up goodness—stay honest and ask God to help you deal with anything that is making you closed off to hearing good answers to the tough questions.
One note of caution—it’s extremely important in a season of questioning that you keep reading your Bible, you keep going to church, you keep obeying his commandments. You need his voice and his people more than ever. You need to stay close to the Father to hear his answers and receive his help. Sin distances us from God, so now is not the time to disobey what he says in Corinthians because you doubt what he says in Genesis. Don’t disobey because you’re having to wait for what you want. Don’t be a brat.
3. Get comfortable with awkward.
I wish I could tell you this process is easy. But that would be a lie. Hard conversations are never fun. They’re full of anger and sometimes tears. But mostly they’re full of waiting. And waiting is awkward.
Resist the temptation to fill the silence. I’ve heard people share devastating lies they believe about God, themselves and the world. 9 times out of 10 the lie was born when someone filled silence with reason rather than waiting (read the book of Job). Just because it makes sense doesn’t mean it’s true. Philosophy books are full of theories that make sense but aren’t true.
So embrace the awkward silence. “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” (Psalm 27:14). Don’t let fear or discomfort dictate the conversation. Wait for the Lord to to bring an answer. You may find that his answers sound a lot like questions. Let him ask you those questions. This is, after all, a conversation.
4. Find the expert.
In the past 2000 years of Christian history, there’s nothing new under the sun. We tend to think our questions about God are new and dangerous threats to the faith. Christianity has outlasted every tough question and not from ignoring them. For every question out there, there’s someone who has devoted their life to answering that question. Find the expert.
I discourage you from entering your question into google. I encourage you to google “apologetics” and the names John Lennox, William Lane Craig, and Alvin Plantinga. Here are four of my favorite books to recommend to people exploring the tough questions (and truly, these are just the beginning):
The Problem of God: Answering a Skeptic’s Challenges to Christianity by Mark Clark
Can Man Live without God? by Ravi Zacharias
The Story of Reality by Greg Koukl
Good Faith: Being a Christian when Society Thinks You’re Irrelevant and Extreme by Gabe Lyons and David Kinnaman
5. Keep expressing faith.
One of my favorite stories in Scripture is of a father who brings his demon-possessed boy to Jesus and pleads “heal him if you can.” Jesus says, “if you can? Everything is possible for him who believes.” The man’s response is perfect: “I do believe, help my unbelief.” (Mark 9:14-29)
It’s possible and necessary to keep believing even when you have doubts. Tell Jesus “I do believe, help me overcome my unbelief.” Continue to worship, to pray, and believe that God is with you in this process.
Colossians 2 makes it clear that we’ve not been left alone with our tough questions. We’ve been empowered to face them. Paul writes that he wants believers to “have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (Colossians 2:2-3).
It’s ok to desire and seek better understanding. Yes, we know only in part now and one day we shall know fully (1 Corinthians 13:12). But do we have complete understanding of the part that God has revealed to us?
What if God wants us to ask him questions so we can know him better? To know his plan better? What if there are great answers to the tough questions and we simply aren’t pursuing them?
When you have a tough question, don’t hide it from God. Don’t push it away as though you’re afraid he doesn’t have the answer. Believe what the Scriptures say. In Christ is hidden “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” This truth empowers us to face our tough questions. The answers are in Christ, not apart from him. So bring those questions to the one that has the answers.
Face your 1%. Your relationship with the Lord will deepen and you’ll be empowered to help others face their tough questions. The best marriage counselors are the ones who’ve fought for their own marriage. So start the conversation. He’s there waiting to hear your questions.