Three Types of People
As Christians, most of us have times where we wonder, “Is living life as a Christian really worth it?” or “Is all of this even real?” I personally went through a season of more than three years where I questioned almost everything I believed. I still often attempt to test my faith as objectively as I can with questions like those above.
But I’ve found that not everyone is asking the same questions of, or expecting the same things from, their faith. And it can be helpful to recognize the types of questions we are asking. I propose that there are three basic types of people when it comes to what we’re looking for from faith (and this can be applied to worldviews and religions besides Christianity):
- Some people turn to, or away, from faith in God for intellectual reasons. Their basic concern is “Does it make sense?” To them, religion must provide an intellectually satisfying view of the world.
- Others turn to, or away, from religion for reasons of relevance. Their basic concern is, “Does it change anything?” To them, if the Christian faith isn’t actually affecting their lives in practical ways, then there’s no point to it.
- Finally, some turn to, or away, from religion out of a concern for transcendence. The question they’re most interested in is, “Does my faith connect me to the divine?” They want their innermost selves, especially their emotions, to be affected.
I can think of numerous people who, when they struggle with faith, struggle specifically within one of the three areas above, and, interestingly, could care less about the concerns of one or both of the other areas. The guy who wants intellectually satisfying answers to his questions about God, the Bible, and the world could care less about feeling connected emotionally with God. And, often, the opposite is also true.
Now, all three of these questions we ask of our faith are good concerns. As a pastor, I would never want to advise someone to stop asking these questions. Our intellectual concerns are legitimate because God is the Creator of all that exists, and all truth is God’s truth. Our concerns about faith having tangible effects are legitimate because we are told that “faith apart from works is dead” (James 2:26). And our concerns about connecting experientially with God are legitimate because God has revealed himself to be a personal God who is intimately involved in our lives in numerous ways.
It is no sin to test our faith in these ways, and it is actually a helpful thing to regularly practice.
However, there are some problems with the way we usually go about this questioning. Some of these problems are simple enough to understand, and to correct. For example, we usually ask these questions, and form our answers, in a very individualistic and short-sighted vacuum. We notice only what God is doing in me individually, and fail to see and, thus, be encouraged by the work he is doing in the larger church body. Or we expect to daily see godly fruit, and feel something is wrong when we don’t, but fail to step back and see his work over the last 5-10 years.
But there is a much more serious problem in the way we often go about testing our faith with questions of intellect, relevance, or transcendence. Consider for a moment what a God would look like who was primarily concerned with each of these three positions. The person looking for intellectual satisfying answers may envisage God to be saying, “I’m here to help you make sense out of your life.” The person looking for relevance may think of God as saying, “I’m here to make your life more meaningful.” Or the person looking for an experience with the divine might envisage God to be saying, “I’m here to give you heightened feelings of joy and awe.”
While there is an element of truth in all of these portraits of God, there is also a great danger: they assume God primarily exists to serve our needs and desires. They posit a man-centered view of reality, where God is a means to an end.
But reality starts with God, and we exist for Him, not the other way around. We were created to worship and serve him. While it’s okay, even good, to wrestle with our faith, proving its genuineness by asking questions, ultimately our judgments of God will be swallowed up by his judgment of us.
Two Ways to Wrestle with Our Faith
What does this mean practically for the times when we are wrestling? When we are questioning the intellectual plausibility of faith? When the life of faith just doesn’t seem worth the effort? When the mountaintop experiences fade into months, even years, of “not really feeling it?” I’ve found there are essentially two ways to respond in these times, two ways to wrestle with faith.
- We can suspend faith and worship, and demand that God first satisfy our doubts and concerns. This is what I did for about three years; and it was the darkest, deadest time of my life. I put God in the dock, and wasn’t willing to trust him until he bowed to my intellectual demands for certainty and proof.
- But there is another, much more healthier way to doubt and wrestle with faith. And that is to continue to worship God, and trust that he has satisfying answers to our questions, even if we can’t see them now. When faith doesn’t seem to be paying off, when we’re just not feeling it, we continue to submit to Him as Lord, Savior, and Judge. Exercising faith in these times often doesn’t seem like it’s “doing” much, but in reality, these small decisions to believe while in the trenches are powerful and have lasting effects.
The fact is that our struggles with faith don’t only have to do with questions of intellect, relevance, or experience, though asking these questions is legitimate and healthy. But our struggles often also include the element of pride. We are unwilling to let God be God, and want him to meet us on our terms. Acknowledging this, and more importantly, repenting of it, allows us to doubt and wrestle with purpose—not ignoring our questions and doubts, but also not holding them as demands over God’s head–and to come out stronger at the end.