When Faith is a Struggle

If I had to put a word to my faith journey over the last few years it would be: Struggle.

I struggle with my relationship with church. I struggle with the Bible. I struggle when I can’t make my favorite theologies make consistent sense in real life. I struggle when the faith that I was told my whole life should explain everything leaves me with more questions than answers. I struggle when I feel isolated in the way I think and feel about Jesus. I struggle when people who claim the name of Jesus say and do absurd, outrageous, or inexcusable things. I struggle when people who have no faith make more sense than people who do. I struggle when I can’t put some of my most basic beliefs about faith into practice.

It goes on and on an on.

And every time I feel like I am about to gain some clarity or answers to one of these questions, the new insight or way of thinking actually opens me up to new and more questions.

Sometimes as I am wrestling and struggling with it all I pause and ask the question:

Why is faith so difficult?

Let me switch gears from this question. Last week I had one of my week-long intensive Ph.D. classes. By now I have come to expect that for at least one day during the class I will find myself overwhelmed. Usually I find myself overwhelmed because I realize no matter how deep we dive in one week (and I promise you the depth is unreal) there is still a daunting amount I don’t know.

I could read books for the next 6 months and not be well versed in a topic, but I get one week and then move to the next one. My job is to find something I can grasp, get to know it as well as I can, and move to the next thing.

Often in life, the deeper you go, the more you realize you don’t know.

This week is Passion week. I try to imagine the emotional ride the disciples must have had in these seven days.

Sunday: We have the Messiah figured out. He is marching to Jerusalem to start a violent revolution.
Thursday: Jesus washes feet and speaks of broken bodies and shed blood. This is not very revolution like.
Friday: Jesus is killed.
Saturday: Where do we go now? They have given up.
Sunday: Jesus is alive.

Often we assume the resurrection solves every thing. Of course it doesn’t! Thomas is not the only one who is confused. It changes everything, but it raises all sorts of new questions.

The ending of Mark paints the best picture (the one before the footnote, which raises even more questions): The disciples are scared and the question is – what do you do now? What do you do when you encounter resurrection, but still have all this fear and struggle and doubt and uncertainty?

Which brings us back to the question: Why is faith so difficult?

An explanation could be found in the use of the word “faith.” Faith is about trust. Trust only exists if there are things I cannot know for sure.

Otherwise it is not really faith. Inherent to being a person of faith is being a person who lives with uncertainty and things we cannot know for sure.Not only that, but faith deals with God. An infinite being with infinite knowledge and love. And we are trying to wrap our finite brain around the infinite mysteries of the universe.

So faith is about not knowing as much as it is about knowing. The deeper we go, the more we realize we don’t know.

In fact, learning and growth is really about accepting our limits and being honest with what we do not, cannot, or should not know.

There is a beautiful scene in Genesis where the name “Israel” shows up for the first time.

Jacob is at a low moment. Mostly because of a lifetime of deceit. But he is scared and lonely and worried.

Then God shows up. But not in the way you expect. God shows up to wrestle (only sport in the Bible by the way).

jacob-wrestling-with-god2So Jacob and God wrestle and fight all night long. God even wounds Jacob in the process. But Jacob won’t let go. Jacob tells God he won’t let go until God blesses Jacob.

So God does. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel. Israel means to struggle, wrestle, and persevere with God. The name that gave the people of God their identity was one that communicate struggle with God. A struggle with God where we hold on until God shows up.

This struggle is the nature of faith. This struggle is how we know we are still moving forward.

We haven’t given up. We still expect God to show up. We still have questions but the questions won’t break us. We may be wounded and confused and lonely and scared. But we know God hasn’t given up so we don’t either.

Sometimes faith is sunshine and rainbows. But a lot of times it is not. In those moments, we need to remember that God is in the struggle. God is there wrestling with us. God has not given up. Our questions and doubts do not make God scared and run away. Our questions and doubts are where we find God.

The struggle is how we know we are alive and moving forward.

You hang on. You struggle. You ask questions. You get frustrated. You doubt.

But you hang on. And you remember that if you are still struggling, you are still moving forward. Even if it is with a limp.

May we have the courage to “Israel.”

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