A close friend called me last week and said, "I don't want to be a Christian anymore. The God I've experienced is not the God I hear them talk about at church. He has not been good to me."
My friend has been through some painful losses in her life, the most significant of which was losing three family members to cancer. The final straw for her was when a visiting preacher at her church talked about how the Lord had healed him when he cried out for healing. She'd also cried out to God repeatedly when her family battled cancer. Why didn't God bring healing to her family?
It was the middle of my workday. I told her I'd call her back later that evening. I struggled to come up with what I would say to encourage her because in truth, I'd experienced similar thoughts. I asked God the same difficult questions after our dear son Zander lost his young life to cancer. I pleaded with God to heal my boy and preserve his life! What could I possibly say to my friend to encourage her to hold onto her faith when I felt just as angry with God?
I had to ask myself, Am I also ready to give up my faith? I realized I was not. I had to quantify that realization, put it into words and find a way to communicate that to my friend. Losing my son to cancer has been the most difficult thing I've had to live with. I've wrestled with God, been angry with him, yelled at him, cried before him, pleaded with him, asked for a vision of where my boy is and proof that I would see him again. I wanted God to respond in a loud, tangible, human way. He did not! Instead, He brought me small measures of comfort that grew over time. At first it was the comfort of listening to worship music when I didn't have the strength to get up off my couch. Then it was the comfort of Scripture, as He reminded me of what he told the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43 NIV) What an assurance and beautiful reminder of where Zander is now! More recently it has been the daily strength and willingness to say, 'Not my will but yours Jesus. Help me to continue to believe, to continue to hold onto You, even when my heart feels weary and my spirit feels weak. Help my unbelief!'
Such small acts of mercy and grace had seemed insignificant to me until now, until I was faced with the question of why I should continue to be a Christian when it feels like God has failed me in such a huge way. I realized that the Holy Spirit, in His characteristically gentle way was protecting my heart and keeping my hope and faith alive and I hadn't even seen it until now. I called my friend back and told her how her question had helped me see God's goodness and comfort in the midst of my pain. We chuckled when I quoted a Scripture to her that we'd heard in church all our lives, "God uses everything for our good". I said, "See? He uses even your desire to become an atheist for good; how can you say He isn’t real?" Chuckles aside, I don't know where my friend will land with her faith but I'm giving her the space to ask the difficult questions, and share her anger, her disappointment, and her grief. I’m asking the Lord to cover her in His grace and protection just as He has done for me.
So we are always confident, even though we know that as long as we live in these bodies we are not at home with the Lord. For we live by believing and not by seeing. Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord. - 2 Cor 5:6-8 New Living Translation
- photo of Alexander Ren Wainhouse (Zander) courtesy of Angelina Wainhouse.