How do we respond when people we love and care for are questioning faith? Perhaps they’re beyond questioning and have actually left Christian faith, like the recent public announcements from Joshua Harris and Marty Sampson.
How are we to respond to when loved ones are questioning faith? Our friend Fr. Kenneth Tanner has some words of wisdom:
How to respond to people who are questioning faith, by Fr. Kenneth Tanner
When it comes to friends, family and leaders who find themselves unable to trust the faith we share (and there are a myriad of reasons why a person might find themselves in that spot) it’s important that Christ followers respond from a place of trust, peace, empathy, and charity.
It does not help anyone and it does not commend our trust in Jesus Christ to circle wagons, to find fault, to panic, to lose our center.
I want to say something I feel is very important: A person can’t respond with wisdom to the hurting and bewildered, the now unconvinced, the ones who have found that God’s no longer necessary in their world (even if he exists), when that leader who is responding is embedded in the problem culture from which others are departing.
You have to stand in another place, attentive to the voices of the dead, with whom you (every day) pray, sing, and study, with whom you mystically dine every week and with whom you have learned that wrestling with the questions (not finding the answers)—wrestling indeed with God, suffering with God at the foot of his cross, yes, dying with God—is where every human finds life.
We find life standing with God as he dies for the world he loves.
Too many of us want to solve all the mysteries and have all the knowledge and hand down all the prophecy but we end up sounding like ‘clanging cymbals.’ What we need to learn is how to die.
We come to the church of the ages (without number, without divisions, mighty like an army with banners dipped in their own blood, warriors of a peace that confounds all reason) to learn how to be human as God is human in Jesus Christ.
And here we learn that to be human as God is human is to die between criminals as a criminal so that every image bearer, indeed the entire cosmos we inhabit, might have life.
In others words we learn that only Love is credible, only this Love is believable.
God is revealed to us as the servant who comes the first time and every time to serve his creation.
Our disposition, our temperament, towards all humans—believing or unbelieving—is made clear by Paul. Paul names our disposition by the same name with which John names God:
If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing. Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.
1 Corinthians 13:1-7 NLT
Michael Frankowski says
How can people think God is loving? He didn’t have to make a big deal of Adam and Eve’s alleged sin, and He did not have to have Jesus tortured to death. How can anyone believe God is not a sadistic monster? Thank you.
Ben Sternke says
Hi Michael, I appreciate your questions, and there’s a lot more to be unpacked that we could do in a comment section, so hopefully it will suffice to say that I agree with you: if we read the story as God getting enraged and needing to torture and punish people when his rules are broken, then that God is indeed a sadistic monster and a moral person should reject such a God. But there are other (older) ways of reading the story of sin and redemption than the (more modern) way that makes God out to be a capricious, sadistic monster. *Sinners in the Hands of a Loving God* by Brian Zahnd might be a good place to start for anyone interested in exploring a more ancient way of understanding Christianity.