"Faith hangs on to Christ in the dark, it holds to a silent Christ, it holds to a refusing Christ, it holds to a rebuking Christ, and it will not let him go. Faith is the great holdfast that hooks a soul on to the Saviour.
Faith is thus powerful because of its effects. Faith enlightens, enlivens and strengthens. It is written of some of old that "They looked unto him, and were lightened." Faith shed a light upon many things, and lets us see that even if Christ has a frown on his face, he has love in his heart. Faith looks right into the heart of Christ, and helps us to perceive that he cannot mean anything but mercy to a seeking soul."
-- Charles Spurgeon
Have you ever asked God if He really loves you, or pleaded with Him for His affection? The following is an open letter to those of you who doubt, amended from a personal note I just sent to someone who is struggling:
"Dear Fellow Sojourner,
Believe it or not, I do understand what you mean and the doubts you are having about God's dealings with you and questioning whether He really cares or even if He loves you. Although I have not personally experienced what you are, I DO know the feelings and am all too familiar with the doubts. I want to be careful here not to sound like “Job’s friends” – although honestly, your situation reminds me of Job! – because that does no one any good.
I deliberately will not quote you the verses or pull out catch-all platitudes about Christ dying for the world (and of course I do NOT mean to diminish the Atonement one bit; but that is what people generally remind you of when you doubt God’s love.) I know EXACTLY what you mean when you write about knowing Christ loves the world; but what about you personally? One verse I would point out to you, however, is Galatians 2:20: "I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me," (emphasis mine), wherein Paul was making the point He loved [Paul] and gave Himself up for [Paul]. Who, of course, was a murduring Pharisee and all that; but you get the idea.
And of course, there ARE Scriptural statements to the effect that God’s love is infinite, faithful and PERSONAL to the believer (you) – Matt. 10:31; Luke 12:7; Hebrews 13:5 (the “you” is singular in the original), as well as the Psalms, which cover every range of human emotion. However, you are obviously intelligent and don’t need the references or a Bible lesson. Just thought I’d remind you anyway, though, because His Word IS Truth.
Regarding God’s nature, I know you wonder if He really cares because of all the pain and suffering you see all around you. I need not “defend” Him or say He always keeps His promises (in the way we expect, at least – I admit I also struggle with the exact meaning of Matthew 6, especially vs. 31-32: "So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them.") My guess is that is something like a Proverb – to be understood as a general rule, but NOT a guaranteed absolute. (I.E. “train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” – it’s a general principle; not a guarantee. IF you do this – you may expect THAT.)
This promise doesn’t change the fact that there are millions of suffering, starving Christians whose daily bread is NOT provided….as a result of man’s sin. God knows/sees it; He COULD prevent it, but He does not. That’s where we get into the issue of His sovereignty, and we have to admit that we just don’t know. We DO know, if we believe the Scripture to be infallible, that A) He is good; and B)ultimately justice will be served and all wrongs will be righted. Beyond that, we can only speculate (and often that gets us in trouble when we do.) But we know that He is good, and does NOT enjoy torturing His slaves…even though it may feel that way sometimes. I’ve often wondered, for example, how miscarriages and stillbirth fits into His sovereign plan. Again, not that I’ve experienced that personally, but I’ve known many women who have and as a mom, I can only imagine the agony and grief.
What I keep coming back to as I turn this around in my mind (extreme suffering and God’s goodness)is this: we can’t say Jesus didn’t warn us. Count the cost; some of us will be persecuted; put to death. He offered NO promises about our comfort or emotional needs; He only said “in this life you will have many troubles; take heart; I have overcome the world.” We need to live with an eternal perspective, as hard as that can be sometimes. Jesus knew so well what it is to be rejected and despised (and still does…everything from people taking His Name in vain to Monty Python movies mocking Him, and worse). When you love someone, you make yourself vulnerable to them, and that is what God has done with us. We grieve Him when we are faithless - blowing off prayer time with Him; gossiping about one another; fighting with our spouses. Yet HE remains faithful.
This is what it means that He was “touched with our infirmaties” and “sympathetic to our weaknesses”. They’re not just words; He really understands (and cares.) Look at Paul (and the Apostles – close, intimate friends of Jesus during His earthy ministry). Paul got the stuffings beaten out of him on a regular basis; got run out of town more than once; was slandered and maligned (even by other “Christians”); was abandoned by friends; and was finally executed on trumped-up charges. He sure wasn’t getting his “emotional needs met” or his “love cup” filled! Jesus Himself was verbally tormented throughout most of His ministry, but He rested in the love of the Father (as did Paul).
Not preaching you a sermon, but just putting some thoughts out there. I’ve often thought of those first century Christians, and what a raw deal some of them got…like Perpetua, and the other martyrs under Nero and Dormitius (the ones who never actually had the pleasure of meeting and fellowshiping with Christ, yet they were still called to suffer and die for him.) Some of them lost everything – like Perpetua’s nursing infant; her marriage; her home and possessions. Even in recent history though, I think in some ways folks who’ve been called as martyrs or have been imprisoned in some ways find it easier to stand strong than some (like yourself, and many others who are just worn down by the day-to-day torment and disillusionment.)
I read Richard Wurmbrand’s “Tortured for Christ” a few years ago (founder of Voice of the Martyrs – he was in a Romanian prison for years) and I was gob-smacked. Honestly, I wouldn’t last 5 minutes in a Communist prison! But in his story and so many others like his, it’s just so “clear” to the ones suffering for their faith what they’re doing and why they’re there suffering (for Christ’s glory). Obviously, that has to be our goal and over-arching purpose, too, but it’s harder to “see” the purpose in what seems like needless, pointless suffering. And THAT is why it can become so much harder to believe that God really loves you personally. If you were in a Communist prison being beaten and starved because you were a Christian, you would no doubt have faith in His love (although technically your circumstances would be worse). That is why it is so important (even now) to continue to walk by faith and not sight, and to continue to put faith in what (intellectually) you know is true.
I truly believe that convincing people God doesn’t love them personally (or at least getting them to doubt it) is one of Satan’s biggest strategic weapons. How I wish sometimes that I could just see Jesus; have an audience with Him – even Skype Him – and all my doubts would be forever erased. But you know what He said to Thomas about those who have not seen being blessed…yet we have believed. Don’t stop seeking Him in the Scriptures, because God WILL use that to encourage you personally (often when you least expect it.) Have you ever been reading the Word, and something seems to “leap off the page”, and straight into your heart? His Spirit illuminates truth when and as we need it…personally.
The historical reality of the Cross should never leave us cold, but sometimes it does (if we are truthful). This is the dynamic of sin-stained human emotions. God gave them to us for a reason, and He designed us to feel deeply, yearn for Him, and want to be loved. He gave us that need to come to Him with that longing – even (and especially) when we don’t “feel” anything.
Be encouraged - He is still that friend who "sticks closer than a brother" (Proverbs 18:24). Don’t give up, please – and don’t abandon the Church, either. It’s especially important to be in fellowship and support during these “desert” times – a lone sheep, as you know, is more vulnerable prey.