In college, when my high school boyfriend explained to me that he no longer believed in Jesus, it came as quite a shock. In our youth group, we were the model Christian couple—the youth pastor and his wife were our best friends, we both studied the Bible fervently, we were committed to staying sexually pure.
But as we sat across from each other, now just good friends in college, he explained how his faith had evaporated. In college, he stopped going to church, he eventually stopped reading the Bible, and when he started studying his major, sociology (the premise of which claims human kind is born good, not evil, and is corrupted by society, not sin)—it led him to ask some tough questions about Christianity and unfortunately, he didn’t find answers to persuade him to keep the faith.
We talked about how his Christian friends, his closest friends, had been turning their backs on him one by one, saying that they no longer could be friends with someone who didn’t believe, someone who questioned their God, someone who doubted the validity of everything they held sacred. So I told him straight up that wasn’t going to happen with me. I would be his friend no matter what.
Maybe I felt good about myself after that conversation. Sure, I was confused about why he didn’t believe the same things he believed so zealously just two years earlier. And I didn’t understand how someone’s worldview could take a 180 like that. But I certainly wasn’t going to be like his other friends who judged him for asking questions and viewed him as some sinner who would corrupt them if they hung out with him.
After that talk, I also had a strange sense of pride about my own faith. It had never been shaken. I thought: Wow, I can’t imagine not believing in Christ, in the power of the Holy Spirit, in the validity of God’s words.
Well, I suppose Satan was listening. Because that pride grew, and every time I took communion after that, I felt so thankful I could call myself a Christian. I was such a good person for having continued in the faith!
As we both finished college and stayed friends, I continued to have a sense of pride about the fact that I was still in God’s grip, He still called me His daughter, that I was still able to take communion. There was no way I could stop believing in God. It was unfathomable.
So Satan did something extremely tricky. Instead of leading me to question God’s existence, he eventually led me to question everything else about Him. I went through a three-year period of depression, throughout which I questioned God’s character and His reign in my life, His love for me, His plan for me—to the point that after a year of sadness and confusion, I still believed in God the Father and in Jesus the Savior, but it was the sort of belief that an agnostic might have. I believed God was out there but I secretly didn’t believe He had power to change my life. I didn’t believe that He wanted to heal my broken heart or to deliver me from the doubt and despair that had consumed me. I felt completely helpless and was plagued with doubt about my marriage that almost led me leave my husband. I was consumed with thinking about committing adultery and running away. Satan tore down every shred of faith I once had in God’s power to change me, to heal me, to care for me and to reign over me and I didn’t even realize what was going on.
Satan let me keep what I was most proud about—that I believed in God’s existence unlike my skeptic ex-boyfriend. But he took away every shred of faith I had in God’s power.
Thankfully, by a complete restorative act of mercy over the last year, God reformed my faith—restored my soul, heard my repentant heart, returned to me an amazing love for my husband, and renewed my hope in Christ.
But I tell you this story as a warning—don’t ever take your faith for granted. I believe it can’t be taken away—we are all in God’s hands. But it can be torn down; our faith can suffer in many ways if we don’t surround ourselves with the power of His Word and ask for the protection of God’s Spirit.
If you stand back and think about it, the fact that you believe in a God who made himself known on earth as a puny carpenter with a knack for telling stories and then died a humiliating death that somehow covered your future atrocities is pretty absurd. So it is only with God’s mercy that you heart and my heart isn’t hardened to the truth and that you and I can even fathom such a crazy thing as God’s voracious love for us. You are not a great person for keeping the faith. If you believe Christ’s washing blood allows you to be in God’s holy presence, then you only do so because God gives you that faith. It is a mystery and it is a gift.
[Jenny Ashley is the editor of The Relevant Church, available from Relevant Books this fall.]