I am the infant tossed about by the waves that Paul talks about in Ephesians, never knowing quite what I believe. I grew up a believer, but in graduate school, I began to openly confront the serious doubts I’d long had. Long story short, I walked away from my faith for a few years. I’ve found my way back to Christianity, but I still often feel like I can’t seem to suppress all my questions and skepticism. My desire is to totally commit to Christianity, to know God and to live for Jesus, but I feel like my mind never has resolution. How do I go about building a firm foundation of faith?
I deeply appreciate this question, as there is not one of us (“us” defined as believers) who hasn’t, at some point(s), doubted our faith. Now, some will bitterly contend that they haven’t ever, from day one, doubted, and furthermore that those who doubt are not true believers. OK, that’s their opinion, but I disagree. Because to feel doubt is a scary thing—but to actually admit it to yourself, your friends or even God takes a huge amount of bravery. And not all of us are as brave as you, Ava.
Doubt is part of a healthy Christian existence, and everyone from Paul to Thomas to Eddie to Ava have had questions. However, what really matters is not the questioning, but the answers we find along the way.
Before we dive in, though, I need to make one quick caveat:
Some people who have serious doubts also carry serious baggage that is above and beyond what we’ll be talking about in this article. A few examples: some have been deeply wounded by a church, some have domineering parents who forced religion on them, while still others suffered abuse and understandably wrestle with the idea that God is good. If your story carries a similar pain to the aforementioned atrocities, then the Christianity 101 answer that I’m about to give may not be fully helpful to you, and I’d strongly advise you to continue this conversation with a counselor or trusted mentor.
But, assuming that your question doesn’t dive into the aforementioned issues, and falls in line with the typical Christian experience, I’d like to offer four things that have helped me in “building a firm foundation of faith.”
Examine the Core
One of the great gifts God has given us is the ability to question Him. I mean really, when you think about it, God could have designed our minds to be just like the animals, where we live an instinctual existence. But God made us unique and let us have things like reasoning, free will, love, pain, creativity and all the beautiful hues of the human experience.
The downside is that our minds, which were uniquely created to experience God’s goodness, also use the creation to question the Creator.
Practically, this looks like us going down deep rabbit trails into the nuanced questions of Christianity that are important to answer, but not altogether critical. Very often, these questions and thought experiments ultimately draw us closer to God—but sometimes they cause us to tail-spin and forget where true north is.
To that end, what I would ask of you Ava, is to take a pause on the academic exercises of faith and ask yourself some basic questions: Do you believe that Jesus is the Son of God? Do you believe He died on a cross for your sins and for you salvation? Is it your desire to follow Him all the days of your life? These questions are the questions I ask when I’m baptizing a person, and they represent the core values of faith.
If the core is intact, then you’re free to explore the more nuanced questions, and if/when you get lost in those questions again, you can always return to the basics and affirm, once again, that you answered “yes” to every one.
I had a pastor who used to say, “If you put your mind in the right place, your body will follow.” And for me, that has been some of the most helpful advice to have in my pocket as I’ve felt myself drifting. Because, like any good relationship, distance is often caused by lack of effort, not lack of caring.
I don’t know what your particular brand of connection to God looks like, but I would encourage some diet of the following: prayer, reading the Bible and community. Additionally, I’d add in things like being in nature, being creative, and really just doing whatever it is you do that draws you deeper into the presence of God.
Ava, even though it doesn’t “feel” like something you want to do now, having the discipline to just get out and run, one time, is the first in many steps toward the marathon finish line. You don’t have to commit to everything or “fake it until you make it” by acting like you have it all together, just commit right now to one step, one act of obedience. Then, once you’ve done that (which I’m sure you will), commit again. You’ll have run miles before you know it.
Do Jesus-Like Things
I’m not sure if this is a Western problem, or a universal Christian issue, but very often when we feel distant from God it’s because we’re not doing anything God has asked us to do. I know I have sometimes spent day after day confounded about why my relationship with God is drifting, yet I’ve cared for nobody who’s in need, mended zero relationships and given full vent to my laziest and least attractive qualities.
This is why, the third thing I’d ask you to do is make your business the business of Jesus. And what did Jesus do? Now wait, don’t answer that yet, because you may give some really heady answer—and that’s not what I’m looking. Let’s try again, what did Jesus really do with His time on earth?
1) He hung out with his close friends.
2) He cared for the “least of these.”
Ava, do those things, even if you don’t know why. Because I would contend that there is no better way to understand and experience the love and relationship with God than serving the orphans and widows of the world. Go out today and love your community. Be about the business of Jesus and watch what happens.
Ava, this is my last bit of advice, and where I’m going to leave this article.
Give yourself grace about all of this.
Nothing about being a Christ-follower is easy. If you go back and read all the words that Paul wrote, you see that even one of the most fervent followers of Jesus doubted, wrestled, self-loathed and suffered—and God loved him very much.
Ava, know that the same is true for you. You are God’s child, and He knows that children will fall out of line, disobey, even rebel. But that doesn’t erode the foundation, that is, that God is your father and He loves you deeply. I don’t know if there’s anything in your past that makes that hard to believe, but it’s true nonetheless. And you can know that even in the midst of your doubt, there’s grace. Grace for a woman who God designed, cares for and looks forward to being in continued relationship with.
Great question, Ava. Thanks again for asking it.
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Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.