When the Sky Falls on Your Faith
My childhood was simple and somewhat sheltered. Our hometown of Canton, North Carolina, was a mill town of about five thousand people. So small was the town that it didn’t have a hospital, and I was actually born in the neighboring metropolis of Waynesville. My parents like to tell the story of the time they took me to a Christmas tree farm when I was four years old.
As we arrived at this magical place filled with rows and rows of perfect trees, my little self was overwhelmed with wonder. I gazed over the rolling hills of green, breathed the fresh mountain air into my lungs, and proclaimed with a smile, “This is God’s beautiful world.” I love that story. My mom has told it many times. Yet, something about that story haunts me to this day, over forty years later.
This snapshot memory not only represents the simplicity and calm of my childhood; it also represents the simplicity and certainty of my younger faith in God for nearly two decades. I believed that God’s world was beautiful, that He sent His Son to die for me, and that everything in my life was going to play out in seamless, perfect, storybook fashion. However, that’s not exactly how my life went. In fact, most people don’t experience life wrapped up in a neat little package, like a present under a holiday tree. Most of us one day move away from home, wander into the far country, and long for the way things used to be.
I can’t explain why life changes; I just know that it does. And change can be difficult to digest. French philosopher Paul Ricoeur understood the reality of change in the life of faith. He viewed life as a series of movements from orientation to disorientation to reorientation. When we feel “oriented,” we feel like we are home. Things seem right, and there’s a relative peace—“This is God’s beautiful world.” Home is where we desire to stay, but at some point in life, that sense of home is interrupted by some sort of life-altering event. That’s when we move from a place of orientation to a place of disorientation. We long to get back to that place of orientation, that place called home where things felt so right, but we can’t seem to find our way back. Ricoeur notes that, after some time passes, we reach a place of reorientation or relocation. We are not back home, life is different than before, but we are at peace with this new life, this reorientation.2
The truth is, nobody goes through life unscathed. Eventually, each of us will face a crisis, and it will feel like the world is crashing down on our head. When we are blindsided by disappointment, loss, or tragedy, our reality is shaken. Things are not the way they used to be, and we lose our sense of normalcy. When the sky really does fall and we experience this kind of “life-quake,” if you will, many times we are pulled down into a season of doubt, disorientation, and despair.
One of the most gut-wrenching, raw stories of pain and suffering in the history of mankind is that of Job. His drama takes us on a wild ride from a place of orientation to disorientation to reorientation. Though generally the book of Job is summarized by its shocking beginning and its almost passive ending, the book is best interpreted in light of the middle section, the in-between time, when Job lays out his case before God and screams at a heaven that seems silent. The book of Job can be seen as a person’s beginning faith or belief (orientation) in chapters 1–2, then the person’s journey through doubt (disorientation) in chapters 3–30, and then belief again (reorientation) in chapters 31–42. Because he has come out on the other side of suffering, Job’s belief is reoriented or modified. His view of God has changed.
“Pain entered into, accepted, and owned can become poetry,” wrote pastor and author Eugene Peterson. I believe that doubt entered into, accepted, and owned can become poetry as well. We see that in Job. We, too, can have hope, an unusual hope like Job’s, of emerging out of our trial of faith with a bigger God than we ever imagined. I know from experience that life can be brutal and explicably painful and that this pain can lead to a season of disorientation that feels never ending. But I also know this is still “God’s beautiful world” and that He can transform this pain into poetry, a grace disguised.
Excerpt from Room for Doubt: How Uncertainty Can Deepen Your Faith.