I wrote this a long while ago, whilst in the middle of it all. Now having gained some perspective, I think it may be helpful to re-publish. (it was first published here: http://whatyouthinkmatters.org/blog/article/knowing-christ-in-the-dark)
I was giving a public talk in defence of the Christian faith. Having answered the first question without any difficulty, I proceeded to address the second. Suddenly, without warning, I felt a fear rising within me that was somehow different to the nerves I am used to. I had been exhausted that day, and I found it difficult to collect my thoughts and understand the flow of the argument I was attempting to deliver. The audience of 100 people looked at me expectantly. I remember stumbling over my words as my mind raced. What was happening? Panic rose within me, and I thought ‘I just can’t do this, I have to get off the stage.’ I had no choice – I gave my apologies and walked off the stage to the bewilderment of all around.
A month or so after this incident, I was diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, which had been brought on by stress. This soon led to a form of depression which cost me my job and I had to step down from many of my responsibilities at church. This season has caused me to ask many questions about God and his character:
“We wonder, ever wonder, why we find us here!
Has some Vast Imbecility,
Mighty to build and blend,
But impotent to tend,
Framed us in jest, and left us now to hazardry?”
Thomas Hardy once wrote these words in contemplation about the seeming contradiction between God’s omnipotence and the existence of evil. For both experiential and philosophical reasons this has been an ancient question. In our universities it is known as the ‘problem of evil’. How can God be good if he allows suffering?
Forms of this question are pondered by many who suffer. We may be able to sympathise with Hardy’s sentiments, although I imagine we might come to different a conclusion. It has led many to believe that God does not exist at all. However, what does the Christian do with a question like this?
Having experienced depression and fear as a Christian, I have struggled at times to trust in the goodness of God. These times have generated within me an interest in understanding what being a Christian really means, and how I can judge if I am keeping the faith. When I was first filled with the Holy Spirit I believed that perhaps the inexpressible joy would last forever, the sufferings I read about in the Bible did not fase me, because I assumed the internal joy and certainty would last, and I would be able to overcome anything! The reality was quite different. Instead in times of trouble it seemed that God had abandoned me, my joy was gone, my mind left racing with the thoughts ‘Is God really . . .?’, ‘Can I trust him with this?’, and ‘I don’t think I am strong enough to do this, will God really be there for me?’. I am sure there are many readers who recognise these thoughts. Indeed, the Psalms are filled with these questions.
The main question for me was this: Do I still know Christ if I cannot feel his presence? Encouragingly Asaph describes a very similar dilemma in Psalm 77:
7 “Will the Lord reject forever?
Will he never show his favour again?
8 Has his unfailing love vanished forever?
Has his promise failed for all time?
9 Has God forgotten to be merciful?
Has he in anger withheld his compassion?”
In the depth of despair in which he found himself he says:
10 “Then I thought, ‘To this I will appeal:
the years when the Most High stretched out his right hand.
11 I will remember the deeds of the LORD;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.
12 I will consider all your works
and meditate on all your mighty deeds.’”
Asaph remembers the times when God moved in power, and he puts his faith in God’s character, as shown to be true and good by the miracles he performed in Israel’s history. Asaph does not say, ‘because I feel that God is good’, but rather that “I will remember . . .” I am sure that even when Asaph remembered God’s works, there was still a temptation to think, ‘but, has God’s unfailing love vanished forever, despite this?’ Instead Asaph goes on to praise God saying “With your mighty arm you redeemed your people”, and in so doing he is sure that God still desires to redeem him from the trouble in which he finds himself.
So what is the basis of Asaph’s faith? Is it his feelings or his experience? It cannot be either, for the psalm clearly shows that Asaph is in emotional turmoil. Is it his morality? Again, it cannot be, for the psalm itself does not mention any of Asaph’s deeds. Does he place his faith on the strength of his conviction? No, for he is questioning this very conviction by asking “has your unfailing love vanished forever?” Instead Asaph places his faith in the person of God, and his character as demonstrated throughout history.
In the same way we are to trust Christ and what he has done for us on the cross, and we can do that even when we do not feel his presence, or even when we are tempted to question his faithfulness like Asaph did.
We can trust Christ because we know him, and he has changed our lives. How can we be sure that we know Christ in times of trouble? Firstly, knowing Christ is not solely ‘belief’ or based on a theological system as is says in James 2:19 “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” Therefore Asaph is able to question God’s faithfulness and his own belief in God’s goodness, but still rest his hope in God despite his doubts. Secondly, knowing Christ is not only feeling his presence, as clearly we all go through times when we do not feel close to God. Lastly, knowing Christ is not only doing the works of the kingdom, as Jesus says that on the final day some will claim that they did mighty works in his name, and he will say “I do not know you”.
Therefore, knowing Christ is a relationship by God’s own initiative: the cross of Christ. Knowing Christ will affect the way we think, feel and act, but our faith is not based on any one of them, but rather on the character of God displayed supremely in God’s unfailing love at the cross. Any of us who have felt abandoned by God, or any of us who have been tempted to believe that God might not be for us can take comfort in the fact that their acceptance by God is based on the sacrifice of Christ. It is not, at root, based exclusively on our thoughts, feelings of actions.
In this way I can know Christ when I feel that I am in the dark. Thank you Lord.