You learn a lot about yourself when your circumstances change. I’ve been in transition of late, and even though it was planned and typical in many ways, change often brings disorientation and tumult. And as I’ve lived this personally, I’ve also been connected to other overlapping stories filled with anxiety about the future in the places I work and across the country. Like storms that drive long-lost debris to the shore, these uncertain times have brought to the surface of my soul things that might have stayed otherwise hidden.
I’d like to say my first response to seeing this surfaced debris was thanksgiving. “How good for my discipleship,” I might have thought, if I were a more mature disciple. “Just dross for my refinement!” Sadly, that has not been at the front of my mind. Instead, I’ve been filled with acute fear, akin to the first time I went rappelling and stepped backward off a cliff while the rope slipped slowing through the belay. I was falling and I shook with fear.
How does God meet us in such times? When we see sorrow and angst, and taste doubt and fear? When the path under our feet has disappeared into a dead-end? How do we relate to the Word of God while our world tilts beneath us?
Whatever their origin or purpose, the storms and uncertainties in our life also serve as a test. And the purpose of a test is to reveal. When we read God’s Word during uncertain times, it reveals us and it reveals God.
God’s Word Reveals Us
Jesus said in Matthew 7, build your life on my words. When the storm comes, a life built on my foundation will still stand. When Paul teaches about growing in maturity as the body of Christ, he says then we won’t be “tossed back and forth by the waves and blown here and there by every wind of teaching.”
The fact that we are experiencing a storm doesn’t reveal much. Everyone faces the storm. But our response to the storm shows us where and what we’re building.
One thing I’ve noticed as I’ve read God’s Word during this season is I find it much easier to answer a very, very important question. Do I trust what I’m reading? When times are good, it can be hard to tell for sure if you really trust something because you haven’t yet needed it to be true. But when you’re tested, your places of faith and doubt become vivid. Maybe it’s God’s realness. Maybe it’s God’s moral teaching. Maybe it’s God’s goodness. Maybe it’s God’s presence or power. Whatever it is, you find out where you’re shaky.
During this season, I’ve read some things that now I know that I trust. Because if I’m trusting it now, I must really trust it. But, I’ve also read some things that I now realize I have doubts about. It’s not a story or verse that’s less “believable” by some outside and objective measure. My doubt doesn’t reveal something about the Bible, it reveals something about me.
Sometimes I doubt because I so desperately want what I’m reading to be true. I fear whoever wrote it was just expressing wishful thinking. At other times, I doubt because I don’t want it to be true. I think whoever wrote it must have been just reacting to the prejudice of their day.
So as I read, I can see more clearly both my faith and my doubt. And the seed of faith in me calls me to heed the words God gave to Isaiah (chapter 55). I should not be surprised to find my thoughts are not the Lord’s thoughts, or that my ways are not his ways. But, I can seek the Lord while he may be found, and call on him while he is near. God didn’t send his word to test me, he sent it to accomplish his generative purposes in me and in the world. His word has power, though the presence of his Sprit, to grow confidence in me in the places I now know I still doubt. Even alongside those doubts, I can find rest in that hope.
God’s Word Reveals Him
Reading God’s Word during these uncertain times has also revealed God to me. The moments I’ve experienced with him as he’s reached out to me have been too tender and personal to capture in this form of public writing. But, I can say I’ve read stories in the gospels that I could relate to in a whole new way. Things that I’ve known to be true about God, I’ve needed to experience as true. And other things I had thought about God are still unconfirmed or even mistaken.
In some ways, I don’t like that God isn’t exactly who I had thought him to be. But, I’m having to make peace with the reality that God must be beyond my understanding, that he is “person” and not “formula.” It’s worth it to be unsettled since I know it means I’m engaging something more than a projection of my own creation.
Advice for Reading God’s Word in Uncertain Times:
- Keep doing it! Where else will you find the words of life?
- Embrace the opportunity for God’s Word to reveal new things in you and about God.
- Don’t be surprised to find your faith and doubts exposed. That’s normal.
- Notice where the Spirit confirms in you what you’re reading. Linger there in praise.
- Notice where you find doubt. Engage God there. He can handle your questions, even if he doesn’t answer them.
- Walk in prayer with others who will contend for faith and hope with you. Share with them what you’re seeing and where you’re doubting. God has always invited his people toward light.