When It's Hard to Believe
Philip Yancey grew up with pain. Fatherless since he was a baby (his dad died when he was an infant), Philip spent his childhood and teen years in a church that he describes as unloving and racist.
When he became editor of Campus Life in his mid-20s, Philip had a lot of questions and doubts about his faith, and many of his articles reflected it. Those articles also showed great sensitivity and concern for people in pain.
But Philip did more than just write about the difficult side of faith. He searched for answers that would direct doubters back to the love of God. He also began writing books. While editor of Campus Life, he began research for his first major book,
Where Is God When It Hurts?
(Zondervan). When Philip left Campus Life to write books full-time, he continued to write about the tougher side of faith—yet always with a sympathetic heart and with an eye toward a God who remains loving and caring in spite of life's difficulties.
Philip's book Reaching for the Invisible God (Zondervan) is another honest and sensitive look at faith and doubt. We talked to Philip about the book, asking him to help us better understand what it means to live for God even when times are tough.
What are the main reasons we have doubts about God?
I think we often struggle with those big questions. Why is there evil and suffering in the world? Why would God condemn sincere Muslims, Hindus and believers of other non-Christian religions? There are also questions about hypocrisy. Why don't Christians always act like Christians?
Frankly, I think these questions sometimes mask more personal questions that come out of our own difficult experiences. Think of a guy who prays like crazy for something really important, but he gets no answer. This guy is going to have serious questions about his faith.
It seems our doubts and questions come sometimes because God doesn't act the way we expect him to.
Just think about these lines from an old hymn: "I come to the Garden alone when the dew is still on the roses. And he walks with me, and he talks with me, and he tells me I am his own." Well, that doesn't happen for me. God's not walking with me and talking with me in the way that song implies. I'm not spending my days strolling with God in a beautiful rose garden! The same is true of many of today's praise songs, which are like love songs to Jesus. But that kind of intimacy often just isn't there.
How do we gain a more realistic view of God?
We shouldn't over-emphasize the "feeling" side of faith. We often talk a lot about feelings and experiences that just aren't that common. Now don't get me wrong. When you first come to Christ, you may experience a special intimacy with God. This is a very precious time for the new Christian. But it's dangerous to think this feeling of closeness will always be there.
In my book, Disappointment with God, I talk about the fact that the children of Israel had cried out for 400 years while living as slaves in Egypt. Here's a nation, God's chosen people, crying out, crying out, crying out: "We're slaves, for goodness' sake. Don't you care about us?" And nothing happens. Generation after generation was born, lived and died. All of them had heard stories about the power of God, but they never saw it. And then finally God acted. He broke the silence and we read all about the 10 plagues, the rolling back of the Red Sea, and all the miracles God performed while the Israelites wandered around in the wilderness. We hear a lot of Bible lessons based on the miracles in Exodus, but seldom hear about those 400 years when God seemed silent.