When the Truth Doesn’t Help and God Is Hard to Find

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My pastor once asked during a sermon: “Who would you turn to when your life hits rock bottom, the theological know-it-all or the person who embodies the love and compassion of Jesus?”

Some may say that one need not choose between the two, suggesting that an unrelenting, uncompromising dedication to the truth is the most loving thing you can do. My pastor was aiming at something entirely different.

If you get the truth that Jesus and his contemporaries were communicating, you’ll start to embody his love and compassion. In fact, transformation becomes far more important than indoctrination.

I won’t say I’ve hit rock bottom, but our family is in a challenging, isolating season. It has felt like ALL HANDS ON DECK for months now, and we have no guarantee that it’s going to end soon. In the midst of it, someone said to me, “Remember, we have a great God.”

I’m not sure that “remembering” theological statements in this season has been that helpful. I have been far more in need of God’s presence and empathy rather than intellectual guarantees. It’s a similar principle to the story of Job: when difficulty strikes, theologizing should never come before empathy and presence.

I’m not shutting down the “thinking” part of my faith, tossing out my theology books, or leaving my Bible unread. The big picture of my life doesn’t boil matters down to an either/or proposition between theology and love/empathy. Perhaps I’m reacting against a proposition-based, theologically-driven form of the Christian faith that mightily feared not having an answer for a particular situation.

When life becomes difficult, this fragile form of the faith grasps for answers and throws around truth as if the people in a difficult situation could pose a threat to the stability of Christianity. What if someone’s trouble demands an answer that a proposition-based faith can’t deliver?

More than propositions, Jesus came to give us God’s presence. The assumption is that seeking first his Kingdom and his righteousness will ensure that things work out in the end. If anything, Jesus disrupted the answers of theological systems without necessarily tossing out theology all-together.

Jesus pointed us to the place where we can find God’s presence and experience union with God. I have grown suspicious of anyone who wants to debate that point or inserts caveats.

As life feels uncertain, and challenges pile up, I have longed for God’s presence more than ever. The people I’ve turned to for prayer aren’t the ones with all of the answers. I’m taking my weakness and fear to the people who will pray with compassion and love. These are the people who know the Father’s heart and can intercede on my behalf as fellow beloved children of God. These are the people who happen to have a sound theology, so far as I can tell, but that is only  because they have drawn near to the loving presence of God.

19 thoughts on “When the Truth Doesn’t Help and God Is Hard to Find

  1. Ed, please accept my heartfelt prayers for whatever it is you’re going through. And yes, it’s people who know the Lord….who might not have their theology correct…who are the best prayer warriors. That’s not me, yet, but I try.
    Blessings to you and your family
    Judy

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    1. Thanks Judy! I should probably add that some of the most resilient and faithful people who have prayed for me had a much more “conservative” theology compared to my own, but they didn’t let our theological differences get in the way of their love and support.

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  2. So needed this today when people are posting the most hateful things in Jesus’ name, it’s discouraging.

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. Ed…my family is also going a time such as you describe. I have been experiencing the same thoughts and emotions. It is good to know we’re not the only ones. Stressful situations can be terribly isolating.

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  4. Hey Ed, great article. I have been in a “dark night of the soul” for quite a while now. My theology has changed over the course of this deep valley (not the core basics, but most of the “fluff” has gone). My love and compassion for others has deepened as I have developed a better understanding of pain, suffering and isolation. I hope that your valley of tears ends soon but until that time, may the peace, love and comfort of our Lord wrap you tightly!

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      1. That is good. Sometimes you don’t know who those people are, or if there will be people there for you, until the trouble comes. The Lord be very with all of you in practical ways.

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  5. Ed,
    I don’t know what you are going through, but I understand the tough seasons, the dark seasons. I had a season of years….The person who talked who I found I could listen to and could speak with understanding to me the most was a person who had sound theology, but also went through the most tough times of anyone I know and she said to me, ” I am staked to you like a person stakes a tomato plant.” She herself was isolated from her sickness and inability to drive anymore, and understood my pain and isolation. And she WAS staked to me like a tomato plant, and I know the prayers also from the encouraging notes, and from the times I went over to her home to just talk and cry, and she helped me to process and work through the mess and the feelings. And she showed me Jesus, such as a Jesus I wasn’t as familiar as I thought I knew Him, now it was like learning a new name revealed and Jesus as flesh and blood. Those people who are praying for you are a gift because they are showing you the heart of Jesus. I now know how from her example the value of being staked to a person like a tomato plant and am not so quick to give answers, just love. Praying for you, God knows your need, and I understand the dark times of the soul. Joanne

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  6. Hi Ed,
    I’m sorry that you and your family are going through a difficult time at the moment, but glad that you decided to write a blog post about this issue. We need more people opening up about this, so that we can all reconsider how we respond to others who are going through a painful time.

    Sadly, as Christians, we often feel that we have to have all the answers and that somehow there must be something lacking in our faith if we have doubts or if we remain with the questions. In truth, I think that many are drawn to those of us that are brave enough to wrestle with such questions, without imposing answers.

    Like you, I’d prefer the person who shows the love and compassion of Jesus to be the one that supports me during my painful and challenging times. I’ve been beaten down by theology sometimes. I’ve discovered that the theology of suffering can be a controversial topic in the church! I’m not particularly interested in my life circumstances being a mere cause for debate, however. When I’m in the midst of tough time, I prefer people who’ll stand with me and not give me their view on why it’s happening and what they consider to be God’s role in it all. Sometimes, that’s made it harder for me to find God. So often, I prefer to seek Him myself rather than have other people attempt to speak for Him.
    I hope that things get better for you Ed,
    -Rachel

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  7. Thanks for another great reminder Ed. I need to daily remember that seeking God is more important than striving for perfection – and that God has so much compassion and love for us. (and I love that photo.)

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  8. I’m sorry this is a tough season Ed but I am glad too that you have written it. I keep coming back to your words frequently, they are measured and wise.
    Our pastor preached powerfully yesterday on God giving us His presence rather than certainty, through the story of Lazarus – I noticed too that he tucked himself away for at least 40 minutes before the service.
    Hoping that your journey people keep helping you put one foot in front of the other.

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  9. Ed, I am an analytical thinker by nature, which is not helpful in the dark times.
    When I was young in the faith I went through a really dark, heavy trial and came across Ps 107 where God reminded me to just worship Him. So… I expected the trial to evaporate, now that I “understood” the problem… it didn’t. Not long after that I heard a speaker say, “Don’t why God, worship Him!” That still sticks with me.

    All that was about 40 years ago, during which I’ve gone through many more dark, trying times. I still get stuck trying to figure it all out until I come to my senses and just stop. I really don’t know anything better than trusting Him whom I cannot see, but know, and being with people I trust.

    For me, I know God is far more concerned with my heart than whatever I think I have to offer. Still, I’m a guy… full of self-importance, ego, etc. More often than I’d like, I need to be carried to Jesus, like the 4 friends did for their paralyzed man in Mark 2.

    I don’t know if this has any encouragement value to you or not, except to say… we’ve been through a bunch of dark, challenging, isolating times and God has brought us through them all, so far. Of course, He had to drag me a good part of the time.

    I’m not anti-theology, but I see faith as far more personal than we’re taught most of the time [re: my fav– Heb 11:6].
    Since moving back to my home culture in 2005, I’ve often felt a sense of isolation. Perhaps some of it is cultural, but I think some of it is spiritual, at least for me.
    Praying for God to make His presence known in a fresh and powerful way for you… for us all.
    TK

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