Empty, Alone, and Doing the Right Thing
Picture this for a moment: you’re running down a dark alley. There are towering high-rise apartments on each side of you, and debris is falling from above. There are elephant-sized tears welling up and running across your face like a window in the middle of a rainstorm. Up to this point, you’ve even forgotten why you began to run in the first place but unwilling to stop, lest you get trounced with empty glass bottles and crushed-up cans. You’re afraid, lost, and alone.
That’s how my faith walk felt for much of the past calendar year. Here’s the problem though. I wasn’t living a life filled with the cardinal sins: sex, drugs, and alcohol. I wasn’t abstaining from the church. I wasn’t refusing to read the Bible. My life has been the exact opposite. I was and still am a Bible student at a Christian school who occasionally spends his time preaching in churches and other times regularly attends and actively participates with a local congregation. I was doing everything right.
What’s the problem? Well, I felt nothing. I heard nothing. I saw nothing. I had been reading the Bible daily, taking classes that spanned God’s word from cover to cover. I was leading a ministry that allowed students time to share their faith journey. I was attending worship nights, Bible studies, and every possible Christian gathering one could imagine. Many saw me as a young man of good character, a disciple-maker, and outstanding student who could serve the church in a great capacity someday. But all at once, it seemed like God either didn’t care to bother me, or he didn’t exist at all. I was starting to believe the latter.
In the midst of the silence, my faith walk felt like a lie. My faith had already reached crisis mode once before when I decided to not pursue the path of vocational ministry, but I still hoped to serve the church in whatever way God saw fit. Over the past several months, though, my faith was lackluster, bottomed out, and running on empty. I had been told the list of “Christian principles:” read your bible, go to church, and pray. I had done all of it. Still… nothing.
This brought me into questioning the diagnosis of it all. In fact, in the middle of the catch-all approach in reading, attending, and praying brought only more questions than answers. Is the Bible necessary? Why does the church matter? Isn’t it just another social gathering or book club? Should I even pray if I’m not hearing any answer? You may be asking all these questions yourself, and I’m here to tell you.. it’s okay to ask them.
So, in the process, I was attending my Bible classes depressed, anxious, and deconstructing. Even worse though, no one knew. My girlfriend didn’t know. My best friends had been fooled, and my family was left in the dark. No one would have guessed it, because nothing seemed wrong. My faith crisis was hidden away, and in its place was a fake smile, fake faith, and hundreds of fooled people smiling right back at me. But God stepped into the thick of it all. To go back to the dark alley metaphor at the opening, everyone saw me running down below, but they must have thought I was prepping for my next half-marathon with another nightly jog. They didn’t see my pain, agony, fear, loneliness, and emptiness because I wouldn’t let them in.
Hope in the Least Expected Place
At this point, you may be wondering, “Well, Noah, what changed? Is there any light at the end of this deep, dark tunnel?” For most of the last three months, I would have said, “Probably, but I’m not chasing it anymore.” I was on the verge of giving it all up. The legalism of my youth and fundamentalism of my young adulthood brought me nothing but grief. Here comes a follow-up question. How did God step in? Was it at a worship service? Did the fourteenth run through the bridge of an anthem worship smash hit get you in the feels? Was there a quote from C.S. Lewis that brought you to tears? Did you hear the voice of God in the midst of a sermon? Did you find some evidence proving the truth of Scripture? How about a dream? Did you see anything in a dream?
No, no, no, no, and no. It came from none of the above. I was sitting in class, in fact, what I would consider to be my favorite class. “Psalms, Wisdom Books, and Narrative.” Long name yet straight to the point. In this class, my professor was discussing the book of Chronicles, books western Christians often overlook. He opened to 2 Chronicles 7:14, which says the following:
“If my people who are called by my name humble themselves, and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.”
It was in that moment when Dr. Nykolaishen said that spiritual revival is not the aftermath of healing. It leads to the healing. It’s not the work Godly people or the election of Christian leaders. It is the work of God. God brings the healing. With the context of Chronicles, this is not individual healing. This is corporate healing for the people of God. You may be reading this and think, “Well, duh,” but hear me out.
We have been living the lie that Christianity is a faith for individuals. When we live that way, it leads us to believe that the problems can be solved on an individual basis. That is the furthest thing from the truth. This means that the individual Bible reading, prayer, and check-off-the-box church attendance does nothing if not accomplished in community. The people of Israel, though their well-documented flaws, were a people, at the end of the day. They were not a group of individuals. All throughout the Old Testament, it was Israel who had or did not have faith.
The End of Me and the Beginning of Us
This led to the misrepresentation of faith in the modern age. Sure, Christ came to seek and save the individual person. But for what? For them to wander about the silence of the night by themselves? Far from it. Did Christ’s gospel come to liberate the individual? He came to liberate the global church, the body of Christ filled with many members, not just one. The Law was given to an entire people group. The sacrifice made on the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16 was made on behalf of the sins of all people. Each sacrifice was made in the temple, in front of all to see. There is no individuality found in the story.
My faith can no longer be documented and realized as an individual faith, because my walk with God is not one on one. So what’s the diagnosis? Remove the Western individualistic thinking from your mind when it comes to faith. To be honest, it’s even better to remove the individualistic thinking from everything. My faith is not my own, and when it is rocking and wandering, it is part of the church who is wandering. In turn, these questions, struggles, and fears must be realized in the church context. This is where I faltered.
When any person is deconstructing their faith, the response should not be one of shock, discontent, and disappointment. That is exactly what led me to internalize it all. I was afraid to tell the story because I was afraid to disappoint. In the same way, the diagnosis should not be individualized. The walk of faith cannot survive with a one-time-fix-all approach to healing, but every bit of wandering and faltering faith should be met with camaraderie, accountability, and communal support.
Where am I currently in this path of faith? It’s not perfect, but it’s improving. I am out of the alley, ascending the staircase back to the loving arms of Christ and his Church. I am surrounded by people who love and care for me, people who are willing to build me up. But ultimately, God does the work. He initiates the spiritual revival.
Before You Go: If you’re in a similar position, please know that you cannot attack this struggle alone. It’s a lonely road, but it’s even more so when we are afraid to ask for help. More than likely, as I found out, there are friends and family members going through the same exact thing. You are not alone. You are never alone. This, if anything, should be a sign that God’s people are indeed with you. After revival, then comes the healing. Pray for revival. Pray for healing. Trust in the hope only God can provide.