Chances are you know what it’s like to have your world rocked by something that you never saw coming. You wake up one morning thinking it will be just another day, but then you get the phone call or you see the news and everything changes in an instant. In that moment, what does it look like to have faith in a loving, powerful, sovereign God?
Right now in the life of our church, I suspect this isn’t a hypothetical question for most people. This is something many of us are actively wondering about. Here we are, walking through an unforeseen tragedy within our own Kossuth community, and although we genuinely desire to do so while exercising trust in God, the problem is that we’re not always sure how.
Perhaps it would help if we could know a few basic realities about the nature of faith in a time of tragedy. Let me suggest six of them, some of which might surprise you:
1. It is not natural. Faith is not the default human response to grief or loss. As sinners, we don’t naturally generate faith from within ourselves; faith is something that must be given to us. That is why Paul called it a “gift of God” (Eph. 2:8), and Peter spoke of it as something that is “obtained” (2 Pet. 1:1). If you’re digging deep within your own soul to find the faith sufficient for the trial before you, you’re looking in the wrong place. Instead, look to our generous and loving God, who richly provides the ability to trust him.
2. It is not perfect. There is a misconception out there that true faith allows no room for doubt. But when your world is rocked, questions, confusion, and yes, even doubts will be unavoidable. Faith does not suppress those things; it owns up to them and allows God to work in and through them. Faith is a fight (1 Tim. 6:12), which is exactly why it often gets expressed in the words of the man who came to Jesus exclaiming, “I believe, help my unbelief!” (Mark 9:24).
3. It is not blind. Yes, faith is “the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1). Yes, we are called to “walk by faith, not by sight” (2 Cor. 5:7). But this does not mean that faith in a time of tragedy is a true leap into the dark. In the midst of his suffering, Paul was able to say, “I know whom I have believed” (2 Tim. 1:12). The God in whom we trust has proven himself time and time again, and our knowledge of that past deliverance informs our faith in hard times.
4. It is not private. When Paul spoke about his desire to visit the church in Rome, he gave this as his reason: “that we may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith, both yours and mine” (Rom. 1:12). Faith grows in the presence of faith. In other words, God intends for our trust in him to be strengthened by others who are also trusting in him. In a moment of crisis, being faith-filled Christians is only possible by being connected to a faith-filled community.
5. It is not abstract. When tragedy strikes, we do not trust in theoretical principles or vague religious generalities. We trust in a person, and that person has a name: Jesus Christ. That is why the writer of Hebrews calls us to look “to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Heb. 12:2). Faith is best expressed as a daily dependence upon the Rock of our salvation.
6. It is not futile. The Scriptures tell us that if the gospel isn’t true, then “your faith is futile and you are still in your sins” (1 Cor. 15:17). But because the gospel is true, our faith actually means and accomplishes something. When you’re in the valley of the shadow of death, some might tell you that your faith is nothing more than a pipe dream or a coping mechanism to get you through. But in reality your faith is producing steadfastness (Jas. 1:3) and will one day result in the salvation of your soul (1 Pet. 1:9). That is far from futile!
For all of you fighting for faith in a time of tragedy, my prayer for you is that of the apostle Paul in Ephesians 3:16-17: “that according to the riches of his glory [God] may grant you to be strengthened with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith.”