A Bit of Hell

I never did give them hell. I just told the truth, and they thought it was hell.
—Harry S Truman

“I’m a fake,” she said.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

“I mean that I get up and I teach my Sunday school class when I don’t even know if I believe what I’m teaching anymore. I shouldn’t be teaching. I’m not even sure I should be going to church. I’m a fake!”

This snippet of a recent conversation reflects a fear I believe many Christians have about the skepticism they feel from time to time.

But when you go through such a crisis, does that mean you’re a fake?

Hardly. In fact, if anything, you’re in good company. Many of the greatest stalwarts of faith have gone through similar experiences. For example, after defeating the prophets of Baal at Mt. Carmel by praying for fire to fall from the sky, Elijah retreated to a cave convinced that God had abandoned him. In other words, after being a part of one of the most spectacular demonstrations of God’s power, Elijah felt as if God wasn’t there for him. It wasn’t until he heard the whisper of a still small voice that he was comforted.

Some of us are still straining to hear the whisper.

By definition, a fake is a person who pretends to be someone they’re not. Jesus ran across these kinds of people a lot in the New Testament, and he called them “hypocrites” and “whitewashed tombs” and even “snakes” (Matt 23:27, 33). But these were not people who struggled with their faith; these were people who purported to have a direct line to God, who professed super piety, or who looked down on others who were not as spiritual as they were. Perhaps they chose to deal with their doubts and fears by pretending. Whatever the case may be, Jesus reserved his strongest condemnation for them.

One of the biggest misconceptions about faith is that it requires unwavering conviction. But, as author Anne Lamott explains, this is a fallacy. The opposite of faith is not doubt; it’s certainty. Doubt is the path to faith, which is something the ancients figured out a long time ago. The one thing that Abraham, Jacob, Moses, Elijah, Hannah, Jeremiah, Mary, Paul, Peter, Augustine, Jerome, Francis, Luther, Teresa of Ávila, Wesley, and Mother Teresa of Calcutta all had in common was that they went through dark periods of doubt, skepticism, anguish, suffering, rejection, fear, confusion, oppression, and pain. This led many of the early writers on spiritual formation to conclude that if one truly wanted to get serious about heaven, one must first go through a bit of hell.

This post originally appeared in From Eden to Heaven: Spiritual Formation for the Adventurous by Kelly Pigott.

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