What do you do when God does not do what you know he should do? What do you do when what you have believed about God turns out not to be true? Most Christian believers, if they are sincere and thoughtful, go through a Job-like experience at least once in their life: an experience in which life, logic, emotion, friends, and any manner of other circumstances, thoughts and feelings work to convince us that everything we had believed about God is false. We even begin to question God’s existence.
In modernity, such a Job-like crisis is looked upon as a coming of age, as a triumph of reason over superstition. Atheism is the widely proposed means to resolve this crisis. Walk into any major bookseller and you will soon find (prominently featured) books explaining why atheism is the only reasonable or compassionate or courageous solution to a crisis of faith. And for those who do not have quite the fortitude for atheism proper, its decaffeinated variety, agnosticism, works just as well.
However, there is another path out of a crises of faith. It is the path that Job himself took. It is the path of humility, or often, the path of humiliation leading to humility. When everything you have believed about God turns out to be untrue, instead of assuming that God does not exist, perhaps the wiser route, the humbler route, is to accept that God is not limited nor defined by what you have believed.
This humble response to a crisis of faith is much more painful for most of us than simply denying God’s existence. It is much easier to say “I have been deceived. Nothing is there” than to say, “I have not seen clearly. I have not listened carefully. I have conceived of God according to my own expectations.”
There is a huge difference between being created in God’s image and creating God in your own image. In God’s image, we can sense that He is there, we can even know Him. However in that process of knowing God, we often create images of God in our minds: categories, reasonings, conceptions, ways we are convinced God is and isn’t. We write books and preach sermons based on these conceptions. Some of these conceptions and syllogisms are helpful, for a while: in a particular culture, at a specific stage of development, or to overcome a particular doubt. But God is in no way limited by our conceptions and categories of Him. God is under no obligation to relate to his creation the way we think He should, no matter how theologically trained we are--no matter how long and faithfully we have served the church.
A seven-year old may have a genuine relationship with God, but whatever conceptions of God that seven-year old has in his mind, and which may indeed be appropriate for a seven-year old, will have to change as he grows. God as conceived of by a seven-year old is the ridiculous god of superstition leading a twenty-year old to atheism. And God as conceived of by a confident--if not cocky--seminary graduate will certainly be the god who does not exist for the burnt out, middle-aged pastor. And God as conceived in times of prosperity, may turn out to be the cruel god who could not possibly exist for the Holocaust survivor.
After God appears to Job in the whirlwind, Jobs says to Him, “I had heard of you with the hearing of my ears, but now my eyes see you.” God doesn’t change, but our ability to spiritually hear, see, conceive and eventually let go of our conceptions, changes as we grow. But if we make idols of our conceptions, they become our gods enticing us to conclude that any god that doesn’t conform to our conceptions doesn’t exist.