The church is not just for those who have seen God’s goodness

Photo: Jazmin Quaynor, Unsplash. Photo: Jazmin Quaynor, Unsplash.

If you go to church, you hear a lot about faith. You’re called to be faithful: Obey God’s commands, love your neighbor as yourself, put no other gods before God. These are ways we are taught to show our faithfulness. 

Often when we talk about faithfulness, however, it can seem like a one-way street. We highlight our faithfulness but fail to acknowledge God’s need to be faithful to us.

I was once told that faith is believing without seeing. This expectation of blind faith becomes a problem when we are not able to see God holding up God’s end of the bargain. 

We are asked to show up, and we ask God to do the same for us. At some point, God has to prove God’s presence. 

I know this sounds like I am challenging or testing God. But I think I am in good company: Gideon asked God for a sign. It took an angel to convince Joseph not to divorce Mary. It took Paul being blinded and healed before turning his life around. They needed God to prove that God is who they thought God was.

I can attest to the moments when I felt God showed up in my life. God has dragged me through some powerful experiences and challenging situations. 

There have also been moments when I felt God was absent. I pleaded for God to show up but was met with silence. 

Disappointment with God is a reality we need to recognize. As the church testifies to God’s faithfulness, we have to remember that not everyone has experienced God as faithful.

We have to be prepared to walk with those who feel God has not been faithful to them. As a pastor, I have had the honor to accompany those who are struggling and doubting as well as those who are solidly sure of their faith. 

I have sat with people as they have asked me why God wasn’t there for them or for their friends or their families. Though I am tempted to interject my own experiences and ideas, there is nothing I can say that dulls the pain. 

The best words I usually have are “I’m sorry” and “I don’t know.” I do not know why it seems that God does not show up. I do not know why we suffer, though we ask for help.

The church has to be a place where people can bring their questions, pain and even anger. The church is not just for those who have seen God’s goodness. It is also for those who have yet to experience God and for those who once did but now feel God has abandoned them. 

For some people, the church itself has been the source of trauma. It is especially difficult for healing to come from the same place that caused the pain. 

Words can help to heal, but actions speak louder. It is not enough to tell people who God is. We need to accompany them as they wrestle with who God has been for them. Sometimes this journey will lead in a direction we do not expect. 

As much as I would like to solve everyone’s problems and answer all their questions, not everyone who steps into my church or hears one of my sermons suddenly finds everything has fallen into place. 

I do not see my job as convincing people to become Christians who harbor no doubts. I see my role as journeying with them as God reveals God’s self.

My hope for the church is that we will not only live faithfully and testify to God’s faithfulness but also make room for everyone who questions who God has been and who God is. 

For most of us, a sturdy faith and uneasy questions exist side by side.

Our faithfulness to God is important. God’s faithfulness to us is important. The experiences of those who are still searching for the divine are sacred as well. 

Our life together — as believers, doubters and searchers — is a journey of discovering how faith grows through joy, pain and healing. 

Jerrell Williams

Jerrell Williams is pastor of Salem (Ore.) Mennonite Church.

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