Recently a woman wrote to me in response to a radio show and shared a thought that I have heard many times from many people: “As a Christian I have felt so guilty about not having enough faith in God.” The context of her comment involved a life of suffering in which she experienced a lot of anxiety. The anxiety in turn produced a lot of fear and doubt. The next step in this traumatic chain was guilt: if I were a better or more mature Christian, I would have more faith and my troubles wouldn’t bring me so low…
The feelings of guilt over a weak or vacillating faith can be truly horrible. Those feelings can compound our difficulties and take us to some very dark places. But are those feelings legitimate? Are they grounded in truth? In large part, I think not.
Often when we think of great Christian men and women, we assume that they were stalwarts in the faith – they never had doubts. They never let anxiety get the better of them. And when they refer to or wrote about their struggles, they were writing about “sins of their youth.” After all, don’t we as mature Christians reach a point where we are more or less unflappable in our pursuit of holiness? The answer to this question must be a resounding “NO!” It is often the case that men and women who have been used by God to accomplish great things and who have had great faith also have great struggles – even after many years of faithful service. Asaph is a clear example of a seasoned saint experiencing deep doubts.
In Psalm 73, Asaph gives us an autobiographical Psalm in which he describes a very dark time in his own life. And it was not during his youth. Read the Psalm for yourself and reflect on the doubts and fears he experiences – the way in which he conducted himself like a “brute beast” before the Lord. And then consider this one short phrase in our English translation of Psalm 73:17: “till I entered the sanctuary of God.” This verse offers the only significant chronological marker in this Psalm. It indicates that the Psalm was written after Asaph began his ministry in the sanctuary! This Psalm was then written after Asaph was chosen as one of the three Levites to lead the procession of the ark of God to Jerusalem and at some point after King David appointed the Levites who would minister before the ark, of whom “Asaph was the chief.” (1 Chronicles 16:4-5). The sanctuary is the one first described by Moses in Exodus 25:8 where he relates to the Israelites God’s command to “make a sanctuary for me, and I will dwell among them. Make this tabernacle and all its furnishings exactly like the pattern I will show you.” There can be very little doubt that when Asaph refers to entering the sanctuary he is referring to the ministry that David appointed him to: he was referring to his responsibility to be the chief worship leader of God’s people before the ark of the LORD in the tent David had set up for it in Jerusalem.
Did you catch that? Asaph is not a young, untried, novice Levite when he entertains despairing and betraying thoughts. No, when Asaph experiences thoughts and feelings about God that were both beastly and brutish he was the chief worship leader of the people of God.
I have often in my ministry counseled with Christians like my radio correspondent – Christians who feel guilty about how much suffering they feel. On top of their actual suffering, they are burdened with a false guilt that whispers to them, “If only you were a better Christian you wouldn’t be feeling so intensely about this or entertaining such horrible doubts about God’s faithfulness.” Understanding that even the “Asaphs” among us have some very dark days in the calendars of our lives should go a long way towards dispelling the myth that “real” Christians don’t struggle with their suffering like we do.
As you walk with God through some of the darker valleys on this side of heaven, know that you will have some fears and doubts as well. But in this you are not the first and you are not alone. And spend a lot of time in the sanctuary of God – say with Asaph, “But as for me, it is good to be near God. I have made the Sovereign Lord my refuge; I will tell of all your deeds.”
The illustration above is David Bearing the Ark of the Covenant into Jerusalem by Domenico Gargiulo, a seventeenth century Italian painter.