I remember in my teens and early twenties praying for God to strengthen my faith. Even when belief came somewhat easy for me and faith seemed simple, doubt has always lurked. I trusted much of what I was taught in church and at the various Christian events that I attended, but there were also questions that remained. Questions about the place of women in Church. Questions about the exclusion of certain kinds of sinners. Questions about the fairness of eternal torment for temporal wrongdoing.
Questions that really boil down to the goodness of God.
I would often consider these questions to be a sign of a weak faith. A sign that I needed to spend more time praying, spend more time reading the Bible, spend more time in church. Something to help my faith be different than it was. Something to help me have a strong, robust faith.
Following Elliott’s death, those questions intensified significantly. I thumbed through books meant to give comfort to the believer after the death of a child, but they left me feeling more frustrated than uplifted. Instead, I read C.S. Lewis’s A Grief Observed, and highlight, “Talk to me about the truth of religion and I’ll listen gladly. Talk to me about the duty of religion and I’ll listen submissively. But don’t come talking to me about the consolations of religion or I shall suspect that you don’t understand.”
Hillsong United has a popular praise chorus called Oceans. One of the lyrics says,
Take me deeper than my feet could ever wander
And my faith will be made stronger
In the presence of my Savior
It’s easy for me to wonder, what is wrong in me that when I encountered tragedy, my faith does not feel stronger, but rather feels like it is barely holding on? I have been through seasons where it has felt battered before, but in them, I could read something meant to be encouraging and be encouraged. I could listen to something meant to renew and feel renewed. There was pain, but there was also a sense that the pain had some purpose – something that I needed to learn.
But Elliott’s death seemed senseless. What is to be learned from the death of an infant? What encouragement can be gleaned from the loss of a child? How can faith be made strong in the midst of aching breasts and empty arms?
And really, what does a strong faith look like? How do we qualify the strength of our faith? What formula do we apply to figure out if we’ve achieved the mythical “strong faith”?
Some days the mere fact that my faith still exists feels like a testimony to its strength. That I can still see beauty in the Church feels like the marker of strong faith. That I can find fellowship where there has previously been rejection makes me suspect that my faith has power.
It is the faith of the Resurrection and the Life weeping at the death of a friend.
It is the faith of the Alpha and Omega asking to have his trials taken away.
It is the faith of the Savior of the world asking God why he had been abandoned.
A faith that sometimes feels loss, feels burdened, feels abandoned.
But a strong faith nevertheless.