On Sinkholes and Suspicion: Part Two
In my last post I talked about the reality of sinkholes, the absolutely terrifying natural phenomenon in which what was once stable ground gives way and forms gaping chasms. Reports of sinkholes swallowing people from the face of the earth have been regular fare for news coverage recently. And for me, the actuality of yet another freak natural occurrence was enough to bring me to a crisis point in my faith.
By training and occupation, I’m a thinker. My degree is in philosophy and theology. I’ve been a teacher of one sort or another for literally all of my adult life. I regularly engage in what Mortimer Adler called “The Great Conversation,” discussing and debating with friends, family, and acquaintances the Big Ideas in life. I like to set up arguments, examine logic, analyze positions, scrutinize biases, forecast outcomes — basically, I’m up in my own head way too much.
For a variety of reasons (and, as I discussed in my previous post, for no particular reason), sinkholes made me question God. “Why, God, did you create a world in which the ground gives way underneath people’s feet? Is this really a result of humanity’s sin? Did sinkholes really not occur prior to the fall? Do I really believe in the fall? Do I really believe in Creation? Do I really believe in God? Do I really believe in Christ?” There was no specific logic to my questions. There was no motivating factors for this line of inquiry. It felt like an avalanche of doubt, stemming from seemingly nothing and and yet in an instant it was gargantuan and oppressive. Like a Top Fuel dragster once completely motionless and in seconds racing at unfathomable speeds, I went from faith to uncertainty directly. I couldn’t control it. I wasn’t particularly happy about it. And I wanted the argument that would win back my faith.
I was driving my truck on a stretch of road that meanders through farmland, hills, and creek beds. I was rummaging through the index of memorized verses in my mind, hoping one would successfully combat the advance of the force of doubt that was gaining ground. Was there an argument I could make, a series of propositions which would lead to a conclusion that could set my mind at ease? Nothing was coming.
Rather than a particular thought about God, a memory of a sermon heard, a specific verse memorized, a hymn recalled, or an argument built, the thought of my daughter backed me off the cliff. Let me explain. My eight-year-old son has embraced the Christian faith from as early on as we can remember. He can articulate the gospel with clarity. His heart breaks over his sin. He repents and trusts Christ for forgiveness. His prayers are sweet, and his faith pure. Tricia and I can recall the night he first put it all together in a prayer, but we aren’t sure we can say that was the night he received salvation; it just happened to be the first time we were aware that he knew, as the Heidelberg Catechism states, what his only comfort in life and in death was.
My six-year-old daughter on the other hand, had a very different reaction to the faith of her parents. She prayed with us, but she was simply complying to the wishes of Mommy and Daddy. She was ready to apologize to us or her brother if she offended us in some way, but she had no desire to reconcile to God. Not too long ago, she had a long season of particular disobedience. She was getting into fairly serious trouble (for a six-year-old) at school, at church, and at home. Tricia and I weren’t getting anywhere with discipline. When we discussed it, she didn’t want to be “a bad girl,” but she didn’t want God’s help to become better. She wanted to make us happy and have some kind of relationship with God, but she couldn’t do it. This is how she described it, “I want to love God, but it’s like something’s blocking me.” She rebuffed all the offers of God’s forgiveness through Christ, of the Holy Spirit’s help in doing right. And her behavior was getting worse. Tricia and I were upset, but determined. We had, after all, the responsibility to discipline our daughter whether or not she trusted on Christ. Our son was upset though. The thought of his sister not being a Christian was very troubling for him.
Then one night, after a very long, very emotional conversation, the wall started to come down. The son of family friends was facing emergency brain surgery. Bella became aware that her friend was on the verge of death. Mortality began to become real to her, and she wanted answers. She wrestled with the gospel for what seemed like hours, but she kept saying, “Something’s blocking me from praying. Something’s in the way.” Her brother was crying with her, desiring more than anything for her to accept Jesus as her Lord and Savior. Then, finally, that “something” gave way. She asked God to forgive her of her sin. She thanked God for Jesus dying for her on the cross so that she might be forgiven. She asked God to come and live and rule in her heart. The tears turned to laughter. She went to sleep a little while later, and in the morning…The next few days made my wife and I’s jaws drop. My daughter was a different person. Her behavior and attitude were completely different. Everyone from her grandparents to her teachers were making comments. It was a transformation.
This transformation occurred to me when I was driving in my truck facing the doubt caused by sinkholes. I didn’t have the answer to sinkholes, but I had the answer for my daughter. When logic, tradition, and even faith had failed me in that moment, experience stepped in. It made me think of the blind man that Jesus healed standing before the Pharisees. They asked him how Jesus who they considered a sinner could possibly heal him. He replied, “Whether he is a sinner I do not know. One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.” (John 9:25, ESV) I don’t know why sinkholes exist. I have some arguments for why bad things happen to good people, but you might be able to beat me in a debate. There are a ton of things in this world where the powers of my own thought are inadequate. But I saw God change my daughter in front of my eyes. And when I remember that, I remember all the other things He’s done for me and my loved ones. Like the apostles standing before the authorities in the book of Acts, I can’t deny what I’ve witnessed with my own eyes. It’s interesting that in Revelation 12, the voice from heaven says that the brothers have overcome by “the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony.” My suspicion that morning was overcome by the blood of the Lamb and the word of my testimony. I thank God for that.