By Lindsay Armstrong
Last Sunday’s sermon on Job impacted me, and I wanted to share and reflect upon the impact the sermon had on my perception of God, the world, and my own life. This was a humbling sermon, and it lifted a veil of darkness from my eyes and helped me to see more clearly what has been happening to me.
When I went to college, I had a strong faith in God that I thought could never be shaken. I learned to depend upon God early on in life. I experienced the closeness of his presence regularly during my quiet times. During those times, I would close the door to my bedroom, lay down on the floor or kneel by my bed, close my eyes, and let God talk to me through his word and through journaling.
Growing up, I saw how messy other peoples’ lives were. My own life was messy. I was a weird child and teenager, always a little too sarcastic for my own good, always a loner, always with my nose in a book. I knew I needed someone to take me under their wing and teach me how to navigate through life. I sought out such a person, but ultimately never found them. And then I found God, and realizing that he was a faultless being that I could trust was a pivotal turning point in my young life. I turned to God throughout middle school, junior high, and high school. I depended upon God to fulfill every necessary role in my life; God was my friend, my parent, my teacher, my counselor, my leader, and my reference point of all that is good and just and true.
During those years, my number one most common prayer was, “God, please help me to see the world through your eyes. Please help me to see this situation through your eyes. Please help me to see this person through your eyes.”
When I was in college, my faith in God was tested my freshman year by one of my literature professors; we’ll call him Dr. Ahab. Dr. Ahab’s class was a graduate level literature class, and as a freshman, I really didn’t know what to expect. Nothing could’ve prepared me for what awaited me that semester.
We spent the entire semester reading Herman Melville’s novel Moby Dick. In Dr. Ahab’s class, I learned how to “close read.” Close reading is where you spend almost an entire class period reading and analyzing a small snippet from the text and then discuss themes, rhetorical devices, and other stuff that was quite honestly way over my head. We were expected to read several chapters a week, but during a class period, we wouldn’t even discuss one of those chapters. We would hone in on one little part of the story.
At first, I thought my professor was insane; I am not exaggerating. I really thought he was insane. I thought his methods were impractical and that his class was a waste of my time. “An easy ‘A,'” I told my roommate. “The only assignment I have to turn in is a 20-page essay at the end of the semester!”
It was true. For Dr. Ahab’s class, there were no quizzes, no midterms, and no exams. He based his grades on attendance and a final paper that was due at the end of the semester.
Though we would spend the entire class period practicing the art of close reading, he would often spend 10 to 20 minutes each day ranting and raving about something. His rants were hilarious, unless they were directed at you, and then they were degrading and humiliating. Dr. Ahab was a misanthrope. He was also a misogynist. He also hated dim-witted people who spoke before thinking. He was a satirist in the same vein as Mark Twain (who was one of Dr. Ahab’s heros), and would rant about how stupid popular culture was, or mainstream culture, or young people (he was in his early thirties, but seemed to hate every generation beside his own).
About halfway through the semester, I went from seeing him as an insane, jaded ex-Harvard literature professor to realizing what his true powers were: his intelligence and analytical powers were unbelievably sharp. Though he used his analytical skills as a weapon to destroy things he saw as frivolous or stupid, he could make anyone see the truth (or fallacies) in any given situation. It was incredible. His rants sounded insane, but he was right. Our culture was stupid, and fat, and slow, and we did degrade ourselves just by simply being passive and not questioning things. We were to blame for our fallen condition.
“There is no hope,” was Dr. Ahab’s mantra. I heard that over and over again throughout the semester.
I began to believe him.
I suddenly found myself part of the circle of students who strove to win his approval and I signed up for his class again the following semester. After I turned in my paper on Moby Dick, he returned it to me bleeding with his edits and notes. He said if I wanted to, I could rewrite the paper using his suggestions and get a better grade. I can’t remember if I did that or not. He gave me a ‘B’ for my final grade in his class.
Dr. Ahab’s misanthropy was poisonous to my Christian faith. His cynicism was hilarious, but devastating. As the semester wore on, I found that I had all the makings of a true cynic in me all along. Thoughts and feelings I had tried to shush or wave away all my life were suddenly okay to think and to question. I became a cynic, and didn’t see cynicism as a negative quality any more. I wanted to become more wise, more self-aware, more analytical. I wanted answers. I was not a trusting blind sheep anymore. “Those days were over,” I told myself. “I will never blindly follow anyone or anything again.”
That was four years ago. Today, I am still recovering from the broken world view that I bought into.
To bring the focus back to last Sunday’s sermon on the book of Job, I think during one of the times that Satan wandered the earth, he saw me. He saw my innocent, untested faith and he saw my weakness and need for a mentor.
When God said to Satan, “Consider my servant Lindsay. She has trusted me and loved me since she was a child,” Satan said to God in return, “She doesn’t even know that there is an alternative to your wisdom. Let me open her eyes to worldly wisdom, doubt, and cynicism. I bet she will stop trusting in your goodness then.”
And I am sad to say that it worked. I lost my faith in God’s sovereignty, I lost my trust in his power, and my world was turned upside down. I wanted answers. The more I searched, the less I found. I saw emptiness, meaninglessness, and people who were stuck in meaningless cycles. I saw strength and hope get crushed. I saw goodness get passed over for evilness. I learned bad ways to cope with the darkness that began to creep in.
After the sermon on Job last week, I started reading through the last few chapters of Job. The dialogue between God and Job was humbling to read this time. It moved me to tears when I read how Job responded to God with an attitude of humility and acceptance. During my period of doubt and cynicism, I turned to the book of Job often, but the passages where God tells Job how powerful he is and how impotent Job is in comparison always made me angry and more cynical. Now, the passages from Job are beautiful and true to me. My heart has changed. That is something you can pray for, by the way; if you are struggling with doubt and cynicism, you can pray that God will change your heart and give you a renewed mind and spirit.
I also want to mention that struggling with spiritual doubts and beginning to feel the tide change from doubt to acceptance can take years. It did for me. It is taking years to erase the damage caused by looking at the world from a cynical, broken point of view.
However, as I said, the tide has changed. I have done nothing to change things; I know it is all in God’s hands. Still, I can say with certainty that I am now closer to shore than I was when I was drifting aimlessly through my sea of doubts, fear, and distrust the last four years. For a long time I was ashamed to tell other Christians how I felt about God, because I assumed they would all tell me to be humble and get over myself. The answer is not that easy.
I will be truthful and say that I still don’t fully trust in God’s power and goodness; it is not first or even second nature for me to turn to God throughout the day. I notice things about myself now: It is hard for me to love certain people, it is a challenge to open myself up to people and to God, and it is hard for me to forgive myself. Last but not least, I am attracted to charismatic, worldly people who pass themselves off as intellects and know it alls. I know I will still struggle. I will never be able to regain that innocent trust I had in God during my childhood and teenage years, and that too is a painful realization.
However, I take comfort in the revelation that God still has a plan for me, and that there is nothing Satan can do to separate me from the power of God’s love.
And from now on, if someone tries to convince me that there is no hope, I don’t care how intelligent or influential that person is; I will be able to say with absolute certainty that there is hope for me, and the rest of humanity.
Listen to the sermon on Job from March 9, 2014 or watch below.