God is so much more than a quick fix for cosmic anxiety
Everyone has heard the phrase, there are no atheists in foxholes. The world is in a foxhole right now. Under siege from one of history’s more insipid foes, pestilence. People are isolated, they are scared, they are holed up in their homes begging for things to go back to normal. Everyone is in their own little foxhole and everyone has turned back to religion to try and help them through it.
In moments of great upheaval and fear, it is natural to turn to religion to try and find some purpose, comfort and strength. Call on the name of the Lord and you shall be saved. But if you find that you are only calling on the name of the Lord in times of trouble, and not in times of gladness and plenty, you might have a foxhole faith.
God is eternal, unchanging and steadfast. Whether you call on Him in times of trouble or not at all, He is there waiting for your cry. Being that atheist who only turns to faith when they are in times of need turns the God of the universe into a potent spiritual Xanax and nothing more. This cheapens both God and yourself.
But The Bible Tells Me So
This kind of crisis faith is a learned behavior from cherry picking stories and verses from the Bible. It is true, there are many stories of people in trouble calling on the name of the Lord. And the Lord says they will be saved. What people often miss, or gloss over in these moments, is that the people who are calling on the Lord are usually persistently faithful or persistently changed.
The Psalms are an ever present source of platitudes towards God and cries for help and saving.
God is our refuge and strength, a very present help in trouble. — Psalm 46:1
What a lot of people forget, is that many of the Psalms were written by David. David was declared a man after God’s own heart. He spent years on the run, hiding in caves, living in the wilderness as the king of his people hunted him down and tried to kill him. He lived in a constant fear, and a constant state of anxiety but his faith was always in the Lord. He loved God before the wilderness, he loved God in the wilderness, and he loved God after the wilderness.
Another great set of verses about people being saved is from Daniel. Daniel and his friends are tossed into fiery furnaces and into a den of lions but they are saved by the Lord. Not a hair on their heads were harmed.
In the days leading up to the sentence, where Daniel was to be thrown to the lions it reads:
He got down on his knees three times a day and prayed and gave thanks before his God, as he had done previously. — Daniel 6:11
He got down on his knees and thanked his God, even though he knew he was condemned to die by the men around him. This again, shows a deep persistent faith. Remember, Daniel was a product of the scattering of Israel. He was a refugee forcefully taken from his home into a strange court. His old way of life was gone. Yet he continued to have faith.
But Daniel resolved that he would not defile himself with the king’s food or with the wine that he drank. — Daniel 1:8
Daniel refused to bend his knee to the new regime in terms of his faith. He was content to live out his faith in a personal way in the midst of people who did not share his values. He lives out his faith in this way every day and then, then he was saved when the time came.
It is no wonder that people, especially modern people, are able to craft themselves a narrative that they can fall back on in times of trouble. You can Google verses about anxiety and get a curated list of cherry-picked feel good verses that make you feel better on the inside but offer nothing in terms of true faith. These verses often leave out the tribulations of the speakers or their dedicated life of faith. Most of the time, the speaker is not even identified unless their name is the same as the book the verse is being pulled from. This can make people feel better about the world around them but it will not built real faith.
No Depth of Soil
The Bible is also filled with people who develop a foxhole faith. A faith that they only invoke when they need something from God and not a true relationship. Jesus mentions this in the parable of the sower.
Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. — Matthew 13:12
This is the most common type of faith I see in the world today. During a pandemic, people turn to their dusty Bibles, they open them up and they are filled with hope and longing. They pray, they feel better, the crisis passes and so too does their zeal. They spring up quickly and then wither away.
The sun comes and scorches them. Whether that sun be judgement from secular friends and family, logic and reasoning, a busy life or a hard question that has no answer, many of the faith that is blooming right now will fade away because there is no depth of soil.
Daniel, David, Jesus, Paul, the big names in the Bible, the ones who we know the names of off the tops of our heads, they had depth of soil and their seeds did not wither away.
So how do you get more soil for your faith? There are people all over the world stuck inside, praying for a better tomorrow. They could be closer to God now than they have been in a long time or ever will be again. How is faith nurtured so it can leave the foxhole with us and keep growing?
Before we go into the ways you can capitalize on a new faith found in uncertain times, I think it would be helpful to go over a few things that faith is not. These are common misconceptions that people have or things that people say that ultimately keep them from God.
Seeing Is Not Believing
A lot of people say, if I could only see then I would know and then I could believe. If I get a sign from God then I’ll know for sure. This is a common cop out for not nurturing faith. People say this so that they can dodge the responsibility of growing a real relationship with God. They know deep down that they won’t get the sign they’re looking for and they use that as a hard pebble to grip onto when things become tough. It is an excuse to have and nothing more. Even if they get a sign from God or witness a miracle or wonder, that is no guarantee that it will create faith. The Bible actually says a lot on this subject.
Just before the parable of the sower appears in scripture, Jesus is propositioned in a way that will sound familiar to many people.
Teacher, we wish to see a sign from you. — Matthew 12:38
It sounds so simple and innocent. Lord, give us a sign. Give me a sign. It is a prayer that is uttered often but is answered with contempt.
An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given. — Matthew 12:39
Just like seeking God only for a hit of spiritual Xanax, asking for a sign cheapens the greatness of God. It turns God into a parlor magician. Show me something that makes me go wow and maybe I’ll toss a coin your way. It is no wonder that Jesus answers them so divisively.
Then there are those who see but still do not believe. Going back to Daniel, when his three friends are tossed into the fiery furnace and come out without a single hair singed, not even smelling of smoke, the king who put them there, Nebuchadnezzar, praises their God but does not claim it as his own.
He makes a mighty proclamation in that moment that no one could speak ill of the God of Israel but he refers to God as their God. Not his God. Even though he had just witnessed a miracle, he would not give up his currently held faith in exchange for another.
In Exodus, a familiar thing happens with the priests and magicians of Egypt. There, Moses gets into a pattern where he shows them signs and wonders and asks that they relent to God and they refuse. Even after being shown the very signs and wonders that people often demand, they still did not turn their hearts to God.
This is because seeing is not believing. That is a convenient excuse people use in order to try and skirt the issue of faith. Seeing does not mean you will believe because coming to God requires more than seeing some wonder or sign.
The Devil Is In the Details
The other big misconception I see a lot in the world is that having faith in God or being a born again Christian will give you all the answers to life’s mysteries. Throughout my own life, I have been bombarded with questions from people who think my faith gives me an unnatural view of things.
What about the Big Bang?
What about the dinosaurs?
Have you ever heard of the Problem of Evil?
What kind of God would create a hell?
These are all valid questions, they are questions that burn us up inside whether we have faith or not. Growing your faith in God might answer some questions you have, the Bible will have answers you are looking for but you are not going to get all of the answers to everything in life.
People will often nurture a faith only to see it derailed by questions. Sometimes they are simply genuine questions from a similarly seeking person but other times they are gotcha questions designed to make you doubt. Jesus faced this all the time. The ruling religious class of the day spend an inordinate amount of time coming up with questions to ask Jesus in order to try and trip him up and damage his faith and his credibility. He never let them undermine his faith or his mission.
The religious elite of 21st century America are secularists, if not outright atheists. The questions you will be asked will be about judging others, about the Big Bang, evolution, science. The Pharisees of today are those whose god is science and facts that they see as the sling that slayed God.
They will come after you, and I am letting you know that faith will not give you all of the answers that they seek and the questions you have now, you might have later too but you have to trust in God, in the big picture of things. The details, the gotcha questions, they don’t matter so much as the truth does.
That being said, here are a few things to do to nurture your faith so that when you climb out of the foxhole, out of the crisis and back into the “new normal” everyone keeps talking about, you can bring God along with you.
1. Actually Read the Bible
This one feels self explanatory, and if you have gotten this far into this article and you are now rolling your eyes, I understand. However, this is really the most important part of this whole thing. That soil we talked about earlier? That soil is made up from scripture.
The very first Psalm, whether David put it together that way or some later person, they decided the beginning of one of the most revered and quoted books of the Bible reads:
His delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree, planted by streams of water that yields its fruit in its season and its leaf does not wither. — Psalm 1:2–3
The person who is planted, firmly by streams of water, whose leaves do not wither, is the person who meditates day and night on the law of the Lord and delights in it. That starts by simply opening your Bible and reading.
The Bible teaches us who God is, who we are in relation to Him and His love for us. God does everything according to His plan and according for His love for us.
A lot of people want to flip open to Genesis and start at the beginning like a novel or a textbook. I would advise against this. Read with a purpose. Start in the New Testament or Proverbs or with the Psalms. The point is, start somewhere. Think of a question or narrative you want to tackle and go about tackling it.
2. Don’t Do This Alone
Like I said earlier, a lot of people are praying right now. There are a lot of people trying to make sense of the world as it is now. You don’t have to do this alone. Find a friend, or family member or online pen pal who are going through similar things as you and connect with them. Faith is never something that is achieved alone. God designed man as a pair, His son surrounded himself with twelve followers and other confidants. We are not meant to do this alone.
My favorite book of the Bible, Ecclesiastes, illustrates this the best.
Two are better than one because they have a good return for their labor. For if either of them falls, the one will lift up his companion. But woe to the one who falls when there is not another to lift him up. Furthermore, if two lie down together they keep warm, but how can one be warm alone? And if one can overpower him who is alone, two can resist him. A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart. — Ecclesiastes 4:9–12
If you are serious about carrying your faith forward, you are going to find a lot of comfort and help in the form of a friend who shares the faith. If you try to do it alone, the sun is going to scorch your faith and your roots will wither.
3. Keep Praying
If you are one of those people praying in the foxhole of life right now, don’t stop. Even when things get better, don’t stop praying. Prayer is how we express ourselves to God. Too often, prayer is always gloomy or needy. While it is good to seek God in times of trouble, it is lousy to deprive him of our joy and our successes.
What if you only called your parents when you needed money? Or if your child only called when they were having a bad day? They never tell you about their promotion or a funny story they heard or when they’re happy. That is how God must feel about us, not important enough to be there when things are good, only to be summoned when needed.
Even in church bodies, this happens a lot. Prayer lists are often 95% praying for sad things without any sort of joy or exultation. Share everything with God and your faith will become more rounded, more whole.
4. A Relationship, Not a Bailout
As you start reading your Bible more, praying more and thinking about the nature of God more remember that the Christian faith is one built on a relationship not a ticket into heaven. The idea that heaven is the end goal of a good life is a huge sticking point for me.
If you are pursuing God simply to get into heaven, you are going to fail or be left with a cheap incomplete faith. Heaven is the byproduct of a relationship with God, not the goal. If you are pursuing faith for spiritual comfort, you are doing it for your own gain and you won’t be able to see the whole story properly.
God is actively pursuing a relationship for humanity. He is not a bail bondsman or a customs officer stamping passports, He is a Father seeking his children.
Jesus called his disciples, brothers and friends. He approached them from a position of love.
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. — John 15:13
He loved his friends so dearly that he laid down his life for them. To save them.
In the very beginning of the Biblical story, after Adam and Eve have betrayed God’s trust and hidden themselves in shame and fear, God came after them.
But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?” — Genesis 3:9
This verse is usually passed over in the greater story of the Fall of Man but it is one of my favorite verses in the Bible. When God could not find Adam, he instantly was concerned and called out to him. Where are you? God calls out to us in that way every day. Where are you?
He wants us to be near to him. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. This is about gaining confidence, strength and comfort from the greatest source of all, God. It is not about getting some cheap spiritual hit that makes us feel invincible for our inevitable deaths.
There are a couple of great resources I want to point out for people who want to learn more about God and the Bible in this trying time. The first one is the Bible Project. They have an incredible website with a ton of resources for Christians of all stripes.
I love their podcast. The Bible Project Podcast is simply an amazing journey into the details and bones of the Bible. They do an excellent job of painting the whole cosmic picture in a way that continues to be enlightening to me. If you are curious about the Bible at all and you are stuck at home, I would definitely check them out.
The second thing I would suggest is getting a good study Bible. A lot of the names in the Bible are opaque, the time period is unfamiliar and some of the wording is downright odd. These things can really be helped by a solid study Bible. It will layout helpful insight, tips, links and context for the entire Bible in a way that will make it easier to grasp.
Much of the Bible is written for the benefit of ancient Jews and for an audience who is intimate with scripture. If you forget that sometimes its easy to get lost or overwhelmed.
It is a scary time and seeking God during a time of fear is something many of us do but, you can take that faith and that longing and build it into something more. Something greater.
There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love. — 1 John 4:18
God is so much more than a lifeline in times of trouble. He created the entire universe with a few words. He put the stars in the sky and knows them all by name, and we are discovering more stars every day. He knows the number of the hairs on your head. He knew you before you were knitted in your mother’s womb, even when you feel like no one truly knows you. He defeated death by becoming death and sacrificing a part of Himself for us, ones He considers friends and family. He calls out to us, where are you, when we are missing. He would leave the 99 for the sake of 1 and if we wander away, He embraces us when we find our way back.
God is so much more than a deity in a foxhole and you are so much more than that scared person who called out to Him in a moment of weakness.
If you have any questions feel free to reach out. Or if you want me to answer some questions in a written response, I would be more than happy to write it up on here and make it a series for an in depth response.