Roadblock #8: The Fear Factor
TYPICAL WORDING: “The topic of religion and faith is unsettling and sometimes creepy. I like to avoid thinking about things like death, ghosts, spirits, or the next life.”
PROBLEM: Talk of God, Karma, Nirvana, altered states of consciousness, Heaven & Hell, and life after death can lead to feelings of apprehension or even trepidation. Many folks just don’t want to think about such hefty, alien, or even bizarre topics. They are more at home chatting about everyday happenings – stuff they can wrap their minds around and which cheer their hearts. The unknown, frankly, is something some people want to leave unknown. “Let sleeping dogs lie,” is their motto.
SOLUTION: Life is what it is! It can’t be swept under the rug. It has to be handled. Part of handling it is tackling the tough stuff. There are plenty of things in life we don’t gravitate towards: Getting braces, taking our SATs, asking a girl out on a date for the first time, the boss’ impending evaluation, things that go bump in the night, etc… Yet life has a way of pushing undesirable events on us even when we try to elude them. This includes topics related to faith. Yet the uneasiness that comes with considering faith can be lessened by a careful and thoughtful guide or introduction. A good guide will point out that many have been prejudiced against faith and don’t realize that so much about faith is cheery and joyful.
EXPLANATION: Life forces us to consider things we would like to block out, even terrible things like the loss of a cherished family member, a best friend moving far away, getting diagnosed with cancer, a messy divorce, a foolish grown child, etc… A knowledgeable friend or guide brought alongside us at a needy or tender time is a true blessing. We should be grateful for those kinds of friends. Likewise, a loving orientation to religion helps many to learn to think rightly about it. There are those who can help you begin to feel at ease pondering the deeper things of life. Right guides help you learn the sunny side of faith in God and become attracted to the benefits of faith.
Of course, not all the fear can or should be eliminated from life’s mystery. Life is awesome and wild. None of us really control it. What makes it unpredictable adds to its excitement. We shouldn’t try to make life into a little Teddy Bear we can control for our comfort. However getting a taste of God’s beneficial and patient love and His personal interest in you, will attract you to spiritual topics rather than repel you. Faith is an adventure, but it is one for which you can prepare. There are guides, both written and personal, to help you. Many have walked the paths of faith before you, and have left behind their advice. Considering their example and reading their works will smooth the way and remove unnecessary angst. These “forerunners to the faith” have left you the proper way to think about life & death in light of God’s promises and actions.
Not to consider their advice is, not only to miss the benefits of faith, but to cower behind a present facade of safety. For how do you know that by avoiding faith you will avoid what you fear? Far too many assume they are safe just ignoring the question of God or the next life. This is not a good prescription for planning for the future. Is it safe to pretend nuclear weapons do not exist in our world or to turn a blind eye to terrorism in hopes it will just disappear? Do we pretend taxes will go away or do we plan to pay them? What happens when we put off going to the doctor? So also hiding behind the false hope of “I’m OK; you’re OK” is never wise or safe. For reality tends to come back and bite you, unless you prepare for it.
Besides, from personal experience (something I will share in a future post) the questions a wise and beneficial faith answers will not scare your heart but reassure it. Jesus said, “Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid. You believe in God. Believe also in Me.” John 14:1. Truth and spiritual discovery ultimately lead to paradise – a winsome, awe inspiring, and attractive end. While I don’t agree with FDR’s famous words, “We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” I do see divine love in the mix, which more than adequately calms the fear factor. We actually have nothing to fear but God Himself, for he is untamable and Holy, Holy, Holy. Yet if He works for us, not against us, then… well, our present fear can be turned into future joy. Isn’t this what you desire? So my advice is to work through your discomforts, and gain the best outcome for yourself.
Roadblock #9 = The Disappointment Factor
TYPICAL WORDING: “I tried religion already, and it really let me down. I’m not interested anymore.”
PROBLEM: Some have backed way off the faith they were taught early in life. They tried it, in some cases immersed themselves in it, but due to some great disappointment, they are now beyond it. They are in the boycott stage. They don’t want to turn back the clock or re-experience their former pain. Whatever church, mosque, or institution they had joined proved to be unloving, unreal, or unresponsive during a formative time or a crisis. The pastor, Imam, priest, monk, leader, or rabbi proved to be disinterested or even hypocritical. That is when the feelings of love toward religion dissolved. It left the person concluding all religion was just a sham meant to exploit people. None was genuine. So like Roberto Durån facing Sugar Ray Leonard in their famous bout, they feel beat-up and have adopted a new slogan toward religion, “No mas!”
SOLUTION: Disappointment in religion is real and in some cases devastating. We should not underestimate how hard it is to recover from it. Jesus Himself warned the common folk of His day that there would be many hypocrites and stumbling blocks in religion, but woe to the one by whom those stumbling blocks came. It is reassuring to know God has promised to judge those who place stumbling blocks before people’s attempts to come to faith. Jesus strictly warned that in religion there would be false prophets, false apostles, false gospels, and false teachers who hurt the sheep, lied to the sheep, took money from the sheep. used the sheep, then devoured the sheep. In fact, His harshest denunciations were against the religious leaders of His day whom the masses generally felt they had to respect. It may be hard to separate worthless, evil people in religion from caring, genuine people, but that is the truth. And that is what must happen. Not to do so is to remain defeated and miss out on what joys can lie ahead. Even if you have vowed never to listen to religion again, you have made a hasty vow which will not serve you well.
EXPLANATION: Since no one can have unlimited experience with something as broad as the realm of spirituality, to walk away from all faith due to lousy past experiences is only to punish yourself twice. It makes no sense. Don’t do it! It would seem logical that those who have most been burned by religion would be the ones most careful to get it right the next time. Abandoning the pursuit is not a solution and not even logical. Learning from past mistakes is the wisest course. As a pastor of a nondenominational church, who loves my people, I can say that I have seen people who were previously let down by religion be enthralled with God again. Those who gave up on prayers are praying again. Those who put down their Bibles are picking up their Bibles again. My advice is especially true since the solution of giving up altogether is actually not possible. As we wrote previously, you will still choose a faith of some kind. And that faith chosen may lead to a worse end than your present discouragement.
So your experience actually is a valuable lesson in what not to pursue, but it should not discourage you from more discerning pursuits. Children grow up and learn from their mistakes. The same is true in the spiritual realm. Some may be exasperated and let out a sigh, “But religion proved to be weights not wings for my life.” True enough, but the final word has not been spoken. You may choose to focus only on how you were taken advantage of or abused. You can focus on the feeling of being a fool when someone took off with your money or seduced your wife in the name of God. Religious people can be cunning, money hungry, liars who know how to use religion to get away with almost anything. The gullibility among the religious faithful runs rampant and is often shocking. Many are taken advantage of by the clergy class. Unfortunately that’s life down here! But to dwell on the loss and your feelings is to engage in destructive self-pity.
Self-pity and doubting is not a strategy for victory and sanity. Nor is doubting a panacea for your problems. Some doubting, I am going to argue, is healthy, but pure doubting will lead to ruin. Doubting alone as a strategy is a lopsided choice. It is a decision to follow only one strand of evidence while purposely ignoring the other strand.
Another reason people give up on faith is that they don’t think it will work for them. I know that some of you may have observed people of faith you admire, but you are convinced, “It won’t work for me like it did for them.” You may even wonder, “What if I am cursed or destined for something bad?” Or you may question, “If there is a good God out there, why did he let that bad thing happen to me or to my family? Why does my life seem so neglected while others find what they want?”
As we will show in the posts to come one should never doubt that a good God will bless your life too, if you search earnestly and honestly. If He is always good and does not change than His blessing will work for everyone. Christ, for example, taught that he was “gentle and humble of heart.” So learning from him, will prove invaluable to your soul. Someone who promises never to abandon you, and has proven His power already in human history, is worth pursuing with all your might.
Roadblock #10 = The Cost Factor
TYPICAL WORDING: “If I follow a religion, I know I will have to sacrifice some things I hold dear. So, I just don’t think religion, whatever benefit it may afford, is worth the effort and sacrifice. I live for me and for now. So count me out.”
PROBLEM: There is a cost to becoming a man or woman of faith. You may be fairly convinced a faith is true, and even admire others for their faith, yet you just can’t get past the sticker price: “What if my spouse wants to leave me after I choose religion? What if my parents or children think I’m nuts and start ostracizing me? What if I don’t get promoted at work because of prejudice? What if … what if … ” Yes, friends may ridicule you, acquaintances may shun you, and family may scold your new found faith. The isolation from your friends and coworkers may prove a heavy cost to pay.
SOLUTION: But … weigh the benefits to your costs. It is wise to count the cost of any endeavor prior to pursuing it. In religion, depending on the faith, the cost may or may not be worth it. It all depends on what is guaranteed for you. What is wishful thinking, and what is solid expectation? What is a reasonably deduced benefit, and what is self-contradictory fluff? Answering these questions is crucial. Many from different faiths will enthusiastically urge you that devotion to their cause is worth it. However not all have the evidence to back up their lofty claims, and therefore, not all are to be followed. The risks with religion and faith are great. The land-mines many. However, the true loss comes to those who sit on their hands and end up losing everything anyway. Those who refuse to trust and those who trust in the wrong thing will still end up in the same sinking boat. There is only one safe passage forward – choose the a sturdy boat with an experienced and skilled captain.
EXPLANATION: Anyone who is not in the super-rich category and has to follow a rigid monthly budget knows that every large purchase has to be evaluated carefully for cost/benefit outcomes. Every benefit has a cost, and hopefully every cost has some benefit, but they must each be weighed judiciously. A choice to purchase a quality piece of furniture may simultaneously be a choice to abandon a much needed vacation. Conversely, a choice to travel the world may be a choice to commute this next year in a worn out, used car. Every cost must be evaluated.
The same is true with faith. Every faith commitment must be weighed against the costs. What does the particular faith promise? Who promised it? What are their credentials? What can the faith deliver? How will I know? And what costs does it require? Look at the two in a ledger side-by-side. Are the two congruent or disproportionate?
When a Muslim suicide bomber is assured he will gain 70 virgins in the next life, how credible is that promise? What backs it up? Is there enough evidence to warrant killing self and slaughtering innocent bystanders? A Scripture? And who wrote the scripture? Is it interpreted rightly? Is it trustworthy? Why would a god want humans to do such destructive and senseless acts?
When a Buddhist teacher promises Nirvana, can that concept even be explained? What is Nirvana, and why should anyone want it? Does it even exist? How would someone know? Is it just one man’s word? Was evidence presented? Is it even worth gaining it, if it does exist? Why should someone give up what he/she has to gain it?
When Christ promised a resurrection of the body, life eternal, bliss in the next life, joy in this present life, what credentials did He prove He had? What guarantees and what costs are associated with following the man from Galilee? What signs did he leave? What way of verification did he leave for an average person to know?
The Bible provides much evidence and many promises which can be objectively evaluated including prophecies of the future. These must be pondered carefully when one thinks of cost-to-benefit ratio. Here are just three promises from the Bible to whet your appetite:
- Matthew 13:45-46 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls, and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.”
- Romans 10:11 “For the Scripture says, ‘WHOEVER BELIEVES IN HIM WILL NOT BE DISAPPOINTED.’”
- Mark 10:29-30 “Jesus said, ‘Truly I say to you, there is no one who has left house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or farms, for My sake and for the gospel’s sake, but that he will receive a hundred times as much now in the present age, houses and brothers and sisters and mothers and children and farms, along with persecutions; and in the age to come, eternal life.’”
As an important footnote … those who would abandon you because you find faith and happiness in a new life-pathway prove they were never on your side in the first place. If they are for you, they should really be for you no matter what you choose. If they don’t, then they enjoyed the old you for what they could get out of you. If they only liked you because you were like them, true love was absent all along. Isn’t it better to discover that about the people in your life now, than after you have committed more time and energy into the relationship? Be assured, no marriage will be split by truth and love unless there is no truth and love in the marriage in the first place.
I hope these last few posts about removing roadblocks have helped you. They may not have brought you to faith, but my hope was that they allow you to proceed forward. Faith can be for winners and careful thinkers, but faith must be selected carefully. For not all faiths are created equal. Not all faiths are beneficial and worthy of our trust.
Next time we begin a look at the factors which should help us decide upon a proper, beneficial, and true faith. You may be surprised with how many of these principles you already agree.