Most of us recognize the ongoing nature of change in our lives, but we don’t always accept its results. Some changes, or just so much change, can be hard on a person, and even hard on our faith.
If I’m honest, the changes that have happened in my life have threatened to undo me more than once. Of course the difficult changes have made me question my faith and wonder if what I believe is real. I’ve been told I’d never walk again, that I’d likely not live more than two years. I’ve watched friends and parents suffer through cancer and die. But I’ve also experienced the good kinds of changes that bring their own stress, things like marriage and parenthood and job opportunities and new homes. Even these good changes can alter our lives so significantly that we have to rethink who we are and what we believe.
When I think of life altering changes, I think of Job and his wife. The changes that came to them were devastating, and the result, especially for Job’s wife, was initially only negative. “Do you still hold fast your integrity?” she asked her husband. “Curse God and die!” We see a similar response from Jonah, who weathered the changes God asked of him by running and hiding. When God himself appeared to change his mind, Jonah rebuffs him: “Please, Lord, was not this what I said while I was still in my own country? Therefore in order to forestall this I fled to Tarshish, for I knew that you are a gracious and compassionate God, slow to anger and abundant in lovingkindness, and one who relents concerning calamity. Therefore, now, O Lord, please take my life from me, for death is better than life.”
This is what too much change can do to us: it throws us for a loop, it knocks us off our feet, it reveals things about God we don’t know how to, or simply feel we can’t, deal with. James warns us about letting our faith be tossed around by the wind, or about letting ourselves be carried away from God by the shifting shadows of temptation and lust. Paul says it happens when we begin by the Spirit but later believe we are perfected by the flesh. He warns Timothy about how easily our faith can be changed for the worse when we are weak and captivated by those who are lovers of self and money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.
There are other ways our faith changes for the worse, how it diminishes or shrinks back. Peter warns us against being “carried away by the error of unprincipled men” and falling “from our own steadfastness.” And Paul is not afraid to name names in the cautionary tales of those who, like Hymenaeus and Philetus, who were led astray by “worldly and empty chatter” or who, like Jannes and Jambres, “oppose the truth” and “will not make further progress.”
We can become those cautionary tales if we aren’t careful. Too often we’re like the Israelites, complaining about manna, even though it sustains us. Or we’re like David, taking what’s not ours, even though we’ve been given so much. Or like Naomi, we fall into bitterness, even when we are delivered safely home.
I grew up learning “once saved always saved,” and I believe Paul when he says, “that He who began a good work in you will perfect it until the day of Christ Jesus.” But I can’t overlook the many passages in Scripture that warn us against letting the substance of our faith be changed for the worse by the constantly changing circumstances of our lives.
How we practice our faith might change significantly over the years as the circumstances of our lives create new opportunities and challenges. As well, the periphery of our beliefs may be altered as we grow in our understanding or experience a transformed conscience.
And to be sure, we may continue to respond in sin at various transitions in our lives. We might complain and gossip. We might draw into ourselves proudly or throw a tantrum over the difficult change we are facing. Change can be so hard on our faith.
But hear the warnings of scripture about losing your faith, or being deceived into a false faith that offers platitudes or permissions but no real hope. Despite the difficult changes you are enduring even now, don’t be drawn away from your loving Father, from the spotless Lamb, and from the Spirit who dwells inside you.
Lean into Jesus, who even now promises that “If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.”